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The Official Baldrige Blog

It’s Not Just About an Award

Baldrige Award Ceremony empty stage ready for the event.
Credit: Mark Hamilton

Right after the Baldrige Award recipient organizations are announced, social media in the Baldrige community typically erupt with congratulations, heart-felt messages for staff, and proud proclamations for the recipients who have achieved something truly momentous.

Once the buzz starts to quiet, and the recipients prepare for their formal recognition at the Baldrige Award Ceremony, there are always some stakeholders from recipient and other organizations who post on social media not understanding why an organization’s resources were spent on an award. Such posts are reasonable if they do not know what Baldrige is all about. Earning the Baldrige Award is so much more than an engraved crystal on the shelf or the accolades that come with it.

The Baldrige Award represents what the organization was able to accomplish to benefit customers, stakeholders, and the United States (through better health care, education, service, business, etc.) using the Baldrige Excellence Framework as a guide.

So What is the Baldrige Award, Really?

The Baldrige Award has been given to role-model U.S. organizations for almost 32 years. It all goes back to Public Law 100-107 (August 20, 1987). U.S. organizations were falling behind their foreign competition in terms of product and process quality, planning, workforce issues, process control, and customer orientation, among other issues. U.S. leaders from both the government and private industry decided that the way to combat this lack of American excellence in business was to create an award program to 

  1. help stimulate American companies to improve quality and productivity 
  2. recognize the achievements of those companies that improve the quality of their goods and services and provide an example to others
  3. establish guidelines and criteria that can be used in evaluating quality improvement efforts
  4. provide specific guidance for other American organizations that wish to learn how to manage for high quality by making available detailed information on how winning organizations were able to change their cultures and achieve eminence

Just Another Award?

To answer those stakeholders who may not understand what this award is all about, I’d like to explain the “guidelines and criteria” outlined in number 3 above. To apply for the award, an organization has to show how it is applying the guidelines and Criteria within the Baldrige Excellence Framework. Those Criteria help organizations align their processes to focus on customers, planning, the workforce, innovation, the community, financial stewardship, cybersecurity, ethics, etc. In other words, an organization has to use the Criteria to improve itself and demonstrate sustainable excellence in order to win the award.

The Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence Overview consists of the six categories (Organizational Profile, Leadership, Strategy, Customers, Measurement, Analysis, and Knowledge Management, Workforce, Operations, and Results).

To show excellence across all seven Criteria categories (leadership; strategic planning; customers; measurement, analysis, and knowledge management; workforceoperations; and results) is very, very difficult to do. This is why these organizations can be named U.S. role models and are asked to provide examples during the annual Baldrige Quest for Excellence® Conference on how to “achieve eminence.” 

Here are some examples:

2018 Baldrige Award Recipient Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center

Photo of Kyle Bennett 31st Quest for Excellence Speaker.
Kyle Bennett
Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center
2018 Baldrige Award Recipient

Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center adopted the Baldrige framework as a way to sustain and inspire overall improvements. Kyle Bennett, president and CEO, said “[The framework has] helped us create discipline around our processes, improved our financial performance, and improved our focus on key quality metrics.”

Part of its Baldrige Award win was because the hospital made and sustained improvements for the good of its patients—for example, a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services 5-star rating for overall quality of inpatient care, improvement in registered nurse turnover, zero hospital MRSA infections (since 2015), and inpatient overall satisfaction in the top 10% nationally since 2015. 

2018 Baldrige Award Recipient Donor Alliance

Photo of Sue Dunn 31st Quest for Excellence Speaker.
Sue Dunn
Donor Alliance
2018 Baldrige Award Recipient

Donor Alliance saw its processes and results improve when it started using the Baldrige framework. Sue Dunn, president and CEO, said “One of the beauties of the Baldrige framework is how it saved us from ourselves by forcing the really hard questions about organizational systems and what is most essential.”

During its improvement journey using the framework, Donor Alliance has consistently been ranked as one of the top-10 organ procurement organizations in the nation, improved rates for percentage of registered donors, and achieved 100% satisfaction from its four local transplant center customers.


