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The Official Baldrige Blog

Focus on the Baldrige Board of Overseers: Deborah Bowen

Healthcare Executives sitting at a table having a meeting.
Credit: dotshock/Shutterstock
Board of Overseers Blog Series

Like other federal programs, the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program is overseen by an advisory committee whose members are appointed by a cabinet member of the Presidential administration; in our case, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. By charter, the Baldrige Board of Overseers is tasked with reviewing the work of the program and recommending improvements.

In this Board of Overseers blog series, we will be interviewing members of the Board of Overseers. In the interviews, they share their insights and perspectives on their experiences, on the Baldrige Program and its products and services, and on the Baldrige approach to organizational improvement.

Meet Baldrige Overseer Deborah Bowen

Photo of Deborah J. Bowen, Board of Overseers, Baldrige Program

Deborah J. Bowen (Chair)
President and Chief Executive Officer
American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE)
Baldrige Executive Fellow, 2012



What experiences led you to the role of Baldrige overseer?

Having served as a senior leader for ACHE for many years, I’ve been keenly aware of Baldrige and the value it offers the health care sector. The health care executives who are members of our association are deeply committed to ACHE’s core values: Integrity, Lifelong Learning, Leadership, Diversity, and Inclusion. So, there is great consistency between the values of ACHE and the value offered by the Baldrige Excellence Framework.

Nearly 65% of health care organizations that have received a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award and about 60% of top-level, Baldrige-based, state award recipients were led by ACHE members at the time of receiving the recognition. ACHE’s members and member-elected leaders know and appreciate the value of Baldrige. This partially led to ACHE adopting the framework itself.

When ACHE began our own journey using Baldrige in 2011, I wanted to begin learning more and actively supporting the Baldrige Program and its foundation in every way I could. In 2012, I participated in the Baldrige Executive Fellows Program and developed even more appreciation for the framework and the results it can help any organization achieve. Shortly after, I was honored to be asked to join the Board of Overseers.

How do you see the Baldrige Excellence Framework as valuable to organizations in your sector/industry?

The value of Baldrige to the industry of health care has been researched and proven. According to a 2011 Thomson Reuters study, Baldrige hospitals were six times more likely to be counted among the 100 Top Hospitals and statistically outperform the 100 Top Hospitals on core measures established by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Beyond those results, the rate and scale of change in health care require leaders to be more agile, systems-focused, results-oriented, and innovative. Engaging and inspiring the workforce to do that work are essential to success. Baldrige showcases how some of the best organizations achieve top-decile-level engagement for the many dimensions of their workforces and deliver top-decile ratings for patient outcomes and safety.  

While ACHE serves the health care industry, we also serve the nonprofit world of professional associations. It is a large industry that people don’t often think about. There are well over 7,000 associations in the United States. While Baldrige has traction in health care, in the association world, many leaders do not know about or appreciate the value of Baldrige, and many hesitate to embrace the framework and program because of the lean nature of their workforces and competing priorities for time and resources—not to mention a lack of understanding or commitment from their boards. I think what is under-appreciated is that the Baldrige framework, when effectively used, can help any organization do more with less. It can help align organizations—even for those with a small workforce—to focus on what’s most important to effectively serve customers and achieve world-class results. Certainly, former Baldrige Award winners have borne this out time and time again.

How do you apply Baldrige principles/concepts to your current work experience/employer?

We are using the Baldrige framework and annual cycles of application and feedback to pursue excellence, so that we can better serve our members and customers. We began applying through Illinois Performance Excellence (ILPEx) in 2011 and were honored with a Gold Award for Achievement of Excellence in 2016.


But in many ways our path toward excellence is just beginning, as we learn something new through every cycle. Applying annually to receive feedback from Baldrige examiners helps us continuously check our priorities, focus our efforts, and ensure progress toward integrating each of the Baldrige core values and concepts to more fully realize ACHE’s potential—all for the purpose of advancing both our members in their work as leaders but also to advance health for all.

The charter of the Board of Overseers says the overseers shall make suggestions for the improvement of Baldrige and act as an advisory committee for the program. As an overseer, what would you like the community/stakeholders to know about the Baldrige Program and its award and other products?

Baldrige is more than an award. Baldrige is a way of doing business. It’s a blueprint for pursuing and achieving excellence. While at first blush it may seem overwhelming, I am not aware of any other framework, methodology, or set of process improvement tools that offers a comprehensive and clear path toward exceptional performance, regardless of sector.

All that being said, as overseers, we want to make sure we practice what we preach so we look at the data to see where the Baldrige Program can improve. In doing that, we also review feedback on the barriers encountered by applicants and look for ways to remove them. Simplifying the system without losing its core is work that is currently underway. I am most excited by improvements to the Baldrige Program that make using the blueprint (i.e., framework) feel less daunting and make clear to all organizations that the award is not the end-game. Baldrige is not, ultimately, a recognition program. It is a defined way to create a better organization.  

I have heard from leaders of multiple organizations that pursuing the Baldrige Award is too time and resource intensive. At the same time, staying relevant today requires systematic ways to learn and improve so that we can sustain our businesses today and tomorrow, while inspiring others to do their best and be their best. That IS the job of leaders.

What encouragement/advice would you give U.S. organizations thinking about applying for the Baldrige Award or using another one of the Baldrige Program’s products or services?

Just get started with Baldrige and then keep at it. So many people refer to using the framework to achieve excellent performance as a journey. It’s the perfect word to describe it. There are so many ways you can start to embark on the journey: conducting simple self-assessments, writing an Organizational Profile, better defining your most key processes, or refining what you understand as the most key results for your organization.

Take one of the many available first steps that Baldrige can offer. After that first step, chances are that the most logical and helpful next step will present itself. As long as you are choosing your next step in Baldrige based on what makes most sense for your organization, you will be well on your way to excel.

Board of Overseers Blog Series: Previous Blogs

Bennie W. Fowler
Patricia Fagan Greco
John Jasinski
Reatha Clark King
Robert Pence

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

Dawn Bailey

Dawn Bailey is a writer/editor for the Baldrige Program and involved in all aspects of communications, from leading the Baldrige Executive Fellows program to managing the direction of case studies, social media efforts, and assessment teams. She has more than 25 years of experience, 18 years at the Baldrige Program. Her background is in English and journalism, with degrees from the University of Connecticut and an advanced degree from George Mason University.

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