Small businesses in the Commonwealth of Virginia are being introduced to the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence with results so successful that the Governor, the Secretary of Commerce and Trade, and the U.S. Small Business Administration, among other state and federal organizations, are taking notice. Results for the small businesses have included job creation, growth and sustainability, and changes in leaders' mindsets around lifelong learning.
The Ones to Watch (formerly called 12 to Watch) is an initiative of the United States Senate Productivity and Quality Award (SPQA) for Virginia and Washington, D.C., a Baldrige-based program that is part of the Alliance for Performance Excellence. The initiative is aimed at providing ongoing mentoring, technical assistance, and training on how to use the Baldrige Criteria framework as a management tool for state small businesses that meet certain eligibility criteria.
According to SPQA staff, Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones supported and guided the initiative, adding an emphasis on ongoing mentoring by SPQA board members for the small businesses on how to create jobs, be sustainable, and expand. The original 12 to Watch program was created in 2011.
SPQA volunteer staff and board members wanted to find a way to help the economy of the Commonwealth of Virginia become stronger, especially during the turbulent times at the beginning of this decade. Their focus turned to small businesses, and they used their passion for the Baldrige Criteria—which represented a form of national service for many—to help mentor these small businesses and leverage partnerships with other Commonwealth organizations interested in job creation.
The small businesses that took advantage of the initiative varied from start-ups to tech firms to government contractors. Donna Douglas, SPQA vice chair for strategy, said mentors were able to do a crosswalk between the Baldrige Criteria and other certification programs (e.g., CMMI, ISO 9000) for these small businesses to show what the certification could do for their business and what the Baldrige Criteria could do.
"Until they got engaged with Baldrige, many of those small businesses that had been focused on the more specialized certifications were unaware that they had an opportunity to take a holistic approach for growing their organizations and understanding continuous quality and productivity improvement,” she said, adding that one of the greatest opportunities for these small businesses was using the Baldrige Criteria to look beyond tactical planning to consider strategic planning.
“With no exceptions, the opportunity to use the Baldrige Criteria as a strategic plan was something that each one of those small businesses embraced," said Janice Garfield, SPQA board chair and a program mentor. "Very few of them had a strategic plan. They had a business plan, but they did not have a strategic plan that was holistic and showed them how to measure what was relevant and important in terms of what they wanted to do. In every instance, helping organizations plan and align key performance measures with what they were all about and where they wanted to go was what our mentors and application of the Baldrige Criteria brought to those small businesses."
Garfield added that small businesses "were voracious in their appetites for the kind of mentoring that we were providing." Garfield added that an unintended consequence of the program that SPQA staff heard over and over was a change in leaders' mindsets. One small business president said "a key learning for him was that he’d been managing his business instead of leading it."
One leader has now built a lifelong learning program into his business so that workforce members can continue their professional education while they work for him. Garfield said the leader realized he wanted to align the business with his vision "in a way he might not have done if he didn’t participate in the program. He learned that creating an environment for lifelong personal and organizational learning was part of his goal."
The new and improved Ones to Watch initiative, to begin in 2015, is being unveiled at the Virginia Forum for Excellence, September 15–16, 2014, in Richmond. Douglas said the SPQA is especially excited about this next iteration because of the support from the Virginia secretary for commerce and trade who assigned Syd Dorsey, Virginia advisor for small business equity and development, to collaborate with the SPQA on an executive council to further strengthen partnerships throughout the state. Douglas completed an SPQA Discovery application (a state-level application that offers an entry point to a full Baldrige Criteria application by focusing on Criteria requirements at the overall level) for her own organization because the organization "needed a starting point," she said.
"The beauty of the Baldrige Criteria and [the SPQA] Discovery application . . . [is to] get people to start thinking about the interrelationships between each component [of their operations], starting with leadership and looking from the leader perspective to results and then the processes in between. . . . The beauty of Baldrige is that once you start looking at the Criteria and get beyond the complexity, you understand that embracing the Criteria [framework] allows you [flexibility] because you are monitoring your progress as you go along. . . . Say, for example, that your revenue is not coming in as anticipated, the Baldrige Criteria give you the mechanics and skills that you need to look elsewhere in the organization or tweak areas where you are weak."
In her former local county government position, Douglas said, "The Baldrige Criteria sustained us through some tough times. Data collection is big, and if you're not collecting data quickly and analyzing and making needed changes, then you are dead in the water. I am a believer [in the Baldrige Criteria. They] help through thin times and fat times as well. . . . They begin to help you laser focus on the meaning of workforce engagement, leadership, results, and infrastructure."
When people get into the Criteria, she added, they start thinking not just about individual projects, but also about how to grow revenue. The Ones to Watch small businesses in Virginia are all still in business—thanks in part to the mentoring, training, and partnerships offered and built through SPQA volunteers in the Commonwealth who believed in the value of small businesses for the economy and what was possible with the Baldrige Criteria.