Every day, each one of us may come upon a standard of excellence that improves the quality in our own lives, and we may not even know it.
Here at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the oldest physical science lab in the United States, standards are the foundation of measurements so that U.S. companies can compete commercially and so that all of us can be kept safe from, for example, refrigerators not set at the appropriate temperature to safeguard our food and materials not appropriately fire retardant in our buildings. Standards can help raise the level of excellence across all industries and professions; for example, a recent article by a NIST scientist outlines his plans for standards of excellence for medical-alert service dogs to save more lives.
So, what does the Baldrige Excellence Framework (and its Criteria) have to do with standards? And, in today’s world, do we even need national standards of excellence for our organizations?
That question is best answered, I think, by going back to the Baldrige Program’s beginning and how it came to be associated with NIST. According to Curt Reimann, the first Baldrige Program director, in the 1980s, scientists at NIST (then called the National Bureau of Standards [NBS]) were working on an initiative called “Process and Quality Control,” which was proposing new and improved measurements and standards services for industry. (The next Baldrige director, Harry Hertz, was also involved in that scientific effort.) Reimann said that Capitol Hill staffers were aware that NBS was working on that quality initiative, and when the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, Public Law 100-107, was coming close to being signed (August 20, 1987), the NBS director was approached about his scientists managing the award and performance excellence criteria that would become the award’s application.
This time in history was also referenced in the article “A Look at Quality’s Past” that spoke of the dawn of “performance excellence” beginning with the Baldrige Excellence Framework—an organizational framework for improvement that could be used in any industry and was accompanied by a “prestigious award.”
Fast forward to 2015, when the Baldrige Program was honored for its compilation paper (contributors included Christine Schaefer, Harry Hertz, and Jacqueline Deschamps) “The Metrology of Organizational Performance: How Baldrige Standards Have Become the Common Language for Organizational Excellence Around the World.” The paper won third place in the World Standards Day competition sponsored by The Society for Standards Professionals.
In addition, in 2016, one of the first-place-winning-paper writers for World Standards Day was Baldrige Executive Fellow Julie M. Kapp, who has done additional research and writing on a Baldrige-based approach to U.S. population health.
So why do we need national standards for organizational excellence? I think that the results of Baldrige Award recipients that can be publicized because they won the award and the results of thousands of other organizations around the globe who use Baldrige resources make clear that standards for excellence are imperative in creating an organization that is successful now and in the future. A contributing factor to Baldrige recipients' successes is their ability to use Baldrige resources to benchmark each other and learn across sectors, which is part of having a nonprescriptive criteria and the ability to share how winning organizations answered the criteria questions, as well as to share data. And it should be noted that being managed at NIST, part of an objective government partnership, allows the Baldrige standards (Criteria) to stay objective, not swayed by any one industry or contributor.
The standards represented through the Criteria’s thoughtful questions represent the very essence of leading an organization with efficiency and effectiveness, a customer focus, visionary leadership, workforce engagement, etc. The Baldrige framework remains the nation’s standard of excellence for organizations. As other standards, the framework and its Criteria make the world a better place for the customers/patients/students, workforce, and stakeholders who are part of those organizations' Baldrige focus on excellence.