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Baldrige FAQs: Using the Criteria for Performance Excellence

Why are the Baldrige Criteria good for running my organization? You cannot know the complexities of my work.

No one can tell you how to run your organization. The value in applying the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence is in using a validated framework to assess your organization's performance. The Criteria-based assessment is tailored to your organization and its success and is driven by your Organizational Profile, your strategic and action plans, and your customer focus.

Studies by NIST, universities, business organizations, and the U.S. Government Accountability Office have found that the benefits to organizations using performance excellence approaches, such as the Baldrige Criteria, include increased productivity, improved profitability and competitiveness, and satisfied employees and customers. Award recipients have found that by applying the Baldrige Criteria they created a culture for change and excellence within their organizations that ultimately improved workforce morale, increased growth, and institutionalized a process for continuous learning and improvement.

Doesn't this quality and performance stuff just apply to manufacturing? We are in the service business, so how does it apply to us?  How does it apply to educators or health care providers?

The categories of the Criteria for Performance Excellence apply equally well to all business, service, and nonprofit organizations as well as to education and health care organizations. The success of service organizations is no less dependent on effective leadership, strategic planning, customer engagement, and business results, for example, than is the success of manufacturing organizations. Certainly a customer and market focus is also key to the success of a service organization. Successful service organizations also depend on well-developed and well-managed processes that are measured and improved based on data and information collected on a regular basis. Process management is particularly challenging in a service environment, since it frequently must incorporate customer preferences, leading to process flexibility. Finally, the close interaction with customers in the service sector means that particular attention needs to be focused on customer contact aspects in employee selection and training.

Some of the names of Criteria items have been adapted for the education and health care sectors—for example, in the Education Criteria for Performance Excellence, item 7.1 is called Student Learning and Process Outcomes, and in the Health Care Criteria for Performance Excellence, item 7.1 is called Health Care and Process Outcomes. With each update, the Criteria reflect emerging trends in both education and health care. The Baldrige Program challenges all organizations to innovate and improve. One way the program encourages this innovation is by showcasing Baldrige Award recipients and their best practices. Several education and health care award recipients generously share their Baldrige journeys.

How do you use Baldrige in a small organization? Is it relevant to a small business?

Because Baldrige is a nonprescriptive framework for organizational excellence, it is applicable to small businesses or organizations. The Criteria allow organizations to be responsive in ways that are appropriate for their size and resources. The Criteria can help small organizations by encouraging a disciplined set of processes (though documentation may be less formal) that help the organizations plan and react to a complete set of situations that can affect their success.

Are there special criteria for nonprofit organizations?

There is not a special set of criteria created for nonprofit organizations; instead, the Criteria for Performance Excellence (often referred to as the "Business/Nonprofit Criteria") include notes with specific guidance and examples for nonprofit organizations. These notes can be found in italics at the end of the Criteria items.

Nonprofit organizations in the education and health care sectors will likely continue to use the Education Criteria for Performance Excellence or Health Care Criteria for Performance Excellence, respectively, as these Criteria have always included language appropriate to nonprofit organizations in these sectors.


I don't understand what you mean when you talk about linkages among the categories and processes. Can you explain linkages? How can I ensure that the category items are properly linked?

The Baldrige Criteria categories are the components of a performance management system. The linkages refer to the relationship among the categories for your organization. The individual components are essential, but how they relate to one another—how they link—defines the success of the organization and its overall management system. Some examples of linkages might be

  • the connections between the results items and the corresponding process items
  • the need for data from the Measurement, Analysis, and Knowledge Management category in the strategic planning process
  • the relationship between the leadership system and the strategic planning process
  • the connection between workforce planning and strategic planning

Learning to define the appropriate linkages for your organization and ensuring that these linkages are in place come from assessing your own organization's key business/organization factors against the Baldrige Criteria. This process will move your organization toward solidifying the linkages. As you respond to the Criteria requirements, you will begin to identify gaps—first within the categories and then among them. As you continue the journey, you will learn more and more about your organization and begin to define the best ways your organization can close these gaps. An external perspective, obtained through the application process for the Baldrige Award, will provide an even better opportunity to identify gaps—and the linkages will continue to develop and become clearer.