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The Official Baldrige Blog

Focus on the 2020 Baldrige Judges: Meet Dr. Kevin Johnson

Baldrige Judges Panel Dr. Kevin Johnson with a background panel of people having a discussion.

2020 Judges Panel Blog Series

Each year we interview the newest members of the Judges’ Panel of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award to share their individual 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 Dr. Kevin Johnson

Photo of Kevin Johnson 2020 Baldrige Judges Panel.

Kevin T. Johnson, MD
Senior Leader
SSM Health System (retired)



What experiences led you to the role of Baldrige judge?

I worked most of my career at SSM Health Care, which has a rich history in Baldrige and was the first health care winner of the national award in 2002. I practiced for 19 years as a pulmonary/critical care physician and served for 20 years as a health care executive with SSM Health Care before retiring in 2017. As a health care executive, I served in multiple roles at the hospital, regional, and system levels, with responsibilities in performance improvement, patient safety, clinical quality, care coordination, regulatory compliance, medical staff functions, and risk management.

I was first introduced to the Baldrige Excellence Framework in 2002, when SSM Health Care applied for and won the Baldrige Award as a health care system. At that time, I was on a SSM Health Care hospital leadership team, and we were involved in the interview and site visit processes. The Baldrige framework was strongly embedded in our organization. I was very impressed by the entire process and the organizational change as a result of using the framework. I then served as a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award examiner between 2004 and 2006. I also led organizational improvement initiatives and co-wrote the applications for two organizations within the SSM Health Care system that won the Missouri State Quality Award (utilizing the Baldrige Excellence Framework): SSM Health DePaul Hospital in 2006 and SSM Health St. Louis Region in 2010.

During my service as a health care executive, I continued to be involved in performance improvement and organizational change. I also learned about many other health care organizations on the Baldrige journey. I regularly reviewed the public information provided by NIST regarding the annual winners of the Baldrige Award: incredible organizations that have demonstrated the value of the framework. I retired as a health care executive in 2017 and wanted to be a judge to continue to serve, learn, and contribute to organizational improvement. 

How do you see the Baldrige Excellence Framework (which includes the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence) as valuable to organizations in your sector?

I have experienced and seen first-hand great benefits and organizational change result from use of the Baldrige Excellence Framework in the health care sector. Through my work at SSM Health Care, my Baldrige examiner experiences, and my regular review of information about annual Baldrige Award winners, I have had the opportunity to see how health care organizations are using the framework to grow, change, and improve. It has been amazing to learn about such incredible and creative world-class organizations.

The foundations and principles of the Baldrige framework have stood the test of time, are universal, and cross all industries. Through the Baldrige Program, any organization has access to many helpful resources. Businesses can learn best practices within and outside of their sector. Baldrige resources available for free online include profiles of Baldrige Award winners and their application summaries and contact information. The winners also share their practices and innovations at annual conferences. This sharing can be very helpful in stimulating creative thinking in any organization. Another great benefit to organizations offered by the Baldrige Program is training of their leaders in the framework [through the Baldrige Executive Fellows program] and the opportunity for them to serve as examiners. Examiners can bring these skills and expertise back to their organizations to trigger further improvement and innovation.

Have the challenges of 2020 affected your views about the value of the Baldrige framework?

This is a crazy year, with the COVID-19 pandemic and all of its ramifications, subsequent disruptions, and dramatic changes in our businesses and business systems. Businesses have been presented with unique challenges in all aspects of their work processes. Despite this incredibly challenging period, the Baldrige Excellence Framework remains solid and relevant. Using this framework will allow organizations an opportunity to re-engage and re-evaluate to drive successful change and transition. The Baldrige core values and concepts—including systems perspective, visionary leadership, organizational learning and agility, managing for innovation, and community health—exemplify the current importance and relevancy of this framework.

Despite the difficulties of 2020, I hope organizations continue on their quests for excellence using the framework and apply for state and regional quality awards and the Baldrige Award in future years. The current time may be a great opportunity to use the framework to provide a systematic, focused, and structured approach to address the incredible and unique challenges all businesses are facing.  

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

This year the Baldrige Program has adapted examiner training, site visit, and judging processes. The implementation of these new processes demonstrates the agility and innovation of the Baldrige Program and of the applicants. I also very much appreciate the dedication. commitment, creativity, and agility of applicants this year under these extraordinary circumstances. The Baldrige Program can assure applicants that the judging process will continue to produce high-caliber, detailed reviews and assessments. A priority goal of the judging process continues to be to help organizations improve and to recognize national finalists and winners.

Personally, I also look forward to the great opportunity to work with the other judges, who are incredible leaders with a vast amount of experience using the Baldrige framework and helping organizations improve. The judges are from a variety of backgrounds and business experiences, providing a diverse set of perspectives and insights. I am looking forward to learning from the other judges as we review information about the applicant organizations.

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

The Baldrige program is dependent upon the examiners, whose role is critical. The examiners’ dedicated work, expertise, and feedback is critical to helping organizations learn and improve. I very much appreciate the dedication, commitment, and agility of the examiners, particularly this year under these extraordinary circumstances.

Due to the challenges this year, examiners’ work—even during site visits—has been online and virtual. Yet newer examiners still had the opportunity to receive great support, coaching, and mentoring from experienced examiners. Through their work during the Baldrige Award process, examiners’ understanding of the Baldrige framework grows significantly; using the Baldrige Excellence Framework is a great way to learn it.

Examiners’ work in evaluating applicant organizations directly provides those organizations with information to learn and improve. This work not only benefits those organizations, but also benefits examiners’ personal growth as leaders and their own employer organizations. For example, as examiners see organizations model the Baldrige core values of visionary leadership, managing for innovation, and organization learning and agility this year, the experience can help examiners change the way they think as leaders. Through this work, examiners also develop new skills and expertise that may be of great benefit to their own employer organizations. For example, they may become resources for coworkers to learn about numerous “best practices” and other creative ideas to trigger inspiration in their own organizations.

Thanks to all the examiners for their great work and dedication to the Baldrige program and for providing an important contribution to improving businesses and other organizations in our country.

Judges Panel Blog Series: Previous Blogs

Allison Carter (Panel Chair)
Glenn Crotty
Christopher Laxton
Kevin McManus
Brigitta Mueller
Bruce Requa
Patricia Skriba
JoAnn Sternke
Meridith Wentz
Gary Wilson


2019-2020 Baldrige Excellence Framework Business/Nonprofit cover artwork

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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