How is the Baldrige framework for performance excellence helping manufacturing companies today? Consider the experience of Seagate Technology, a manufacturer that defines itself as a “world leader in hard disk drives and storage solutions.” The company, which employs 55,000 workers at sites around the world, reported revenue of $14.4 billion in the fiscal year that ended in June 2013. I recently interviewed Dave Brucks, a Baldrige Executive Fellow who is the executive director of Seagate’s Functional Excellence program. As shared below, he described his company’s use of Baldrige resources in recent years to broadly improve the company’s performance.
What drew you to participate in the Baldrige Executive Fellows Program and how might your company benefit?
I learned of the Baldrige Executive Fellows program through the Performance Excellence Network, the regional Baldrige program here in Minnesota. I have been reaching out to other organizations to learn how they started their “performance excellence journey,” so the Fellows program is a great opportunity to interact with senior leaders of other organizations and learn from them. At the QE [Quest for Excellence®] conference, being in the Fellows program was like having a VIP backstage pass to the [best-practice-sharing] event. The site visits to award-winning organizations are what really attracted me to the program. We had been studying award-winning applications to learn about best practices prior to my involvement in the Fellows program. A site visit, however, really brings the application to life for me.
Seagate will benefit from bringing some of the best practices and processes from high-performing organizations and applying them to the work at Seagate. We’ve used some of the best practices already, for example, in how we manage customer complaints. I was able to pen characteristics of good customer complaint processes from [Baldrige Award-winning] hospitals, restaurants, and other manufacturers. We created spreadsheets of Baldrige Award winners’ practices; and improvement teams throughout the organization use this information in their areas. This has been a very valuable resource for people [within the organization] who know nothing about Baldrige.
What are some of your key learnings so far about the Baldrige framework and/or organizations that have used this framework? Have your perceptions changed as you are learning more about Baldrige as a Fellow?
The fascinating thing for me is how the Criteria can be applied in so many different types of organizations to help them improve. Seagate first started to look into using the Baldrige Criteria about 18 months ago. As I learned more about the Criteria, I got more and more excited about its potential for helping Seagate improve in all areas of our business. As we do site visits with the Fellows program, it becomes obvious that these award-winning organizations use the Baldrige Criteria every day in how they run their businesses. They don’t have “people doing Baldrige” or spend time doing Baldrige separate from running their business. Baldrige core values, concepts, and the Criteria for Performance Excellence framework are integrated into their business model and demonstrated on a daily basis by their people.
Tell us about the Baldrige-based program you are setting up at Seagate.
The [Functional Excellence] program we are setting up at Seagate moves us beyond a compliance model to a performance excellence model. Seagate has been ISO-certified for 15+ years. This has given the company a really good quality management system foundation to build on. We want to move beyond these requirements, and the Baldrige Criteria provides a great framework to raise expectations in all areas of our business.
Two of Seagate’s locations were selected as pilot sites to develop the Functional Excellence process before it was expanded to other Seagate locations worldwide. A five-step process has been defined for Seagate sites and organizations to follow. The development of an Organizational Profile has been a great starting point for the process. It has helped to align the leadership on what is important to the organization (vision, mission, customers, strategic advantages/challenges, competitive position, etc.) and has them quickly thinking about areas of improvement. We have used a Baldrige survey as an assessment tool at two of our sites. This has helped focus them on highest-priority improvement opportunity areas and get them quickly moving on improvement action plans. Another Seagate pilot site took the narrative approach to assessment as we are trying to build in flexibility to the process to make it work for all of our sites worldwide.
Based on my learning from the Fellows program, we have aspirations to put a model in place similar to those of organizations such as Cargill and Tata. Both of these organizations have really strong internal assessment processes based on the Baldrige Criteria. Our journey to get to this type of process has just started!
What do you see as the key challenges for companies that are new to the Baldrige Criteria, and how do you think these might be overcome?
One of the key challenges is how to get started. The good news is there are many resources available through the state, regional, and national programs that help. Everyone I have contacted at an award-winning organization has been extremely helpful in answering the many questions I have on the process. Another key is to get people involved as evaluators/examiners to learn the assessment process and Criteria. When we started using Baldrige at Seagate, some people had the perception that it was a lot of paperwork—a lot of administrative work—not resources that focus us on getting better.
Another key challenge for Seagate is integrating the Functional Excellence effort into other company initiatives. Seagate already has a knowledge base on business excellence tools such as Six Sigma, Design for Six Sigma, Lean, and 8D problem solving. It is a challenge to show members of the organization how these all work together and that Functional Excellence doesn’t replace these but, rather, is a way to tie these all together in a systems view. The Criteria framework pulls [other performance improvement tools and efforts] all together. When we did our ISO audit, people viewed it only as a quality system check. But the Baldrige framework is more comprehensive and includes all aspects of the business, including HR and finance.
Hearing the stories of award-winning organizations [as a Baldrige Fellow] is wonderful; yet, at the same time, it’s somewhat intimidating when you hear how long most of them have been using the Criteria. Showing how an organization can identify some quick wins and make significant changes quickly using the Criteria as its basis can help build momentum for organizations just starting their journey. We’ve made a lot of progress in one short year—it doesn’t take 10 or 15 years to make progress; we made significant progress in just one year in talking about our Organizational Profile.
What do you see as the key benefits of the Baldrige Criteria?
One of the biggest benefits that I have observed at Seagate is that it has broadened the scope of organizations that we look at to benchmark and learn from. Being a high-tech manufacturing company in an industry where there are only three main competitors, Seagate has a tendency to only look at our competitors in order to benchmark processes against them. The common language that the Baldrige framework provides allows Seagate to learn from health care, education, nonprofit organizations, and small businesses, too.
Assessments with the Baldrige Criteria also do a nice job of highlighting the issues that the senior leaders of the organization need to focus on to have successful customer relationships. Compliance audits focused on a lot of basics that need to be attended to but infrequently captured findings that related to issues that were on the minds of senior leaders.
I can see how using the framework really helps to “align the arrows.” The Criteria facilitates developing a common understanding of goals, processes, and results in the organization and having people align their work and energy toward doing these in the best way possible.
Other thoughts about use of Baldrige in manufacturing today?
As I did research on the Baldrige Program at the start of Seagate’s effort, I was surprised to see that there were not a lot of manufacturing or high-tech organizations using the Criteria. I hope that Seagate’s involvement and sharing of our journey will inspire other high-tech and manufacturing organizations to use Baldrige as their performance excellence model. A lot of people don’t yet know it’s more than an award. We look at it as a tool that we use, along with other tools, for continuous improvement.