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The Official Baldrige Blog

Ten Reasons Small Businesses Benefit from the Baldrige Criteria, Part I

This blog is the first in a three-part series on how small businesses are benefiting from using the Baldrige Criteria.

In the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence, small business owners are finding a tool to make their businesses stronger and more sustainable and to manage their resources as effectively and efficiently as possible. From architectural and executive search firms, to car dealerships, animal shelters, health care associations, and other types of businesses, the Criteria are being used by small businesses most often for

  1. strategic planning,
  2. agility,
  3. profitability,
  4. sustainability,
  5. alignment using a systems approach,
  6. growth,
  7. job creation,
  8. prioritization of improvements,
  9. measurement of data, and
  10. development of leadership skills.

This blog addresses the first four reasons.

Strategic Planning

One of the greatest opportunities for small businesses is using the Baldrige Criteria to look beyond tactical planning to consider strategic planning, said Donna Douglas, vice chair for strategy at the United States Senate Productivity and Quality Award (SPQA), a Baldrige-based program that, among other services, mentors small businesses in its region.

“With no exceptions, the opportunity to use the Baldrige Criteria as a strategic plan was something that each one of those small businesses [being mentored] embraced,” said Janice Garfield, SPQA board chair. “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.”

Cindy Milrany, chief financial officer and chief administrative officer for Baldrige Award-winning small business Freese and Nichols, said when the engineering and architectural firm started using the Baldrige Criteria, it was challenged by changing client needs and the ability to anticipate those changes and respond quickly.

“If you asked folks before we got into doing Baldrige, were we doing strategic planning, they would have said absolutely yes,” Milrany explained. “We were pretty good with planning, but we were really poor at execution. [Since using the Criteria], our planning processes are much, much better, but our deployment of the Strategic Plan is a whole different world.”

Milrany said Freese and Nichols’s strategic planning process today includes specific deployment of actions to the sales team, operations team, and corporate support groups. “For every action on the Strategic Plan for the year, . . . we develop complete action sheets that give background on what the planning team was thinking about, what steps are anticipated, what outcomes are looked for, and what we will use to measure effectiveness.”

Agility, Profitability, and Sustainability

Remaining agile in the face of changing regulations and industries is hard, but some small businesses find that focusing on the questions in the Criteria helps them to anticipate blind spots and react quickly.

Staff members at Freese and Nichols look at balanced scorecard results four times a year during management meetings; if results are not going in the anticipated direction, changes can be made. “Before Baldrige, we were a good company; after Baldrige we’re a great company,” said Milrany.

From the standpoint of sustainability, the small business is now looking to the future, even convening a Futures Committee to look at issues that might impact its environment and its clients’ environments, so that workforce members are prepared to deal with changes.

Don Chalmers Ford, a Baldrige-based Quality New Mexico Zia Award for Performance Excellence recipient, has been using the Baldrige Criteria for 15 years “to increase our probability of success,” said Lee Butler, director of performance excellence.

“Using the model helped us come out of the 2008 financial crisis quicker than our competition. Once you’ve . . . decided to use the model and not waiver, [it] provides a disciplined approach to the key systems we need to be successful.”

“American businesses can no longer afford inefficiencies,” said Kenneth Cohen, PhD, president of The Synergy Organization, an evidence-based executive search and assessment firm that he founded in 1988. (Synergy, which has been recognized twice by the Baldrige-based Mid-Atlantic Alliance for Performance Excellence(MAAPE) an Alliance for Performance Excellence member, is the founding sponsor of the Harry S. Hertz Leadership Award.)

"Recognizing that it always costs less to do things right the first time, the Baldrige Criteria have proven to be an incredibly cost-effective solution to the multiple, complex challenges confronting health care executives.” Cohen added, “What I like most about the Baldrige Criteria as a small business owner is that they offer an incredible amount of value, innovation, and proven ways to help me think and act most effectively and to provide maximum benefit and value for our clients. . . . Actively listening to what our clients want and then ensuring that they are consistently amazed and delighted with our results has driven the growth of our company in ways I never would have anticipated over 25 years ago.”

Deborah Bowen, CEO of the American Health Care Association, which received the Bronze Award for Commitment to Excellence from Baldrige-based Illinois Performance Excellence, writes that the Baldrige Criteria are an “established framework for improvement and innovation.” Working with the Baldrige Criteria, the association’s staff members are “clearly defining and articulating our systems and embedding cycles of continuous learning, improvement, and innovation in every part of our organization,” Bowen wrote in Healthcare Executive magazine.

See part II of this series.

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.

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