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Baldrige FAQs: The Baldrige Excellence Framework and Criteria

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What are the Baldrige Excellence Framework and Criteria for Performance Excellence?

I see the Baldrige process as a powerful set of mechanisms for disciplined people engaged in disciplined thought and taking disciplined action to created great organizations that produce exceptional results. —Jim Collins, author of Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap . . . and Others Don't

The Baldrige Excellence Framework is a leadership and performance management framework made up of three parts:

  • the Criteria for Performance Excellence (covering critical aspects of achieving excellence throughout your organization),
  • core values and concepts (beliefs and behaviors found in high-performing organizations), and
  • guidelines for responding to the Criteria and evaluating and scoring processes and results.

The Baldrige Excellence Framework is available in three versions: for manufacturing, service, small business, and nonprofit organizations; for education organizations; and for health care organizations.

The most well-known section of the framework, the Baldrige  Excellence Framework, is a set of questions about critical aspects of managing and performing as an organization. These questions work together as a unique, integrated performance management framework that any organization can use to improve overall performance.

Is interest in the Baldrige Criteria increasing or decreasing?

Since their inception in 1988, the Baldrige Excellence Framework have accelerated in acceptance and importance. Demand for the Criteria remains high, and the Criteria have been incorporated into many books and articles. The Criteria had more than 2 million pageviews on the Baldrige Program's website in 2012, and the Criteria pages remain some of the most popular web pages within the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Organizations of all sizes and types use the Criteria for improvement and self-assessment, including large and small manufacturers; banks and other service providers; small businesses from consulting firms to fast-food restaurants; K–12 school systems, universities, and proprietary education organizations; hospitals, long-term care facilities, and other health care organizations; nonprofit organizations; and local, state, and federal government agencies.

According to a 2013 survey of CEO members of the American College of Health Care Executives and senior, provider-based members of the Society for Healthcare Strategy and Market Development, 65% of surveyed hospitals are likely to "use the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence as a systematic framework for performance improvement or as an internal assessment tool" by 2018. In addition, 41% of respondents said they were likely to submit an application for the Baldrige Award or a state-based Baldrige-based award by 2018.

Globally, about 100 performance or business excellence programs exist. Most use the Baldrige Criteria or criteria similar to Baldrige as their performance excellence models. The growth and success of Baldrige-based award programs at the state and local level and in the U.S. government also show that the Baldrige Criteria are recognized as a proven diagnostic tool for assessing organizational performance.

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

The history of management theory in the United States is littered with outmoded fads; most were tools with a short shelf life. They were needed at a time when overall management theory was static. By contrast, the Baldrige Program reflects a nonprescriptive, dynamic systems approach to performance excellence. It is a system of assessment 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.

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

It is very true that the Criteria, not being prescriptive, apply to all kinds organizations in all kinds of situations.—Richard A. Norling, president/CEO, Baldrige Award winner Premier, Inc.

No one can tell you how to run your organization. The Criteria don't prescribe how you should structure or manage it. An assessment based on the Criteria 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, health care providers, nonprofit organizations, and government organizations?

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, former president/CEO, Baldrige Award winner Poudre Valley Health System

The Criteria for Performance Excellence apply equally well to all business, service, nonprofit, government, education, and health care organizations. For example, the success of all organizations depends on effective leadership, strategic planning, customer engagement, and results. A customer and market focus is also key to the success of all organizations, and they depend on well-developed and well-managed processes that are measured and improved based on data and information collected regularly. Process management is particularly challenging in a service, health care, education, and nonprofit environments, since it frequently must incorporate customer, patient, student, and client preferences, leading to process flexibility. Finally, the close interaction with customers in those sectors means that such organizations need to pay particular attention to customer contact aspects in selecting and training employees.

The Criteria for Performance Excellence, Education Criteria for Performance Excellence, and Health Care Criteria for Performance Excellence are therefore all built on the same seven-part framework. Using a common framework for all sectors of the economy fosters cross-sector cooperation and the sharing of best practices.

Recognizing that education and health care organizations may address these requirements differently from organizations in other sectors, the Education Criteria and Health Care Criteria translate the language and basic concepts of business and organizational excellence into similarly important concepts in education and health care excellence, respectively. Some of the terms in the Criteria have been adapted for the education and health care sectors—for example, the Education Criteria refer to "students and other customers," and the Health Care Criteria refer to "patients and other customers." With each update, the Criteria reflect emerging trends in education and health care.

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

We're a small hot dog and hamburger operation in the hills of Tennessee, but we can effectively apply the Criteria and have tremendous success.—Thomas Crosby, president/CEO, Baldrige Award winner Pal's Sudden Service

Because Baldrige is a nonprescriptive framework for organizational excellence, it is applicable to small organizations. The Criteria allow organizations to respond 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 and government organizations?

There is not a special set of criteria created for nonprofit organizations; instead, the Baldrige Excellence Framework (often referred to as the "Business/Nonprofit Criteria") include notes with specific guidance and examples for these organizations.

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've never used the Criteria before. How can I start using them to improve my organization?

No matter what your experience with the Criteria has been, you can use them to improve your organization.

You might start with the Baldrige Excellence Builder, a self-assessment based on the Criteria that helps you identify and improve what is critical to your organization's success.

Other first steps might be completing the Organizational Profile (see business, education, and health care) and using other self-assessment methods, including answering the questions that form the titles of the Criteria items, as a first step.

The Criteria category titles, item titles, and area-to-address headings form a simple outline of a holistic performance management system. See if you are considering all of these dimensions. You might also read the 11 Criteria core values and concepts, a set of beliefs and behaviors found in high-performing organizations. Or consider contacting your state or local Baldrige-based program, becoming a Baldrige examiner, or attending the Baldrige Examiner Training Experience. You will receive valuable training and gain experience in understanding and applying the Criteria.

For other suggestions, see New to Baldrige and Self-Assessing. Also see "How to Use This Booklet" in each of the Baldrige Excellence Framework booklets.

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

The time required to prepare a self-assessment will depend on a variety of factors, including how much data your organization has already assembled, the size or complexity of your organization, and the thoroughness of the assessment you choose to conduct. A first self-assessment can frequently be accomplished in a one-day meeting. The amount of time it takes to prepare a full, written self-assessment and the time it takes to prepare a Baldrige Award application (an average of 100 hours for first-time applicants) are typically about the same.


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

As you assess your own organization's key business/organization factors against the Baldrige Criteria, you will learn to define the appropriate linkages for your organization and to ensure that these linkages are in place. 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 a Baldrige Collaborative Assessment or the application process for a Baldrige-based award, will provide an even better opportunity to identify gaps—and the linkages will continue to develop and become clearer.


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Created October 26, 2010, Updated June 2, 2021