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The First Baldrige Award Process

Reimann and Verity standing together by the U.S. flag.
Baldrige Program Director Curt Reimann and Secretary of Commerce William Verity, Jr.
Credit: Baldrige Performance Excellence Program

With the new Secretary of Commerce focusing on the new award, Reimann said they had extremely tight time requirements; the first Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Awards needed to be given in November 1988 before President Reagan’s term ended. That meant that everything needed to be in place by early 1988, Reimann said; “We worked seven days a week for six months, but it was without a doubt extremely exciting and positive. It was intense but....... people wanted to help. I could call meetings and people from organizations around the U.S. would respond quickly to attend or comment on our plans. Participants felt this was of utmost importance to their companies and to the country....... It was clearly the most profoundly positive work experience I ever had.”

In the summer of 1987, Reimann called U.S. executives and quality experts about the process both for award applicants and for examiner applicants. One of the big concerns, Reimann said, was where to get people to evaluate award applications. A tremendous amount of networking was done to identify pockets of leadership and to alert people that an examiner application process was coming. “I was like a teenager,” he said. “I was on the phone all the time trying to identify key leaders and ask them to name others to contact.” Reimann added that he felt volunteering was then so much more encouraged, even fashionable. Many companies were very interested in Baldrige; it was very common to allow employees to participate as a broadening exercise during work hours, he said. Coursey added that Alan Siebe, a loaned executive from FPL, joined the group in late 1987, and became a critical part of the outreach to U.S. private‐sector stakeholders and completing the launch of the Baldrige Award.

With a few new staff members (Coursey; Ruth Haines, a chemist in the NBS Center for Chemical Physics; Kathy Leedy; and Siebe), Reimann was able to focus on fleshing out the criteria for the award. But finalizing the criteria framework and content took much longer than getting examiners approved, Reimann said. He asked business executives to review the criteria because NBS wanted to ensure that its quality management approach was widely understood and agreed upon. Reimann also received valuable help and advice from George Uriano, later, director of the new NBS Advanced Technology Program.

In late October 1987, in just his first few days on the job, and after Reimann and the NBS staff had worked for just three months, Secretary Verity asked Reimann and NBS Director Ambler to outline for him the award criteria and process. One of his own responsibilities, Coursey said, was to prepare weekly highlights from all of NBS on technical and programmatic achievements and to send these to the Department of Commerce; “As the [Baldrige] Program began to gain visibility at DOC, they asked that each week’s submissions from [NBS] include an update on Baldrige. Finally, they said, ‘OK these other write‐ups are fine, but just tell us what is happening with the Baldrige Award!’”

The timetable was set that applications/guidelines would be available on February 15, 1988; applications would be due May 20, 1988; application reviews and site visits would be conducted between June and September 1988; and an award ceremony with President Reagan would be held in November 1988. According to Reimann, “The overall award process design—criteria, evaluation processes, organization, and funding, all within an integrated public‐private partnership—was unique and not modeled after any other award or proposal.”


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Created April 17, 2023, Updated April 26, 2023