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The Official Baldrige Blog

How ARDEC Fields a Winning Team

Why is Stephen Strasburg, the pitcher picked first by the Washington Nationals in Major League Baseball’s 2009 draft, getting so much media attention? My guess is that, besides being impressed with his fastball and contract, the baseball world is fascinated because of his potential to jump to the Nationals after just a couple of months in the minors. 

Did Strasburg need seasoning in the minors? Between 1965 and 2000, only 20 players drafted by MLB teams went straight to the majors. Baseball teams usually count on what the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence (in Category 5, Workforce Focus) call the “learning and development system”--the minor leagues--to develop players’ skills and address the major league team’s core competencies, such as pitching strategy, situational hitting, and baserunning. Officially, Strasburg was sent to the minors "for the benefit of [his] development," said Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo. “We have to do what's best for the player and for the organization, long-term.”

Like baseball teams, Baldrige Award recipient ARDEC has to develop its workforce to succeed, as its application summary explains. The engineers and scientists ARDEC needs to support its core competencies--armaments expertise, innovation, and engineering management--often aren’t available from academia or private industry. ARDEC “grows” these in its workforce: “Our workforce learning and development system balances the needs and desires of employees with the core competencies.” ARDEC’s approach to strategic workforce planning was recently described in a case study by the American Productivity & Quality Center.

ARDEC’s annual investment in training was about $2,000 per employee when it received the Baldrige Award. Annual training hours per employee were about 70. Both were higher than the American Society for Training and Development’s best-in-class benchmark.  

Most of this training is handled in-house by ARDEC’s own experts—in the classroom, on the job, via the Web, and with mentoring and coaching. A bonus is that this training transfers knowledge to the next generation of scientists and engineers. For new hires, ARDEC’s program mixes study with on-the-job training. The results?

  • Revenue increased from $640 million to more than $1 billion over six years.
  • Customer loyalty was higher than government and industry best-in-class levels.
  • Job satisfaction was 85-90 percent over three years.
  • Attrition was lower for ARDEC’s engineers and scientists than at competing labs and other best-in-class organizations.

The clear message: like baseball teams, ARDEC doesn’t expect to hire fully developed employees. Instead, it invests in workforce development, and that investment pays off.

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First and foremost, congratulations to ARDEC for its receipt of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. As a training manager, I can appreciate the investment in training that ARDEC has exemplified. I would also like to point out that ARDEC not only surpassed the ASTD Best in class benchmark, but they exceeded these benchmarks by more than 50%! Investing in your organization's Learning and Development Program has proven to increase financial returns by more than 15% versus the S&P 500 overall.(Human Capital Measurement and Its Impact on Stock Performance, KnowledgeAdvisors, 2008) The next step is to isolate the effects of the training and communicate to senior leaders how learning and development contributes to the bottom line.

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