Paige Lillard, VP Business Excellence, Turner Broadcasting System
Strategies for Excellence
By Karen Rosen, ATLANTA TREND™
After launching her career as an audio engineer and sound designer, it was only natural that “listening” would be the key to Paige Lillard’s next move.
At Turner Studios, Paige realized from an employee perspective that the organization wasn’t working as well as it could. She told her brother, who was then getting his MBA from Kennesaw State University, “There are things we could be doing to make our business better as a production company within Turner.”
Paige’s brother told her she was describing Total Quality Management, a topic he was studying, and suggested she do some research.
Paige found a book called “TQ Manager” and took it on a beach vacation. Three chapters in, she told her husband, “This is it. This is my future. If I can help an organization succeeds using this methodology, that’s exactly what I’m here for. This is what I’m built for.”
Fifteen years later, Paige is Vice President Business Excellence for Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., where she is responsible for the strategy development and performance results of 16 business units from London to Hong Kong.
Drawn to Atlanta
Paige has been in Atlanta for 22 years. Growing up Rochester, N.Y., she discovered on spring break trips to Myrtle Beach, S.C., that the “snow belt” wasn’t for her. While attending Hofstra University, Paige had a part-time job with an audio production company in New York City and worked on NBC Olympic coverage editing music. She also edited music for commercials and fashion shows.
But Paige surprised industry insiders when she turned down a job in the country’s No. 1 market to move to Atlanta, a place she’d visited that felt like home.
Paige joined Turner in time for the launch of TNT in 1988 as an audio engineer, then moved into sound design, which is more specifically geared for post-production.
Among her jobs: sound effects on the cartoon “Space Ghost,” where she had to insert a “string plucking sound” every time a character named Zorak blinked, “and he blinked a lot in every show.”
Once Paige’s eyes were opened to the field of performance excellence, she explained her new passion to her manager, who referred her to Dan Darling, then the vice president of the production department.
“I had the willingness and desire to create something new and to try and build something that we didn’t have,” Paige says, “and Dan was open enough to say, ‘OK, go get the skills and then let’s try it.’ We’ve been in a partnership ever since bringing these tools, resources and approaches to continuously improve our business.”
Darling is now the CIO at Turner.
Putting Theories to the Test
Paige was first given the newly-created title of Sound Design Supervisor, where she oversaw two people allowing her on a small scale to implement and prove out her theories. “We were able to show a 26% increase in customer satisfaction and a 60% increase in facility utilization, which made a statement about the future of this new approach to our business,” Paige recalls.
When she began as Sound Design Supervisor, Paige says she had a hard time getting people to even apply for a job as an audio engineer. “By the time we built our reputation and we turned around that business unit, people were knocking on our doors saying, ‘I hear you’re a great place to work.’”
She joined the Atlanta Quality Resource Center, then part of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce, which held events where companies such as Coca-Cola and Lockheed would make presentations about their quality programs. “I asked for the night shift, 6 p.m. to 2 a.m.,” Paige says, “so I could make those 7:30 a.m. business meetings. I was tired but excited to have the opportunity to learn and bring the information back to our team.”
After improving performance of her Sound Design Team, Paige set about growing the use of these new approaches to the rest of the production department, which required a full time effort, and after backfilling her audio position soon Paige became Quality Operations Manager for all of Turner Studios.
Under her guidance, Turner Studios installed systems to measure how employees and customers felt based on data, not just on who complained the loudest.
“We were able to show, ‘Here’s how much value financially we bring to the company,” Paige says. “We had to prove that we were efficient as an organization and we were effective, providing a quality product that was creative from the customer’s perspective.”
Turner asked Darling to take on another group. Now that he was convinced of the value of “business excellence,” Paige wanted to make sure she got the job to lead the effort. To ensure she was the most qualified, she became an American Society for Quality Certified Quality Manager and an examiner for the state of Georgia’s performance excellence award. After teaching the Baldrige framework to Kennesaw State University EMBA students, she then went through the executive MBA program herself, graduating in 2003.
