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The Official Baldrige Blog

Which Way to Operational Excellence?


Dorothy: Now which way do we go?

Scarecrow: Pardon me, this way is a very nice way.

Dorothy: Who said that?

[Toto barks at scarecrow]

Dorothy: Don't be silly, Toto. Scarecrows don't talk.

Scarecrow: [points other way] It's pleasant down that way, too.

Dorothy: That's funny. Wasn't he pointing the other way?

Scarecrow: [points both ways]

Of course, some people do go both ways When it comes to new business/improvement initiatives, there are several directions that one can go. But, typically, the most successful initiatives are built on lessons learned about what has worked and what hasn't and the outcomes desired (one could start from scratch, too, but that seems to ignore lots of tried and true wisdom).

For the past thirty years, several criteria and standards have come onto the scene so that folks don't have to reinvent the wheel when they want to conduct strategic planning, learn leadership best practices, adhere to standards, or improve a product or process, for example. The satisfaction that comes from improving (or winning an award to validate the improvements) is universally understood as a good thing both for an organization and for the people (including customers) involved. But what an organization can learn along the way is often underestimated.

"Journey" is not always a well-received word because it connotes something that takes a long time and can be arduous (Dorothy had no idea what her journey would be like when she set off on the yellow brick road, but, oh, what she learned along the way), but any Baldrige Award recipient will tell you that short-term gains are what need to be celebrated, because sooner or later those short-term improvements lead to long-term achievements that can improve an entire culture.

For organizations looking to become more sustainable, more customer-focused, more recognized, more competitive, there are many paths to operational excellence, and each offers its own benefits along the way. 

Implementing the Baldrige Excellence Framework (or simply using it as reference material) is one path to organizational excellence, with organizations applying for the Baldrige Award as a way to focus on what needs to be improved, prioritize resources, and gain feedback and inspiration for their improvement initiatives. But there remains some misunderstanding about the benefits of an application.

The Baldrige Award is not a consumer award that compares companies or can be bought. And it's not a certification (although most award winners consider it a stamp of approval; for example, according to Baldrige Award recipient North Mississippi Health Services, Toyota chose to locate a factory close to its headquarters because the health system had proven its quality through winning a Baldrige Award). So what's so special about the Baldrige Award that might make a government agency, manufacturer, or business--including eligible individual plants or subunits--take the time to apply? What does applying for the Baldrige Award have that all of the other awards do not?

I would posit that of all of the other management frameworks and awards out there, only the Baldrige Award uses a framework that looks for improvements across your entire enterprise--in other words, uses a systems perspective so that you are improving your whole organization, not just optimizing one area. And only applying for the Baldrige Award brings an organization unbiased feedback from a cross-sector team of experts from a leadership development program that has been ranked the best in the government and military category of the Leadership 500 excellence awards.

Another initiative, the new ISO 9001:2015 is considered "an international quality management system (QMS) standard," writes Craig Cochran in ISO 9001:2015 in Plain English. "It presents fundamental management and quality assurance practices that can be applied by any organization." The new iteration of ISO has moved even closer to what the Baldrige framework offers, with more of a focus on each organization's unique issues, planning, environmental scanning, and change management. For example, ISO 9001:2015 adds organizational knowledge as a new requirement and has expanded the role of top management and process management.

However, "ISO is not intended to be an enterprise-wide performance improvement system," said Dr. Joseph A. DeFeo, Chairman and CEO of Juran Global, during a recent webinar. ISO standards provide good quality control and quality assurance, but ISO 9001-2015 is still far away from looking at the whole enterprise. "Even the head of the ISO quality control technical committee will say that the ISO criteria are only about a quarter of what you need to do to make an enterprise successful," he said.

In "Moving Beyond ISO 9001," author Jerry Green writes, "It is the opinion of this author that ISO 9001: 2008 serves as a good foundation for a total quality organization. It requires that a healthy Quality Management System be in place and that core processes are standardized and followed. However, it does not require evidence of positive trends over time or a comparison of results to assess a company’s competitive position." Category 7 of the Baldrige Excellence Framework has always focused on business results and strategy.

"ISO 9001 certification is gradually becoming a requirement for doing business in many industries, [however,] to remain competitive, organizations need to go beyond ISO 9001," writes Green.

According to Jack West, lead U.S. delegate to the ISO Technical Committee ISO/TC 176, which is responsible for ISO 9000, "The new standard followed a process-based approach to quality management aligned more with the way a business is actually run." This process-based approach is already paramount in the Baldrige Excellence Framework.

In a 2001 article after one of the last ISO revisions, Paul Scicchitano, executive editor of Quality Systems Update, interviewed Baldrige Award recipients in “Winners See Movement of New ISO 9001 to Baldrige.” Now retired, Vince Morgillo, director of quality at Dana’s Spicer Driveshaft Division, was quoted as saying, “The key reason we won the Baldrige is leadership and fact-based management. That’s what’s different, that’s what the Baldrige demands." David Briggs of Baldrige Award recipient KARLEE agreed that the new standard “adheres more closely to the Baldrige Criteria,” particularly in measurement of customer satisfaction. Steve Wells, president of Baldrige Award recipient Los Alamos National Bank, said, "guiding quality efforts by the Baldrige Criteria seemed to be a way of incorporating all that ISO 9000 would accomplish but gave us a lot more feedback in terms of ways we could improve in the future.”

The Deming Prize offered by the Union of Japanese Scientists and Engineers is technical and encompasses a lot of diligence, but it's not quite as robust across the system as Baldrige, said DeFeo. The Deming Prize came before the Baldrige Award, so many lessons learned were written into the Baldrige framework, he added.

The Shingo Prize and model with its Guiding Principles tends to be of interest mostly to manufacturers. Said DeFeo, "I like to tell people on your way to being excellent in your manufacturing company . . . win the Shingo prize first then go on to win Baldrige. There's a pretty good chance it is a stepping stone."

"People like Dr. Juran and Dr. Deming said very clearly it is criteria like [Baldrige, ISO, Shingo, etc.] that if spread among all of us will make society a better place, and if we keep forgetting that we're going to keep falling on our laurels," said DeFeo. Dorothy: If we walk far enough, we shall sometime come to someplace.

But wouldn't it be great if we had the Baldrige Criteria to guide our way?

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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Excellent article! It gives us a clear view of what quality and excellence is about. And, mainly, points out the guidelines that we have to take into account for getting to it.

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