The Story of Baldrige, IMEC, and a Search for Excellence

Posted by IMEC on Sep 28, 2021 10:06:34 AM

By Joe Kilbride, author and Baldrige expert

You would never build a house without a blueprint. In like fashion, leaders need a blueprint to guide them when building their business. The Baldrige Criteria provide a blueprint that has been validated over the past 30 years.

The Baldrige program.

Most executives are aware of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award and the Criteria for Performance Excellence (in Baldrige world, this is a big “C” because good criteria are so vitally important). They may know it is our nation’s highest presidential award for performance excellence, and almost every state offers a Baldrige-based award program. They may also know the Criteria are a proven framework that has been validated by high performing organizations worldwide over the past 30 years, including many Illinois manufacturers partnering with the Illinois Manufacturing Excellence Center over the past quarter century. Some perhaps have even considered applying for their state’s Baldrige-based award, but found the application process to be complex.

This is often because organizations start by answering 220+ Criteria questions to apply for their state’s award program. After examiners review the application, you receive a feedback report with 50+ opportunities for improvement, and then struggle to understand, prioritize, and respond to these opportunities in an effective manner. This is a confusing and piecemeal approach that may achieve a lower-level award, but usually results in limited improvement in the organization’s operations.

A better way.

But there is a better way. Instead, think of the Criteria as a blueprint for the design of your operating model for excellence. Embedded in the Criteria are a set of fundamental processes common to high performing organizations. The good news is you already have practices in place for many of these, such as:

  • Senior leadership communication – methods used by senior leaders to communicate and engage with your workforce, key partners, and customers.
  • Strategic planning – to develop, implement, and monitor achievement of key goals and plans.
  • Measurement and review – to select key measures, analyze, and review. Then identify and address your key opportunities for improvement.
  • Customer listening – to obtain actionable feedback from customers on the quality of your products, services, and customer support, and use this information to improve.
  • Complaint management – to resolve customer complaints promptly and effectively while avoiding similar complaints in the future.
  • Hiring – to recruit, hire, onboard, and retain new workforce members.
  • Workforce engagement to measure the satisfaction and engagement of your workforce, identify the key drivers of engagement, develop these key drivers, and implement plans to improve workforce engagement.
  • Process design and improvement – methods such as PDCA or DMAIC to design and improve your key work and support processes.

Likely you have some methods in place for most of these foundational processes. If so, the questions become:

  • Are these processes well-defined and understood? If not, document them. If your operators need standard work to be effective on the floor, shouldn’t the leaders of the organization have some version of “standard work” for the organization’s key management processes?
  • Are these processes as effective as they could be? If not, evaluate and improve them.

This is where Baldrige is most helpful. After you define your processes, evaluate them using the Criteria and benchmark them versus high performing organizations that use the Baldrige framework. This will help you improve these processes and over time develop a set of leadership and management processes that are matched to your unique vision, culture, strategy, and customer requirements.

In other words, use the Criteria as a blueprint to design a customized operating model for your organization to achieve and sustain performance excellence.

Striving for great.

At the fifty-thousand-foot level, most organizations are doing fine: performance is good, customers are satisfied, employees are content. For many leaders “good” is good enough.

But some want more. They want a great organization, and they want their success to be lasting. Baldrige is for those leaders – the ones who want their legacy to be an organization capable of delivering excellent results that are sustainable over time. If that describes you, Baldrige can provide the blueprint to ensure you are building with a solid foundation.

Joe Kilbride ( has been an organizational improvement consultant since 1990 working with leaders of manufacturing, service, health care, education and nonprofits to achieve sustainable improvement in key results. Kilbride is a recognized expert in the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence and the author of “Road Map for the Baldrige Journey: A Guide to Effective Use of the Criteria for Performance Excellence and Baldrige-based Award Programs”© 2015 ASQ Press.


Written by IMEC

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