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Baldrige FAQs: Applying for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award

We do not need an award to prove that we are a good organization, so why should we apply?

Many organizations believe that the application process itself is beneficial. Baldrige Award applicants and Baldrige Award recipients report that they gain a lot from the application process, including improved alignment of plans and processes, communication, and workforce morale. Every applicant receives an extensive feedback report highlighting strengths and opportunities for improvement, based on an independent assessment completed by recognized experts. Organizations committed to performance improvement have indicated that objective feedback, especially from external sources, is both valuable and essential to their success.

Organizations often use their feedback reports in their strategic planning processes to focus on their customers and improve results, as well as to help energize and guide their organizational improvement efforts. In addition, award applicants and recipients have seen improved results after applying for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.

How much does it cost to apply for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award?

There is a nonrefundable fee of for eligibility filing as well as an application fee. (An additional processing fee is required for applications submitted on CD.) Please see the Baldrige Award Process Fees page for a complete list of fees by sector and size.

Organizations receiving a site visit benefit from more than 1,000 hours of in-depth review. Site visit fees are paid only by applicants receiving site visits. The fee depends on a number of factors, including the number of sites visited, the number of Baldrige examiners assigned, and the duration of the visit.

Every applicant receives an extensive feedback report highlighting strengths and opportunities for improvement. The application and review process has been called “the best, most cost-effective and comprehensive business health audit you can get.”

How long does it take to apply for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award?

The effort of applying for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, like the effort of conducting a self-assessment, will depend on a variety of factors, including how much of the necessary data and other information the applicant has on hand. First-time applicants report that it took them an average of 100 hours for their initial response, which included reviewing instructions and writing the application.

How long will it take to do a self-assessment?

Like the effort of applying for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the time required to prepare a self-assessment will depend on a variety of factors, including how much data are already assembled, the size or complexity of the organization, and the thoroughness of the assessment the organization chooses to conduct. A first self-assessment can frequently be accomplished in a one-day meeting. The amount of time it takes to prepare a fully written self-assessment and the time it takes to prepare an application for the Baldrige Award are typically about the same.

Do you need a consultant for the application process in order to win?

No. Many applicants have gone outside their organizations before applying for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award to get objective assessments or to test their own self-assessments. For example, organizations can participate in a state or local Baldrige-based award program. Some have also hired consultants to help them prepare their award applications, but doing so is certainly not a requirement and not all applicants do so. Some have also been able to establish close relationships with prior award recipients, who repeatedly say that the goal should not be to win, however gratifying that may be. Rather, all applicants are winners because they learn so much by applying.

As Sister Mary Jean Ryan, FSM, president/CEO of 2002 Baldrige Award recipient SSM Health Care said,

I've always maintained that the reason to apply for Baldrige is that it's the best way to get better faster. And having received Baldrige feedback for four years in a row, I can say without a doubt that it's the best thing SSM Health Care has done to improve as an organization.

While I would value the feedback, why would I want to put in the work that is required for a site visit?

Applicants report that the benefits of a site visit outweigh the costs. They usually desire a site visit because scoring high enough to be selected is a considerable accomplishment, even though a site visit requires the attention of many people in applicant organizations. Applicants that receive a site visit are also delighted because a site visit has an electrifying effect on the organization, increasing workforce morale and commitment to improvement. In addition, a site visit gives the applicant an opportunity to clarify what it wrote in the application, which ultimately makes for a better feedback report. Of course, an applicant can decline to host a site visit, even if it achieves that level in the evaluation process.

Is the resulting feedback you receive really worth the investment of time and money?

Yes, if the knowledge is used to improve. Organizations that are committed to performance improvement place a high value on objective feedback from a knowledgeable source. Many organizations that apply for the award already do self-assessments. Such organizations are in the best position to get maximum value from a Baldrige assessment. However, some organizations that are just beginning their journeys might experience an increase in commitment because of feedback, and those just thinking about starting that journey might be challenged by their feedback to proceed.

