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The Official Baldrige Blog

Meet the 2021 Baldrige Judges: An Interview with Cary Hill

Baldrige Judges Panel Cary Hill with a background panel of people having a discussion.
2021 Judges Panel Blog Series

Each year we interview the newest members of the Judges’ Panel of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award to share their individual insights and perspectives on the award process, their experiences, and the Baldrige framework and approach to organizational improvement in general.

The primary role of the Judges’ Panel is to ensure the integrity of the Baldrige Award selection process. At the panel’s annual meeting in August, the judges review data from Baldrige examiner teams’ scoring of written applications (the Independent and Consensus Review processes), then vote on which applicants to advance to Site Visit Review (the third and final examination stage), in which examiners will verify and clarify their performance in all seven Criteria categories of the Baldrige Excellence Framework. At the panel’s annual meeting In November, the judges review reports and other documentation from site visits in order to recommend to the U.S. Secretary of Commerce which organizations to name as U.S. role models—Baldrige Award recipients. No judge participates in any discussion of an organization for which he/she has a real or perceived conflict of interest. Judges each serve for a period of three years.

Meet Baldrige Judge Cary Hill

Photo of Cary Hill Baldrige Judges Panel Chair.


Cary Hill
Results Coach



What experiences led you to the role of Baldrige judge?

I was part of an applicant organization (MESA) that is a three-time Baldrige Award recipient. In fact, I was there for most of its Baldrige journey over a 15-year period. During those years, I really admired the Baldrige examiners who came to MESA on site visits, so after MESA received its first Baldrige Award in 2006, I thought I would give it a try to see how I liked being an examiner myself. I loved it—so I continued participating year after year as an examiner for ten award process cycles.

I also led the Oklahoma Quality Award Foundation (a member of the nonprofit Alliance for Performance Excellence, comprising regional and state-level Baldrige-based award programs) for about five years, and I was involved with all aspects of that program.

Having been exposed to a lot of high-performing organizations during all of that experience, I thought the opportunity to be a Baldrige judge would add a new dimension to my perspective of the Baldrige Award process, so I am grateful for the opportunity.

How do you see the Baldrige Excellence Framework (including the Criteria for Performance Excellence) as valuable to small businesses today?

First of all, I see the Baldrige framework as loaded with a ton of good, common sense for running any organization, no matter the sector. Small businesses like MESA generally have a harder time recruiting the kinds of talent that you might see at a larger organization in areas such as strategic planning, process management, performance measurement, etc., but using the Baldrige framework helps to level the playing field by giving smaller organizations a blueprint or a playbook to use in effectively running their organizations.

You don’t have to have an MBA to understand the Baldrige Criteria. You just have to take the book for what it is—a playbook for organizational excellence based on validated, leading-edge practices (and, as I see it, common sense and wisdom)—and then go apply it, learn from it, and get better at it. It’s a pretty simple formula.

How do you apply Baldrige principles/concepts in your current work experience/employer?

After “living Baldrige” for so long, I find it has become just the way I think about leading and managing an organization. Clearly, using the Baldrige Criteria enables an organization to achieve beneficial results. In my role as a Results Coach for Lead4Results, we've taken some of the core principles of Baldrige and boiled them down into a few simple solutions to help organizations achieve their most important results.  

As a Baldrige judge, what are your hopes for this year's judging process? For instance, is there anything you'd like to help applicants and potential Baldrige Award applicants understand about the process?

As a new judge, I’m first and foremost looking to learn from my experienced teammates on the judges’ panel. I believe all of the judges are advocates for the applicants, looking for opportunities to help them advance through the process, even though their decisions may not always be met with enthusiasm by each applicant. 

When I was at MESA, we spent a lot of years applying the Criteria; ours was not an overnight success story by any means. Even though receiving a Baldrige Award feels amazing, I would hope to impress upon any applicant that (1) the real value is in the journey itself, no matter how long it takes; and (2) even after you receive the award, it is important to continue being a practitioner and student of the Baldrige framework, using it to help your organization evolve (as it most certainly will need to do over time).

What encouragement/advice would you give Baldrige examiners for their work in evaluating organizations as part of the Baldrige Award process?

I’ve got a tremendous amount of love, admiration, and respect for Baldrige examiners. I believe there is no finer group of people in all the world. The fact that examiners contribute so much of their time to the process, and that they do so with such passion, is very inspiring.

So first, I hope examiners know the impact they are making on the world through the process. They are helping U.S. organizations succeed in a hyper-competitive world; they are helping to create jobs for good people to provide for their families; they are helping communities prosper at a time when we need it most; and they are doing it all as a labor of love, without any compensation for their time and effort. 

Second, like applicants, I would encourage examiners to see this work as a learning opportunity and thus to continually be a student not only of the Baldrige framework, but also to learn the myriad ways the framework is applied in organizations all around them. There is not “one right way” of applying the Baldrige framework, and as new generations of applicants emerge, they will find new ways of applying this framework, which is itself continuing to evolve. So I encourage examiners not to become complacent or rigid in your thinking about the Baldrige framework—take advantage of the opportunities to learn from each new experience with it. 

Judges Panel Blog Series: Previous Blogs

Patricia Skriba (Panel Chair)
Christopher Laxton
Dr. Kevin Johnson
Kevin McManus
Dr. Brigitta Mueller
Bruce Requa
Meridith Wentz
Gary Wilson

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

Christine Schaefer

Christine Schaefer is a longtime staff member of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (BPEP). Her work has focused on producing BPEP publications and communications. She also has been highly involved in the Baldrige Award process, Baldrige examiner training, and other offerings of the program.

She is a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of the University of Virginia, where she was an Echols Scholar and a double major, receiving highest distinction for her thesis in the interdisciplinary Political & Social Thought Program. She also has a master's degree from Georgetown University, where her studies and thesis focused on social and public policy issues. 

When not working, she sits in traffic in one of the most congested regions of the country, receives consolation from her rescued beagles, writes poetry, practices hot yoga, and tries to cultivate a foundation for three kids to direct their own lifelong learning (and to PLEASE STOP YELLING at each other—after all, we'll never end wars if we can't even make peace at home!).

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Thank you for this info. I really appreciate anything I may learn from y'all.

Excellent comments! We miss you, Cary!

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