Living, Learning, & Pivoting with Raina Knox: An Examiner Spotlight

Who is Raina Knox?

Dr. Raina Knox is the Co-Founder and CEO of Stratex Solutions, home of Ascend™, a Baldrige strategic planning software, and Apex™, a Baldrige assessment, application, and examiner software. Dr. Knox has over 25 years of experience in partnering with organizations to improve key planning systems and processes using Baldrige. She served as the Executive Director of the Missouri Quality Award from 2009-2015 and served in the role of examiner, team lead and judge for multiple state programs and the national Baldrige program. She holds a BBA and MBA from Baker University and a Doctor of Management in Information Systems Technology from the University of Phoenix.

As a Baldrige Examiner from Missouri, what brought you to Sterling?

I was the executive director of the Missouri and Kansas Baldrige program and there were many opportunities to work with other state program directors. I really enjoyed the Florida Sterling practices, finding them to be thorough and of the highest standards. In particular I was impressed with the passion and dedication of the volunteers.

When we founded Stratex Solutions and launched the Apex Applicant software, we partnered with Florida Sterling to pilot an approach that had never been used previously. The concept of transforming the application experience from an event driven approach for the purpose of applying for the award or the assessment to an approach that eased the administrative burden of presenting  a perfectly formatted application aligned well with the founding principles of Baldrige, which supported a journey of excellence. The first year pilot was a success and the next year we piloted the examiner software along with using the applicant software for a second year. The Florida Sterling program and volunteers played an important role in the evolution of the software. We used voice of the customer and feedback on applicant and examiner experiences to continue to improve our offerings. We are now three years in and we appreciate the strong partnership we have with the Florida Sterling program.

From your own experience, what may Baldrige Examiners gain from working with us?

The Florida Sterling examination process requires the best trained examiners and provides the opportunity for examiners to apply and expand their skills. Examiners have the ability to gain insight into organizations they might never be exposed to otherwise and to contribute in a meaningful way to the organizations they examine. The cherry on the top is the opportunity to work with and learn from other volunteers. You have to be really committed to excellence to serve as a volunteer. The process attracts the people with enthusiasm that can’t be matched. The Florida Sterling process supports personal growth, learning, and personal satisfaction.

For this year’s assessment process, we used Stratex (of which you co-founded and are the CEO). Based off your own experience as an Examiner, what did you notice as the primary advantage for users, as well as the primary learning curve for the program?

The advantages of the software are numerous. For the applicant, the software provides a collaborative platform for development of an application by multiple writers and ensures a focus on providing substantive responses to the criteria. It can be updated continuously and allows the organization to evolve as they identify new approaches. The application is submitted electronically, but also prints into an application document similar to what used to be written using word processing software. For the examiners, the software significantly reduces the administrative work of managing multiple scorebooks across multiple stages in the process. I can remember a time where we combined scorebooks using scissors and tape, literally. Today, team leads can support new examiners by providing coaching in the software, site visits can be managed through the functionality provided and the resulting feedback report is as easy as running a report.

As with any change, learning new approaches and processes can provide challenges. Examiners tell us the software is very easy to use, but evolving processes that were formerly very manual takes some thought. The Apex software supports innovation in how we use Baldrige to support organizational transformation. Virtual site visits, once thought to be too difficult to manage, now become a viable option. The application process, sometimes thought to be about a pretty application is achievable for organizations of all types as the focus is on simply answering the criteria questions.

Can you tell us a little bit about your experience on Shark Tank?

I had so much fun pitching to Shark Tank. We responded to an invitation to present to producers and it was much like you see on the show and as you might imagine. The producers were surprisingly easy to present to and the opportunity to talk about what we do and why we do it was pretty amazing. Filming of the new season was suspended right after due to the pandemic and we probably won’t hear anything further, but it was so worth it. Pitching to Shark Tank was a bucket list item and even we though we didn’t make it to the sharks in the tank, we learned a lot.

What was your biggest inspiration for starting your business?

I am an accidental entrepreneur. Stratex Solutions was founded with the development of strategic planning software that was developed to address every Baldrige criteria requirement for strategic planning. I wanted to design a strategic planning framework that a Baldrige examiner would struggle to find OFI’s. The early versions of the framework were executed using spreadsheets, which was just impossible to sustain. Mention Strategic Planning and wait for the groans and eye rolls. It’s hard, I get it. Software makes it so much easier.

