Recognised for Excellence 4 star



Cornerstone is one of Scotland’s largest charities and voluntary sector social care organisations. Every day we provide flexible, high quality care and support services for adults, children and young people with disabilities and other support needs to improve their quality of life. With over 30 years’ experience, we now deliver a wide range of services in 20 of the 32 local authority areas across Scotland, to over 2600 individuals. We employ over 2000 staff and have around 200 active volunteers who enhance our service provision. Our aim is “to enable the people we support to enjoy a valued life”.


Why Recognised for Excellence?

Cornerstone has always been committed to quality and chose the Business Excellence model in 2006 as the best way of evidencing continuous improvement across the expanding organisation. As the most widely used performance management framework in Europe, we value its overarching, holistic framework- encompassing all other business initiatives and continuous improvement activities to add further structure on top of what we do already.


Key issues we wanted to address

Having gained R4E at 3 star level in award cycle 2010/11, we wanted to continue our excellence journey and be reassessed against the revised EFQM Excellence model.  We had been working on improvement actions from last time, with priority areas taken forward including our customer satisfaction process. We knew we had come a long way over the years, but wanted to step back to review where we were, and how well we were doing. We value the external EFQM assessment as a good way of doing this, feeling we are too close to it all ourselves, whilst also recognising that we work in a fast-moving, constantly changing environment where on-going assessment and review are absolutely critical.


“Cornerstone has a dedicated and passionate staff, enthusiastic about the organisation and what it stands for, empowered to provide personalised support and outcomes and working for Cornerstone because of their belief that the organisation is making a difference to the individuals that they support.”

Quality Scotland Assessor Team


“External independent recognition of our commitment to continuous improvement has proven to be a useful tool when seeking funding for new projects or when tendering for new business.  We have used our EFQM submission document to demonstrate to funders and investors how we meet both our business and social outcomes and the accreditation and feedback report provides evidence of our quality standards, which funders are always keen to see.”

Edel Harris, CEO Cornerstone

Our Journey

Our first awards submission used the previous, lengthier Classical Approach, but this time we completed the simpler Enabler Map. We spent a long time designing the format and key content of our Enabler Map to best describe the complex organisation. Our two trained assessors took the lead role to pull together our submission, liaising with the Senior Management Team and relevant staff across the organisation. We kept the approach low key - focusing on describing what we were doing and achieving on a daily basis within Cornerstone.


How long did it take to achieve recognition?

It felt like a very long time as it was a slow process gathering data and creating the submission document. We started looking at it in early 2014, drafting the submission in the summer for approval and printing, with the final submission being ready at the end of 2014. Then there is a lull whilst Quality Scotland plan the assessment before we got busy again planning the useful initial meeting with the assessor team in February, and then the week long site visit at the end of March. After that there is another quiet time while waiting for the results in June!


The journey our organisation went through

We consciously “hid the wiring”, keeping the whole thing low key, as we deliberately did not want to create extra work for staff who are already busy. We therefore made our EFQM work part of our natural continuous improvement journey whilst embedding the concepts and principles of the EFQM model within Cornerstone without labelling it EFQM or “yet another initiative”.

Our main challenges included describing such a diverse and geographically widespread organisation within the limitations of the submission document, and finding the time to write it with the limited resources we had.


Lightbulb moment

When we looked at our previous submission we realised how much Cornerstone had changed. We realised instead of merely revising this document, we had to start from scratch.  This was later verified by the assessment outcome.


Future plans and how our organisation intends to use the learning from this process

We intend to keep travelling and carry on with our excellence journey. We are currently sharing the feedback report and our strengths and areas for improvement with our staff, board and relevant stakeholders. The report will help inform our strategic plan review and will be discussed at our Senior Management Team and Board Away Days. We have been celebrating all the good things that we do, and continue to work on the areas that can be improved which align with our strategic priorities.


The value of entering the awards to our organisation

The biggest benefit to us is the external validation – validation of things we do well which we may take for granted, and identification of areas for improvement we may not have thought about. It’s been good to have fresh eyes looking at our organisation.  Internally, it has driven us to look at how we measure what we do and the alignment of our key strategic pillars with our key performance indicators, and helped us review our processes, ensuring they are customer focussed. Our managers are now getting more contemporary management information on which to base their decisions and take forward our strategic priorities.

As many local authorities and other organisations including the Care Inspectorate, use the model it gives us a common language in which to engage with our business customers. An unexpected bonus is that one of the assessors has since offered her organisation to do some Corporate Volunteering with us.

The Benefits

  • Doing this has improved our understanding of Cornerstone as an organisation and the external world we work in.
  • We have worked with people we wouldn’t usually work with, and gained a better understanding of how different teams and departments interlink and work together.
  • We have used the submission document for other things, such as inductions for new staff, funding applications and tenders.
  • The process has helped us appreciate our strengths and celebrate how good we are.
  • It has given a focus/rationale - for areas for improvement and links to our strategic plan.
  • Increased public awareness of Cornerstone and our commitment to quality.

Hints & Tips

  • Make sure you get buy-in from the very top of your organisation or you will flounder from the start.

  • Plan the timetable. Working back from submission deadline, including time for printing and checking, and make sure you have the resources you need.

  • Planning the site visit can be a logistical nightmare, with assessor and staff availability, and different locations, being key factors which need consideration. As such, allow lots of time to plan this stage and be prepared for changes at the last minute.

  • Learn from Quality Scotland and others. Go to the Submission Writer’s workshop, join the relevant sector group and attend other organisation’s Learning Journey events.

  • Be prepared to put a lot of time and energy into your journey, it’s not for the fainthearted but like anything which is hard work it’s also very rewarding. Just take small steps and realise it is not something you will achieve overnight.

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