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The Official Baldrige Blog

Learn How One Role-Model Organization Inspires Its Team to “Ride for the Brand” while Serving America’s Veterans

Department of Veterans Affairs - Cooperative Studies Program Clinical Research Pharmacy Coordinating Center blog photo of women doing research in a lab.
Credit: Department of Veterans Affairs - Cooperative Studies Program Clinical Research Pharmacy Coordinating Center

The Veterans Affairs Cooperative Studies Program Clinical Research Pharmacy Coordinating Center (the Center)—a 2009 Baldrige Award recipient—is a federal government organization that supports multicenter clinical trials targeting current health issues for America’s veterans. Located in Albuquerque, New Mexico, the Center focuses on the pharmaceutical, safety, and regulatory aspects of designing and implementing clinical trials conducted worldwide by itself and other federal agencies and industries. 

The Center's highly engaged professional and technical staff members work together to produce customized clinical trial solutions. Its employee engagement ranks above Gallup’s 75th percentile in many areas, making the Center a "best practice" organization. 

Reflecting on the Center’s Quality Journey

Before the Center won the Baldrige Award in the nonprofit category in 2009, it had been on a “quality journey” for more than 20 years. This journey cultivated higher employee engagement, higher customer engagement, greater ability to develop new and to renew partnerships and collaborations, increased capability to provide new products and services, and increased capability and capacity to support more ongoing multicenter clinical trials (which increased from 26 to 38 over eight years)—all with little increase in staffing.

Photo of Secretary of Commerce Malcolm Baldrige
Malcolm Baldrige, 26th Secretary of Commerce.
Credit: Baldrige Family

Then-director Mike R. Sather credited the Center’s success to the Baldrige Excellence Framework’s core values and concepts—with a Western twist:

“I've got a friend up in Missoula, Montana, and he sent me a book written by James P. Owen, Cowboy Ethics: What Wall Street Can Learn from the Code of the West. I was rather intrigued with it. 

And then I found out that Malcolm Baldrige was from Nebraska; he was a cowboy. And putting those things together and looking at the 10 principles of cowboy ethics, I thought, you know, this is really something we ought to implement in our program!”

Integrating the Baldrige Core Values and Concepts

The core values and concepts are the set of inter-related beliefs and behaviors that underpin the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence, part of the Baldrige framework.

The Baldrige Criteria are built on the following set of interrelated core values and concepts. These beliefs and behaviors are embedded in high-performing organizations. They are a Systems Perspective, Visionary Leadership, Customer- (or Patient-, or Student-) Focused Excellence, Valuing, People, Agility and Resilience, Organizational Learning, Focus on Success and Innovation, Management by Fact , Societal Contributions, Ethics and Transparency, and Delivering Value and Results.
  • Systems perspective. A systems perspective means managing all the parts of your organization as a unified whole to achieve your mission and strive toward your vision. 
  • Visionary leadership. Your organization’s senior leaders should set a vision for the organization, create a customer focus, demonstrate clear and visible organizational values and ethics, and set high expectations for the workforce. 
  • Customer-focused excellence. Your customers are the ultimate judges of your performance and of product and service quality. Thus, your organization must consider all product and service characteristics, and modes of customer access and support, that contribute to customer satisfaction, loyalty, positive referrals, and ultimately your organization’s ongoing success. 
  • Valuing people. A successful organization values its workforce members and the other people who have a stake in the organization, including customers, community members, suppliers and partners, and other people affected by its actions. 
  • Agility and resilience. Agility requires a capacity for rapid change and for flexibility. Organizational resilience is the ability to anticipate, prepare for, and recover from disruptions, and to protect and enhance workforce and customer engagement, organizational performance, and community well-being when disruptions occur. 
  • Organizational learning. Organizational learning includes both continuous improvement of existing approaches and significant change or innovation, leading to new goals, approaches, products, and markets. 
  • Focus on success and innovation. Ensuring your organization’s success now and in the future requires understanding the short- and longer-term factors that affect your organization and its environment. It also requires the ability to drive organizational innovation. Innovation means making meaningful change to improve your products, services, programs, processes, operations, and business model, with the purpose of creating new value for stakeholders. 

“The economic liberty and strong competition that are indispensable to economic progress were principles that ‘Mac’ Baldrige stressed.”

– Ronald Reagan, 40th president of the United States from 1981 to 1989

  • Management by fact. Management by fact requires you to measure and analyze your organization’s performance, both inside the organization and in your competitive environment. Analysis of performance should support organizational evaluation, alignment, and decision making. 
  • Societal contributions. Your organization’s leaders should stress contributions to the public and the consideration of societal well-being and benefit. Your leaders should be role models for the well-being of your communities. 
  • Ethics and transparency. Your organization should stress ethical behavior by all workforce members in all stakeholder transactions and interactions. Senior leaders should be role models of ethical behavior, including transparency, characterized by candid and open communication on the part of leadership and management and by the sharing of accurate information. 
  • Delivering value and results. Your organization should choose and analyze results that help you deliver and balance value for your key stakeholders. Thus, results need to include not just financial results, but also product and process results; customer and workforce satisfaction and engagement results; and leadership, strategy, and societal performance.

