Monona Terrace earns prestigious Wisconsin Forward Award

Sometimes good enough is good enough. But not if you’re aiming for excellence.

“It’s true that we’re a little obsessed with constant improvement,” explains Connie Thompson, director of quality improvement and operations. “If there’s a way we can do something better, we do,” she says.

Because of that focus on quality, Monona Terrace recently earned the acclaimed Wisconsin Forward Award (WFA) at the Mastery Level of Performance Excellence Recognition, just one level below the top Governor’s Forward Award of Excellence, and the only Mastery level winner in 2015.

In fact, Liz Menzer, the WFA’s executive director, says she believes Monona Terrace is the only entity of its kind in the nation to earn recognition at the Mastery level by its state quality award. “It’s not easy,” says Menzer. “If it were, every organization in the state would be participating.”

The best of the best

The award is modeled after the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the only formal recognition of performance excellence given by the U.S. president. The WFA/Baldrige criteria covers seven categories—leadership, strategic planning, customer and market focus, measurement, analysis and knowledge management, workforce focus, operations focus and results. Then, within each category, applicants must respond to 17 related items.

Preparing to apply, let alone completing the application, is rigorous. “We received the Wisconsin Forward Award at the Proficiency level in 2008, and began more aggressively assessing our performance against the Baldrige criteria in 2011. We continued to document existing processes and implemented best practices where we needed to in 2012 and 2013,” explains Thompson. “And late in 2015, we learned that the discipline paid off.”

Thompson and Monona Terrace’s Associate Director Kathi Hurtgen each wrote half of the application, which they began in October of 2014 and completed in July of 2015. Executive Director Gregg McManners and Associate Director Bill Zeinemann also participated as members of the quality team.

During the evaluation process, seven teams made up of Monona Terrace and Monona Catering employees represented the organization to the Wisconsin Forward Award examiners. Thompson said that the examiners “told us that we were the only organization that included non-management employees on each category team. They said our teamwork showed—and we’re proud of that.”

Working the plan

While recognition feels good, the award is more about having a blueprint for constant improvement.

The award examiners noted Monona Terrace’s strengths, such as a strong focus on the customer, placing a high value on people and ethical behavior and transparency. They also noted opportunities for improvement. “We know from the report that we need a more advanced in-depth process to identify areas of improvement, measure our efforts and progress and find more industry comparables to evaluate our success. So that’s what we’re focusing on now,” shares Thompson.

After achieving the Mastery level, Monona Terrace has set its sights on the coveted Excellence award—and ultimately wants to apply for and be awarded the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Only up to 18 awards are given each year.

The convention center is committed to getting there. “Achieving this recognition provides a framework for our ongoing improvement, and it communicates to our customers that we are an exceptional organization focused on their experience,” emphasizes Thompson. “We never stop seeing things through their eyes, which means we’ll never stop improving.”

To learn more about hosting your event at Monona Terrace, contact Laura MacIsaac, CMP, director of sales, at or 608.261.4016.

To earn a Wisconsin Forward Award, an organization must meet stringent criteria. Examiners receive rigorous training and are experienced in performance management and quality assessment processes. After earning the Proficiency level in 2008, Monona Terrace achieved the Mastery level in December 2015, which means it demonstrated significant progress in expanding its capabilities through improved processes of all kinds.