When you first started your business, did you ever think it would grow to where it is today and see the success you are realizing?

We had big dreams when we founded Stratex. We still do. We want to transform the strategic planning processes of organizations across the world. We also want to see Baldrige embedded into organizations across the world as standard approaches.  Software tools help achieve both goals. Audacious goals are in the hearts of everyone starting a business and Stratex is no different.

With all of your experience, knowledge and expertise, it’s hard to imagine that there is still things out there for you to learn. But let’s assume that there are: what was your biggest learning from serving as a Sterling/Oglethorpe Examiner through this assessment cycle?

I LOVED being able to sit side by side with Stratex Apex customers and to participate in the examination process using our software. There is no better experience for a business than to view products through the eyes of the customer. I learned so much from my fellow examiners and I finally got to see the infamous Results Matrix in action!

As the threat of COVID approached, Sterling did the unprecedented and pivoted to coordinate a first time, completely virtual site visit. Can you tell us about your experience personally as an Examiner and as a consultant to Life Alliance Organ Recovery Agency (the organization Examiners assessed)?

I was on a F/S site visit as an examiner when COVID-19 started getting very serious in March. Plans were being made by the Florida Sterling to react to the crisis and the Life Alliance site visit was the next one on the schedule. I was confident in the Florida Sterling processes and in the examiners. I just knew it could be done. Life Alliance was counting on the feedback report as an important input into their strategic planning process and the Florida Sterling team focused on the primary objective of site visit, which was to produce a feedback report to support organizational performance improvement to the next level.  The Apex software provided the platform and tools supporting an environment where the examiners were working together during each phase of the site visit.

While this was Life Alliance’s first site visit, they were prepared and ready. The examiner team and the Florida Sterling program pivoted quickly and executed the first fully virtual site visit two weeks later. We conducted every element of the site visit just like it would have been done if on site. Even the tour of the applicant location was conducted using cellphone video. Virtual walk arounds allowed the examiners to evaluate deployment and the applicant received the benefit of all aspects of a site visit. The site visit was almost flawless with the biggest challenge being everyone learning how to use video conference software. By noon the first day, everyone had it figured out. The mission was accomplished, and I was so thrilled to be a part of it.

Last week, you and Dr. Mary Beth Corace facilitated a Strategic Plan Reboot through the Sterling Institute. As the first Sterling partners to work with the Institute, what did you gain from the experience as a whole and what is your #1 advice for future facilitators?

Facilitating the Strategic Planning Reboot with Dr. Corace was a fabulous opportunity to work with another professional in the field and to meld our approaches into content with variety and a depth of experience to meet the varied learning needs of the workshop participants. There are a lot of “right” ways to do strategic planning. It’s not one size fits all, but rather a continuous evolution of approaches to support the best organizational outcomes.

We had a great group of attendees and we were able to target the content based on their learning objectives. We surveyed them prior to the class, so we were able to make customized adjustments. We also surveyed them after the first day so we could make adjustments to the second day, which will be delivered two weeks after the first session. Encouraging engagement, questions, and interaction makes for a great learning experience for everyone. It’s much more fun for facilitators and participants to have dialog than it is to just listen to the facilitator talk.

What, based on what you learned last week, may we see more of for that next offering?

Great learning comes from stories. We can talk strategic theory for days on end, but theory only works if it resonates or if there is a path to execution. Telling the stories of things that went well and those that did not provides meaning. Stories provide examples and transform the imagination of those who wish to learn. I frequently have people comment on the passion I have for strategic planning and for Baldrige. It’s because I’ve seen the transformation that is possible. Helping others see the transformation possibilities just works better through story telling.

Is it true you plan to buy a home in Florida soon? Considering this exciting news, what are you looking forward to the most about that and where might we see you even more in the Florida Sterling network?

I spend a lot of time in Florida working with our customers. While we have customers all over the nation and internationally, Stratex’s growth in Florida has been exciting and we really enjoy our partnership with the Florida Sterling program. I think the Tampa/Sarasota area is calling my name. It will be exciting to see how things develop!


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