2017 Baldrige Award Recipient the City of Fort Collins, CO

Darin Atteberry Quest Speaker photo
Darin Atteberry
City of Fort Collins
2017 Baldrige Award Recipient

The City of Fort Collins, CO, used the framework to underscore its belief that “local government can be great.” City Manager Darin Atteberry credits the City’s use of the Baldrige framework for its transition to fact-based management and fuller transparency. He said, “To me, the Baldrige framework really demonstrates the value of culture and strategy, and we’re really here [as a Baldrige Award recipient] … because of the amazing, amazing framework.”

The City ranks in the top-10 percent of cities nationally for the following measures: best place to live, best place to work, quality of culture and recreation, availability of job opportunities, air quality, and visual attractiveness; has a “Aaa” credit rating by Moody’s Investors Service; and decreased community energy use by approximately 12 percent annually for the past three years.

From Good to Great

All of the Baldrige Award recipients were good—maybe even great—organizations when they started using and adapting the Baldrige framework (some use the word “Baldrige” in their performance excellence strategies, other may adapt Baldrige practices into a self-named strategy). But when they received the Baldrige Award, they were not just competing for an award on a shelf/accolades, they were providing evidence of role-model practices and results that they had achieved for their communities, customers, stakeholders, and staff. It was evidence of excellence achieved on behalf of these stakeholders that earned the recipient organizations the award.

In March 2020, the 2019 Baldrige Award recipients will receive their awards. The ceremony to honor them won’t be about the crystals they will receive; the ceremony will be about what these organizations have improved, sustained, or innovated on behalf of their stakeholders to save lives, delight customers, educate students, and create great cultures and communities (see Baldrige Award recipient profiles).

Photo of Baldrige Award crystal
Baldrige Award crystal manufactured by Pelucida, Inc.

The Baldrige crystal is a symbol of the hard work in excellence that these organizations had to do to get to the ceremony stage. It’s for the people they serve that the benefits can be felt, as well as felt by the U.S. organizations that can listen, share, and learn best practices to improve the lives of their own stakeholders.

In fact, Christopher Hacker, designer of the Baldrige Award crystal, explains this even better:

"The award was to represent strength, clarity, and sophistication, as well as the achievement of quality goals. I took the ribbon design that the law specified for the medallion and abstracted it further. The tips of the two columns curve like a flowing ribbon, the crystal and the medallion it holds represent achievement, and the base represents the strength and solidity of the winning companies."

Investment in winning the Baldrige Award is not just about the accolades. It’s about the benefits for customers, students, patients, communities, and the U.S. economy.

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

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.


Amen Dawn - great article! We've been at this Baldrige stuff at MESA for almost 20 years now, and the framework, criteria and accountability we receive from the process in the form of feedback from the talented examiner teams has contributed greatly to our growth and success over the past two decades. There are other ways we could have approached organizational performance over that time, and there were certainly opportunities to switch to something else after the 1st or 2nd Baldrige Awards, but there's no other framework out there that is as comprehensive - and frankly just good common sense - as Baldrige. I can honestly say that our organization would not be where it is today had we not participated in the awards process. The awards are great, but they're just sitting in a case in our lobby. The value is in the sustained success of our organization for the past 20 years for the benefit of our customers, our industry, and our people. After all these years, you'd think that we were getting good at this Baldrige stuff, but as we continue to grow and evolve, it remains fresh and new for us with each stage of evolution of our company. Really appreciate you bringing out the value past the excitement of the award!

To both Dawn and Cary - I am very pleased to hear you describe the Baldrige process as being "far more" than an award. The organizational performance excellence stimulated by the Baldrige process is, in my opinion, unequaled. Many thanks for both of your efforts.

Very informative and supportive of the criteria. Please be aware your link to the seven categories is missing "Workforce"... "To show excellence across all seven Criteria categories (leadership; strategic planning; customers; measurement, analysis, and knowledge management; operations; and results) is very, very difficult to do."

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