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The Official Baldrige Blog

What Can Be Learned By Following a Thread


The beauty of the systems approach in the Baldrige Excellence Framework is that it depicts the interwoven connections of an organization. In any business, service, nonprofit, school, or health care organization, decisions impact operations, which impact other decisions and operations elsewhere in the organization; this interconnectedness impacts resource use and strategy, as well as other elements of the organization, ultimately impacting its future success.

Within the Baldrige Excellence Framework, the threads of several management and leadership concepts can be followed to see how they impact or are impacted by different areas of an organization; doing this can yield quite a few insights into the importance of alignment. In some places, the Baldrige Excellence Framework is even explicit in how the concept should be used (e.g., in decision making or strategy) or where the concept might be leveraged or capitalized on as an organizational asset.

For example, let's say you wanted to learn more about the concept "core competencies." What are they? In what areas of a management system are they important? How do they impact other operations across the system?

Using the index (or the search function of a PDF file) in the Baldrige Excellence Framework as my guide, I can track the role of core competencies in an organization:

  • In P.1, Organizational Description, core competencies are a key organizational characteristic with a direct relationship to an organization's mission. In fact, a note in this item explains that core competencies, an organization's areas of greatest expertise, are central to fulfilling that mission.
  • In 1.1, Senior Leadership, core competencies are noted as a key factor in an organization's sustainability.
  • In 1.2, Governance and Societal Responsibilities, core competencies become one way to determine areas of community support (i.e., leveraging core competencies to ensure the most appropriate use of resources).
  • In 2.1, Strategy Development, core competencies are used to make decisions on outsourcing, including which supplier and partner to choose. With a connection to work systems, core competencies are also considered when thinking about future strategy and challenges, as well as new core competencies that may be needed by the organization down the road. In this item, as elsewhere, the Criteria focus on "capitalizing" and "leveraging" core competencies—a clear indicator of their importance in making strategic decisions and a reminder that what the organization defined as its core competencies back in P.1 should be as accurate and appropriate as possible. (The organization's leaders might find themselves reconsidering the core competencies as they complete this exercise.)
  • In 5.1, Workforce Environment, core competencies are part of work accomplishment.
  • In 5.2, Workforce Engagement, they are addressed as part of the learning and development system.
  • In 6.1, Work Processes, the enhancement of core competencies is considered in product and process performance.
  • In 7.4, Leadership and Governance Results, results for building and strengthening core competencies are requested.

Tracking the concept of core competencies throughout the Criteria really highlights their importance as part of strategy and an area of great focus for an organization. It's clear that this concept, as well as others, is a key business attribute that impacts the entire organization's system as a whole—not just one area of operations. This of course is part of the systems perspective of the Criteria: "With a systems perspective, you use your measures, indicators, core competencies, and organizational knowledge to build your key strategies, link these strategies with your work systems and key processes, and align your resources to improve your overall performance and your focus on customers and stakeholders."

Other concepts that are woven throughout the Criteria include innovation, use of data and information, and change readiness.

What other key concepts might you follow as threads through the Criteria?

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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We use this capability to search the criteria whenever we are considering changes to our "system" for this exact purpose. Example searches for include 1) competition 2) leadership 3) values 4) core competency 5) strategy 6) culture 7) engagement 8) KEY.
Way to go Dawn! Did you crosswalk the Index to get this path? That’s one way to trace key concepts. Another is Mark Blazey publishes "globe" diagrams for each Item showing all the connections to and from all other Items. It is very good. I do not know when he will have a 2015-2016 version ready. One more is I have a one-page summary tracing 29 major linkages from the OP across the Process Category Items to the appropriate Results Item that I use to coach my client to "see" the "arrows" not the "boxes." Geary Rummler and Alan Bache taught some of us (in Improving Performance, 1990) that anyone – including a chimp if you have enough bananas -- can manage their "box" on the org chart. It's the folks who know how to manage the "white space" between the boxes that get promoted. That’s’ a practical example of system thinking. The big "blind spot" in new Baldrige users make is focusing on "Categories." Success with Baldrige has always been about going beyond "seeing' requirements as being local to one Category, Item, or Area and get to where you "see" the "white space" as the real structure of the Baldrige framework. In systems thinking, at least as Jay Forrester, Peter Senge, Art Kleiner, Donella Meadows. et al, point out, the "structure" of any system is not the element or “Categories,” but the interacting, interrelated, and interdependent patterns that connect the elements or "Categories" of any system. Both sets of scoring dimensions -- ADLI and LeTCI -- converge on the same concept -- integration. The Scoring Guidelines encourage this point of view. You need to get into -- or real close to -- the 70%-85% scoring band to become a recipient. That's where the word "integration first appears. Keep up the good vibes. This type of "real" systems thinking helps a lot of nice folks see how Baldrige is different from the other improvement frameworks that focus below the system level to generate improvement that is not integrated.

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