Subsequently Paige was appointed to the Board of Examiners for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award through the National Institute of Standards and Technologies (NIST). The Baldrige Award for Performance Excellence is awarded by the President of the United States each year. She served on the Board for three consecutive years working with various types of organizations including healthcare and education.
Her diligence paid off. She was named Director Of Business Excellence in 1999 and then VP two years later.
Spreading the Word at TBS
Paige has eight members on her team. They size up a situation, take best practices from various industries, roll in simple truths that apply to every situation and adapt them to Turner’s business units based on the Baldrige Framework.
They don’t market themselves within the company, relying on world of mouth. She says forcing her services on a business unit would be like “pushing a chain.”
“They need to want it and pull you in,” she says. “When I have a senior leader that says, ‘I want to be better,’ or ‘I’m getting this new opportunity to run this new department and I want it to be great,’ then that to me is the most fertile ground that we could possibly have.’”
Her team typically stays in the background as loyal partners to business leaders and their leadership teams developing and implementing strategies for high performance to achieve sustainable business results.
Results can be measured by a rise in employee satisfaction, manifested in fewer sick days and higher retention, as well as an improved brand in the market. Also increases in customer satisfaction and operational efficiency translate to improved financial performance.
Sometimes senior leaders want Paige to simply share the best approach to improving business performance. Others prefer to be walked through the problem-solving process on their own or with their team. “Sometimes the answer needs to come from within, with some structured guidance,” she says.
Paige and her team then engage and guide the employees through an inclusive approach to improve the organization. “They need to drive the change, rather than feel like they’ve been changed by somebody else, after all no-one else has their depth of knowledge when it comes to the systems and processes they use on a daily basis and where the pain points are,” she says.
Hard to Say No
Because of her relatively small team, Paige must make sure her resources go to an area that will have the most impact on Turner’s overall vision in the evolving media market. “But everybody will tell you I have a hard time saying no,” she says, “because when a senior leader wants help, how can I say no, knowing the difference it can make for them and their entire organization?”
Paige’s reward sometimes appears in the form of thank you emails from employees. “We’re kind of behind the scenes, but they know the organization’s gotten better and that their work situation has improved, whether they feel more respected, more connected or their relationship with their management team has improved,” she says.
Paige and other practitioners of the Baldrige Framework believe in it so much that they want to share it to significantly improve Georgia’s ranking in education, healthcare and overall livability. They formed the Georgia Center for Performance Excellence (GCPE) and Paige has served as President and Chairperson.
The group started with a focus on public education, and is currently working with a school in DeKalb County. “It’s a tough group to penetrate,” Paige says, “because so many people are trying to ‘help’ them. And they don’t necessarily turn to people in business for guidance. Understandably, if you’re not an educator, it’s hard to cut through. But the proof is apparent in the results that other states have gotten in their education systems. Everyone benefits, administration, teachers, students, parents and the community. It’s an incredibly beneficial journey for any organization.”
Paige passionately recalls “The reason I read that book at the beach, the reason why I connected to it,” she says, “was because it was the honest, authentic truth that if people are treated well, are respected and involved, they will do their best work, which will translate to the customer, which translates to the bottom line. There is no downside to doing this.”
Secrets to Success
1) In the end, it’s all about people. “People either make the organization succeed or fail. I truly enjoy connecting with people at every level of the organization. I’m as comfortable with the person on the studio floor running the camera as I am with the person in the president’s office. I love the business side, I love strategy, I love operations, but I’m all about connecting with the people who make it happen.”
2) Be honest, open and authentic with people. “My No. 1 concern and interest is their success in the organization. People can read your intentions and will respond accordingly. If you are vested in their situation they will share their challenges, fears and expectations.”
3) Have ownership of their long-term success. “It’s not a quick fix and gone. I’m your partner on this journey and I will be there for the long haul, still interested and concerned about how the organization is improving given a constantly changing environment, and how we can make it even better.”
Paige Lillard is Vice President Business Excellence for Turner Broadcasting System, Inc. ATLANTA TREND™ expresses its thanks and deep appreciation to Paige Lillard for sharing her thoughts with us.
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