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The Official Baldrige Blog

Forget Winning; Think Improving

I recently had the great experience of speaking as part of a panel on the value of the Baldrige Excellence Framework, but what meant the most to me was the chance, I hope, to dispel some common misconceptions on what Baldrige is actually all about. And, no, it's not just an "excellence award"—there's SO MUCH MORE.

Here are a few of the questions from the panel and how I answered them:

"I once looked at the Baldrige Criteria to apply for an award/start an improvement initiative, but the process looked like it would take too long/be too complex."

How I answered: Let's go back to the whole point of that Criteria. In 1987, the Baldrige Program was tasked by Congress to create a Criteria that would include all of the considerations that go into successful leadership (category 1), successful strategic planning (category 2), a successful customer strategy (category 3), etc. These Criteria have been reviewed, refine, updated, and reviewed again for 28 years to ensure that they reflect the leading edge of validated leadership and performance practice.

So when you sit down with the Criteria (within the Baldrige Excellence Framework), don't think of them as an application. Use them to determine how successful your operations are and what elements you may be missing. For example, are your leaders really creating an environment for the achievement of the mission? How are you using voice of the customer and market data and information to build a more customer-focused culture? Take the questions, category by category, not to apply for an award, but to determine how successful are your operations. You may be able to find immediate insights when you can't answer a question, and those insights may help you focus on where you should prioritize improvements. In addition, there are lots of available Baldrige resources to help an organization ease into the Criteria, including Baldrige Excellence Builder.

Janet Wagner, former CEO of Baldrige Award recipient Sutter Davis Hospital, has said that year after year, the hospital applied for Baldrige feedback at either state (Alliance for Performance Excellence) or national levels and “learned very quickly how to improve results, how to course correct, and then how to sustain results. And for me as a leader, I would say that’s probably one of the most important things. That framework, along with the site visits and the feedback, really focuses you on narrowing down and being able to prioritize those things, those behaviors, those systems, those processes that lead to consistent results. For us, [Baldrige] was a very good fit and energized us to do better.”

Wagner added that while learning to course correct rapidly was very valuable, one of the most beneficial parts of Sutter Davis Hospital’s journey was getting leadership team members comfortable in being transparent in getting and discussing results, and then having the Baldrige examiners come in and validate that they were on the right track.

"We know that we're not ready to win the Baldrige Award. Should we still apply?"

How I answered: YES. The most successful Baldrige Award recipients have come to the ah-ha moments that winning the Baldrige Award itself is not as exciting as the continuous improvements that come from the feedback reports received by every applicant. For most Baldrige Award recipients, it takes at least three to seven years applying for Baldrige-based awards at the state or sector levels and/or the national Baldrige Award, and digesting/implementing the feedback received to make continuous improvements. Improvements year over year keep the workforce motivated and customers happy, so that when award levels are achieved, the organization is much better off for the journey.

Dr. Bill Neff, interim CEO and CMO at University of Colorado Health, for which Baldrige Award recipient Poudre Valley Health System (PVHS) is now part, shared PVHS’s journey to excellence in an online video. In 1997, it was a single hospital with a 24% annual employee turnover rate and five CEOs in four years. It was in the midst of a changing health care market, but the largest challenge, said Neff, was the need for integration with very independent physicians. PVHS’s fifth CEO in four years had been working with several organizations using the Baldrige Health Care Criteria; the hospital decided to give the Baldrige process a try and applied for several years, receiving feedback reports written by Baldrige examiners on the organization's strengths and opportunities for improvement.

In 2008, PVHS received the Baldrige Award, the nation’s highest honor for organizational performance excellence. “By the time we finally got to that point,” Neff said, “everybody thought that was really cool but what they really wanted was the feedback report. Because you kind of become addicted to that level of interaction with folks who are trying to help you get better.”

"We have Baldrige-trained staff members and other experts in quality improvement methodologies (Lean, Six Sigma, etc.) among our ranks. Why do we need Baldrige?"

How I answered: Some of what sets the Baldrige process apart from other tools is its enterprise model (i.e., a systems approach for the whole organization, not just excellence for its parts) and the Baldrige examiners and Baldrige community of practice. Baldrige examiners are volunteers from all sectors of the U.S. economy, trained on the Baldrige Criteria, who can assess and potentially perform a site visit on your operations and help you find blind spots, help you ensure sustainability. Examiners are carefully screened for conflicts of interest, so they are truly performing these assessments to help U.S. organizations for the good of the country. For approximately six to twelve examiners to help you find those blind spots that internally focused staff may mix is a tremendous bargain for the application fee.

JoAnn Brumit, CEO of Baldrige Award recipient KARLEE, has said that based on its own data the manufacturer chose to disregard some feedback from Baldrige examiners in 2000 that the company may have a blind spot in its high telecom industry concentration. Brumit describes how the organization survived the collapse of the telecom industry and competitive market crisis. But it was the Baldrige examiners who reviewed the organization as part of its Baldrige Award feedback report and were able to point out the blind spots that could impact sustainability that the manufacturer may have missed.

In a recent interview, Robert “Rusty” Patterson, chairman and CEO of the National Council for Advanced Manufacturing (NACFAM), said, “What I tell people is you ought to use the Baldrige Criteria to turn a mirror on yourself. You don’t have to win a Baldrige Award. . . . The real key is that you can put that mirror on yourself and get some examiners to come in and evaluate what you’re doing because sometimes it’s hard for you to do this. It’s an excellent criteria [framework that helps you say] you’re doing a lot of the right things, but here are some areas where you can improve.”

How would you answer these questions to encourage organizations to apply for the Baldrige Award and let the Baldrige community--including and especially the Baldrige examiners--help them improve and find the blind spots that could impact their sustainability?

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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What all the examples you sited (Sutter Davis, Poudre Valley, and KARLEE) have in common is that their journey had four "inflection points," places where they had to "bend the curve" of their organization's growth trajectory. (1) Their organizations had strategic issues to overcome. (2) Baldrige was "something outside the organization" that the leader had to convince people bring inside the organization to try. (3) They all reported pushback at first. (4) And they all singled out two major benefits provided by the decision to use Baldrige to bend the curve (a) the "value" of the assessment and feedback process to change their organization, and (b) the "value" of the achieving a level of maturity that distinguished them as role models to reward the organization. The absolute key to "winning" Baldrige is just like Woody Allen is reported to have said about success, "80% of success is showing up." The key to Baldrige is to show up.
Well said Dawn!!! Thanks for being a great spokesperson for the value of the framework!
Great job, Dawn!!!
Great responses to very common comments about Baldrige. Thank you! I will use in upcoming examiner training!
Excellent responses to the questions/concerns I often hear, and the comments from some of those outstanding role model organizations demonstrates their commitment to the "process." And, as Barry points out, they chose to "show up."
Good response. I do agree 80 % success is commendable in any feat but still there is need for improvement .

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