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The Official Baldrige Blog

What Do Ugly Holiday Sweaters Have to Do with Business Excellence?

Christine wears a holiday sweater and holds a Baldrige framework booklet

At least the Baldrige Excellence Framework never looks goofy! 

I love “ugly” holiday sweaters. Face it: many of you do, too. How else to explain the raging popularity of this wryly named commodity in recent years?

As I bought one with bright colors and a fair-isle theme at my teenage daughter’s request last week, I thought about borrowing it to wear to an upcoming party of my middle-aged friends. It made me think of at least a half-dozen sweaters of my 80-year-old mother’s teaching career. She wore those brightly festooned markers of seasons for decades to amuse her grade-school students.

But I decided against sharing those observations with my daughter. I didn’t want her to conclude that her new sweater could jeopardize her image in middle school hallways.

Whether it is true marketing knowledge or just plain luck, somehow clothing industry experts realized a golden opportunity. Cheerfully decorated sweaters can bring back fond memories for middle-age adults and continue a tradition for younger people. And teenagers are likely to see them as expressions of nonconformity and individualism.

Thus marketing “genius” has turned reinvention into innovation. I wonder how the companies that are capitalizing on this craze this season are planning for the inevitable drop in sales by an especially fickle customer group. (Trust me, the flow of barely worn cast-offs from my daughter’s closet to the family’s donation pile is proof that no retailer can bank for long on styles of the young.)

Given an uncertain market, surely any manufacturer or retailer of trendy goods could benefit from using the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence to ensure that they don’t lose their shirts (or be stuck with large leftover inventories of holiday sweaters) after investing in new products in a volatile customer market.

As Baldrige Award-winning businesses have demonstrated, the systems perspective and other core values of the Baldrige framework help an organization make sound strategic decisions and be agile enough to sustain strong results for the long term.

Organizations operating with a Baldrige-based management system maintain an integrated focus on leadership; strategy; customers; measurement, analysis, and knowledge management; the workforce; operations; and results. The assessment questions that constitute each of the Criteria’s seven categories (named in the previous sentence) reflect what we call the “leading edge of validated leadership and performance practice” since the questions are revised every two years.

With this proven framework for excellence supporting their performance, organizations of any size and sector can continually improve their key processes and thus achieve beneficial results.

So what do ugly holiday sweaters have to do with business excellence? A lot or a little: the answer depends on whether or not those businesses making, selling, or otherwise capitalizing on the trend are using the Baldrige framework.

Those that do use it have the scaffolding to perform better year after year—even when no one is wearing ugly holiday sweaters but People Like Me.1

I will end this blog post with a sample note to prepare you to read the newly available Baldrige Excellence Framework: A Systems Approach to Improving Your Organization’s Performance, the booklet that includes the Criteria for Performance Excellence.


  1. Terms that appear in small caps in the Baldrige Criteria are defined in the Glossary of Key Terms in the booklet; for example:

People Like Me: Those who, in the eyes of the young, have not looked stylish since we tumbled down the other side of the proverbial hill after our fortieth birthdays and started wearing comfortable shoes

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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