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The Official Baldrige Blog

Focus on the 2018 Judges’ Panel: Kristin Stehouwer

Baldrige Judges Panel Chair Kristin Stehouwer photo
Judges Panel Blog Series

In this judges panel blog series, we have been interviewing members of the Judges’ Panel of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award to share individual members’ insights and perspectives on the award process, their experiences, and the Baldrige framework and approach to organizational improvement in general.

The primary role of the Judges’ Panel is to ensure the integrity of the Baldrige Award selection process. Based on a review of results of examiners’ scoring of written applications (the Independent and Consensus Review processes), judges vote on which applicants merit Site Visit Review (the third and final examination stage) to verify and clarify their performance in all seven Criteria categories of the Baldrige Excellence Framework. The judges also review reports from site visit to recommend to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce which organizations to name as U.S. role models—Baldrige Award recipients. No judge participates in any discussion of an organization for which he/she has a real or perceived conflict of interest. Judges serve for a period of three years.

Meet Baldrige Judge Kristin Stehouwer (Chair)

Stehouwer was appointed as chair of the Judges’ Panel this year.

Kristin Stehouwer Baldrige Judges Panle photo

Kristin Stehouwer (Chair)
Executive Vice President, Chief Operating Officer, Chief Academic Officer
Northwood University




What experiences led you to the role of Baldrige judge?  

I remember when President Ronald Reagan first established the Baldrige Award. When I was in college, the Baldrige Award was something we talked about at the family dinner table. My father was adapting and applying the principles of Total Quality Management (TQM) in our small family business. I believe he was ahead of his time because the Baldrige Award and TQM were seen as only being applicable within large corporations. We took inspiration from the early Baldrige Award recipients, and when my dad and I attended a talk by Ritz-Carlton [which received Baldrige Awards in 1992 and 1998], it was more exciting than going to a rock concert!

Years later, Michael Levy, a Baldrige examiner [who served on the Judges’ Panel in 2010–2012], encouraged me to apply to serve on the Board of Examiners for the Baldrige Award. It was a dream come true for me to be selected and to serve our country as a Baldrige examiner. Over the years, I have served on the Board of Examiners in a variety of capacities, which eventually led to my role as a Baldrige judge.

How do you see the Baldrige Excellence Framework and Criteria as valuable to organizations in higher education?

The higher-education landscape is changing rapidly. Post-secondary education organizations face increased competition for enrollments as well as multiplying accreditation and regulatory requirements. Despite these challenges, through use of the Baldrige Excellence Framework, we can create a focus on what’s most important to achieving our respective missions and serving our stakeholders.

In addition, for centuries, the education sector was characterized by inputs rather than outputs. A prime example would be class-time (an input) versus demonstrable learning outcomes (outputs). Today education organizations are more transparent about results, and students demand (and deserve) evidence of return on their investment. By implementing the Baldrige framework, institutions can create a clear line of sight from processes to results to ensure the resources dedicated to serving our students are having the desired impact. At the end of the day, the purpose of education is for students to transform their lives through learning. The Baldrige framework helps organizations translate platitudes and activities into tangible and high-impact results.

How do you apply Baldrige principles/concepts in your current work?

In a way, I have a continuous loop of the Baldrige framework running in the back of my mind when I am in meetings, working with groups to identify solutions, or developing strategic initiatives. After working with the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence for so many years, they’ve become second nature to me. It’s incredibly helpful to think about organizational processes in terms of the Baldrige evaluation factors of approach, deployment, learning, and integration, as well as thinking about results in terms of the Baldrige evaluation factors of performance levels, trends, comparisons, and integration). The Baldrige Criteria are nonprescriptive and applicable in almost any setting or circumstance. I directly apply the Baldrige principles and concepts in my work at Northwood University in strategy development and deployment as well as in our accreditation work.

I love sharing the Baldrige Criteria with others. I’ve seen many leaders become energized when they familiarize themselves with the Baldrige Criteria for the first time. Their reaction often is, “This is exactly what we need to focus on!”

As a judge and as the chair of the panel, what are your hopes for the judging process? For instance, is there anything you’d like to help applicants and potential Baldrige Award applicants understand about the process?

The judges see it as an honor and a privilege to work together to recommend organizations to the Secretary of Commerce for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. It’s a weighty responsibility, and we take it very seriously. Since its inception, the purpose of the Baldrige Award has been to recognize role-model organizations and to enhance U.S. competitiveness. The process is extremely rigorous through all phases, and the judges work diligently and conscientiously to give each applicant fair and comprehensive consideration. The Baldrige staff always goes the extra mile to provide support for all phases of the award process.

What encouragement/advice would you give Baldrige examiners for their work in evaluating organizations as part of the Baldrige Award process?

Serving as an examiner is a tremendously demanding and rewarding process. The most effective examiners are those who have incredible physical and mental stamina and, at the same time, who exemplify effective interpersonal skills and unwavering ethical integrity.

Your work as examiners is essential to the integrity of the process. The judges pore over the site visit reports and truly value the thoroughness and care with which the teams craft the reports. The Judges’ Panel extends our deepest appreciation to all examiners for your dedication, commitment, hard work, insightful analysis, and countless hours you invest in the Baldrige Award process. Thank you for your service to our country in helping to identify role-model organizations from which others can learn!

Judges Panel Blog Series: Previous Blogs

Allison A. Carter
Dr. Glenn Crotty
Tammy L. Dye
Eric K. Fletcher
MG John C. Harris
Kevin R. McManus
John R. Molenda, Jr.
Bruce Requa
Dee Springer

A Systems Approach to Improving Your Organization’s Performance

2019-2020 Baldrige Excellence Framework cover photo

Baldrige Excellence Framework

The Baldrige Excellence Framework has empowered organizations to accomplish their missions, improve results, and become more competitive. It includes the Criteria for Performance Excellence, core values and concepts, and guidelines for evaluating your processes and results.

Purchase your copy today!

Available versions: Business/Nonprofit, Education, and Health Care


About the author

Christine Schaefer

Christine Schaefer is a longtime staff member of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (BPEP). Her work has focused on producing BPEP publications and communications. She also has been highly involved in the Baldrige Award process, Baldrige examiner training, and other offerings of the program.

She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Virginia, where she was an Echols Scholar and a double major, receiving highest distinction for her thesis in the interdisciplinary Political & Social Thought Program. She also has a master's degree from Georgetown University, where her studies and thesis focused on social and public policy issues. 

When not working, she sits in traffic in one of the most congested regions of the country, receives consolation from her rescued beagles, writes poetry, practices hot yoga, and tries to cultivate a foundation for three kids to direct their own lifelong learning (and to PLEASE STOP YELLING at each other—after all, we'll never end wars if we can't even make peace at home!).

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