In late October, longtime Baldrige examiner Miriam Kmetzo traveled to Suzhou, China, to attend and speak at the 6th Quality Forum for Academics and Innovation. Kmetzo gave a presentation at a session that featured four quality award programs in the international arena: the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, the Deming Prize, the EFQM (formerly called the European Foundation for Quality Management) Excellence Award, and the China Quality Award (CQA). The latter, according to Kmetzo, is fashioned after the Baldrige Award and administered by the China Association for Quality. I recently caught up with Kmetzo to learn about her experience at the forum. Following is the interview.
1. What information did you share, and what did you learn from others, during the session where you presented?
I spoke on impacts of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program and how the program has helped our nation’s award recipients improve their performance and the U.S. economy as a whole. I also spoke about eligibility rules for the Baldrige Award, the role of Baldrige examiners and judges, as well as the timeline and other details of the award process.
Audience members were interested in the steps and how long the process takes. What they do in the Chinese award program is slightly different. All the examiners finish the Independent Review and Consensus Review phases of their award process in two weeks. They’re all housed in a hotel to do the work. For the site visit stage, they don’t use the same team of examiners. Instead, they use a team that is specifically trained to do a site visit. So that team gets the report that the Consensus Review team has prepared and takes it from there.
2. Did you learn anything that surprised you about use of the Baldrige-based excellence framework or related quality initiatives in China today?
To have this type of forum with a focus on quality shows there is a lot of interest in quality in China. I was pleasantly surprised. They used to only hold the forum every two years, but starting next year they will have it every year. And they want to tailor it to be more like the Baldrige Program’s Quest for Excellence® Conference [where award recipients share best practices].
The forum was geared for both those involved in academics (largely engineering universities) and business (specifically manufacturing). Awards were handed out for best papers written on quality in academics, and companies were being awarded for their quality performance and innovation. In addition, there was a team competition focused on the use of quality tools such as Six Sigma and Lean. So the forum was both academic and business-oriented. I thought it was good that there was this interface between businesses and universities from around the country.
3. What questions did forum attendees ask you about the Baldrige Award and program?
After my session, I was asked the question—two or three times—about the President of the United States traditionally presenting the Baldrige Award. I believe they were impressed by this and how much more prestigious this made the award. I was also asked about how Baldrige examiners are selected and what is the typical size of the board of Baldrige examiners [the answer: traditionally about 400-500 members strong]. I explained that every year whether you are a new or returning examiner, you have to submit an application to be a Baldrige examiner. And the Baldrige Program uses criteria for examiner selection to ensure that there is a balance of sectors and experience represented. And I was asked about judging for the Baldrige Award; some audience members at the forum wondered whether the Baldrige examiners themselves recommend the award recipients. So I explained the role of the panel of judges and how they base site visit decisions on scores [from the Consensus Review phase].
4. Do you have other insights to share?
I know there’s been this push to move away from the word quality, for example, when the name of the program changed from the Baldrige National Quality Program to the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program. But a focus on quality is what’s current in China now. Many of their organizations are now using the Total Quality Management model or the European quality model. And they are now open to what we’re doing in terms of a focus on quality not just in the product, but in how the organization is run.
Also, the commonalities of the different excellence frameworks really jumped out at me. After my presentation, I was asked which of the four international programs described at the session I would recommend for China; I said that I couldn’t choose from the programs, that what is important is the commonalities, namely, the focus on leadership, customers and human resources, process management, and results. With any quality or performance excellence program, leadership is key; buy-in begins with the organization’s leaders. But you can’t achieve any of your objectives without a focus on customers and human resources. The process management focus is key because making sure that processes are efficient will lead to good results. So, while the criteria of the different international excellence programs are different, I found that the key elements of excellence are the same in any language.