Strengthening the Approach to Business Ethics

Inspired by these Baldrige core values and concepts—many of which Sather saw manifested in the Code of the West’s ten principles to live by—the Center proceeded to build a high-performing team while shaping their business ethics around the core values of leadership, customer service, safety, teamwork, and continuous learning. The Center’s then-project director Kathy Boardman adds, “Cowboy ethics to us is just a way of life within the Center. It’s doing the right thing … taking pride in what we do, having the courage each day to stand up for what's right—to stand up for the veteran.”

The Code of the West

The ten principles from the Code of the West form the foundation for the Center's manager and employee behavioral expectations:

  1. Live each day with courage. 
  2. Take pride in your work. 
  3. Always finish what you start. 
  4. Do what has to be done. 
  5. When you make a promise, keep it. 
  6. Be tough, but fair. 
  7. Ride for the brand. 
  8. Talk less, say more. 
  9. Remember that some things aren’t for sale. 
  10. Know where to draw the line.

One way the Center models Valuing People, a Baldrige core value, is by inspiring its workforce to “Live each day with courage.” Sather explained, “We encourage all of our employees to debate the issues if they feel very strongly about something … and have the courage to speak up.”

In alignment with additional Baldrige core values, such as Societal Contributions, Focus on Success and Innovation, and Delivering Value and Results, a natural disposition to “Take pride in your work” pervades the Center. Every staff member takes pride in serving veterans as consistently and strongly as possible through creative and innovative pharmaceutical, scientific, technical, operational, and educational support for clinical trials that target veteran's health issues. 

The Baldrige core values of Agility and Resilience (e.g., protecting and enhancing workforce engagement), Organizational Learning (e.g., continuous improvement to existing approaches), and Ethics and Transparency (e.g., characterized by candid and open communication on the part of leadership and management), are also reflected in the cowboy ethic “Be tough but fair.” Sather explained: 

“We have discipline principles in the Baldrige program that you manage by, and you have to be tough about those. You have to make sure that your organization follows those principles … but at the same time, you have to be fair about it. You have to be fair to the employees, and make sure they understand when they come to work for you what you're all about.” 

Sather’s favorite among the cowboy ethics is “Ride for the brand.” He added, “When you go to work for an organization, you have an obligation to be loyal and dedicated to that organization. And if you are loyal and dedicated to the organization, you're going to be successful.” To that end, mirroring the Baldrige core value of Customer-Focused Excellence, the employee’s success—and Center’s organization-wide performance excellence—means improving the health and care of America's veterans, and improving the health and care of the nation as well.

“Success is finding something you really like to do and caring enough about it to do it well.”

– Malcolm Baldrige, 26th Secretary of Commerce from 1981 to 1987

A Message from Center Director Todd A. Conner

A photo of Todd A. Conner, VA CSP Clinical Research Pharmacy Coordinating Center Director
Todd A. Conner, VA CSP Clinical Research Pharmacy Coordinating Center Director

We are honored to have been recognized with the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award in 2009. Since then, we have continued our dedication to improving the health and well-being of veterans through excellence, innovation, and the hard work and dedication of our highly engaged workforce.

While we have developed many remarkable programs over the past eight years, two of the most significant include the addition of a biorepository to our core services and our direct-to-patient (DTP) dispensing program. Our biorepository is one of only four in the United States that is ISO 20387:2018 accredited. This important service allows us to store and process biospecimens for genomic research, which may help us to identify better ways to treat veterans and others based on genetic information. While this type of research is early phase, we expect that it will have a noteworthy impact on personalized medicine.

With our DTP program, we are improving access for veterans to participate in high-quality clinical trials—something many veterans want to get involved with as a way to help their peers. DTP uses well-established VA infrastructure and services to enable research prescriptions to be delivered directly to a study participant’s physical address, thus reducing the burden of travel. The Center is known for its rigorous quality standards; and we continue to apply these to programs, such as the biorepository and DTP, toward our mission of serving our nation’s veterans.

Empower Your Organization to Accomplish its Mission, Improve Results, and Become More Competitive

To learn how the Baldrige core values and concepts help high-performing organizations, download the Baldrige Excellence Framework® booklet (for a modest fee) and/or Baldrige Excellence Builder® (free). Both of these resources provide guidance on integrating key performance and operational requirements within a results-oriented framework that creates a basis for action, feedback, and sustainability. 

2021-2022 Baldrige Excellence Framework Business/Nonprofit feature image

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

Michelle Peña

Michelle Peña is a writer/editor for the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program at NIST. Her background includes degrees in English and Spanish from George Mason University, an advanced degree from George Washington University, and more than 20 years of experience in the publishing industry. 

Michelle is passionate about the benefits of personal development in the workplace and helping others become more emotionally resilient leaders in their community. Her blogs provide encouraging perspectives to help employees and businesses thrive and build a culture of continuous improvement.

As a digital marketing enthusiast, she also enjoys sharing motivational social media content and actionable growth strategies that professionals can use to empower their organization.

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