Award recipients often note the cost-effectiveness of a Baldrige assessment:

As soon as you become a Baldrige organization, it will cost you less to run your business, and your outcomes will be better.—Rulon Stacey, president and CEO of 2008 award recipient Poudre Valley Health System

[The Baldrige evaluation] reinforced where we were strong and provided valuable information on areas where we could improve––making it perhaps the most cost-effective, value-added business consultation available anywhere in the world today.—Bob Barnett, president of 2002 award recipient Motorola Commercial, Government & Industrial Solutions Sector


Number of Applications   

What is the history on the number of Baldrige applications? 

The annual number of applications for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award has increased from 37 in 2001 to 69 in 2011. For 2012 the Baldrige Program set new eligibility rules to encourage organizations that are early in their Baldrige improvement journeys to first apply for an Alliance for Performance Excellence Baldrige-based program award in order to receive the benefits of a "local" review. This change resulted in an expected drop in national program applications in 2012, to 39. However, over the years, applications to Baldrige-based award programs throughout the nation have increased dramatically. For example, state, regional, local and other award programs that are members of the Alliance for Performance Excellence received 1,358 applications in 2010, compared with 966 in 2006. The emergence of this de facto national system of award programs is fortunate, because the Baldrige Program by itself couldn't possibly handle that number of applications.

Another benefit of that system is that recipients of state and local program awards also apply for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. For example, 54 of the last 71 Baldrige Award recipients through 2011 have also been state award recipients.

How can an applicant win a state award and be turned down for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award? Are state awards less stringent?

Many states offer different levels of recognition for their applicants—and may ask applicants to be responsive to only selected items in the Criteria for Performance Excellence, depending on the level of recognition for which the organization applies. The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award is given to organizations recognized as role models at the national level. As the population of potential role-model organizations increases, the level of performance required for world-class organizations may increase accordingly. From 1996 through 2011, 51 of the 71 Baldrige Award recipients were also state award recipients.

Is the interest in the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award increasing or decreasing? 

All indicators point to growing interest. The Baldrige Award expanded in 1998, when Congress approved the eligibility of education and health care applicants for the award, and again in 2005 with the approval of the nonprofit sector. Criteria are distributed at the rate of more than 100,000 printed copies per year, and electronic versions of the Criteria have more than 2 million pageviews on the Baldrige Program's Web site annually.

The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award is only part, albeit the most visible part, of the Baldrige Program. The organizations that apply for the award are a fraction of a very large number of organizations that use the Criteria for self-improvement and self-assessment.

Isn't the whole quality effort dying? Is Baldrige just another fad that won't be around in a year or two?  

Since its inception in 1988, the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence have accelerated in acceptance and importance. Demand for the Criteria booklets remains high. The Criteria are also available electronically and have been incorporated into many books and articles. Another indicator of the Baldrige Criteria's acceptance is the approval of eligibility categories for the education and health care sectors in 1999, as well as approval of the nonprofit category in 2005. The growth and success of Baldrige-based award programs at the state and local level, in the U.S. government, and in an increasing number of other countries, including Japan, show that the Baldrige Criteria are recognized as a proven diagnostic tool for assessing organizational performance.

While the history of management theory in the United States is littered with outmoded fads, most of these fads were tools that had a short shelf life. They were needed at a time when overall management theory was static. By contrast, the Baldrige Program reflects a nonprescriptive and dynamic systems approach to performance excellence. It is a system of assessment (to be used by the organization or by Baldrige examiners) that does not prescribe the tools an organization should use, leaving those decisions to the organization itself. While specific tools go in and out of fashion, the Baldrige Criteria, which define what constitutes performance excellence, have remained and continue to evolve.

As Joseph M. Juran has said,

Let me recall the staggering benefits which are waiting for the [United States] as we go forward with our own quality revolution:

—Regaining market share
—Bringing back the jobs we exported
—Wiping out the bulk of our trade deficit

Those are goals which deserve the unified support of all of us. The activities surrounding the Baldrige Award have been a valuable contribution toward reaching those goals.