The public’s interest: Support for the Baldrige Excellence System

First, the up-front disclaimer.  The American Society for Quality, has asked me to participate in their new social media initiative.  I am one of a number of people identified as “Voices of Influence.”  For those who follow such things, I have been a leading voice on the evolving work of quality, process, and organizational improvement for over a decade.  My work has been published in the Journal for Quality and Participation, Quality Digest, and more. It has been my privilege and pleasure to have taught and presented throughout the U.S., Canada, Brazil, and Southeast Asia, on the work of quality and process improvement.

So, ASQ has asked me to occasionally post here, in response to posts made by Paul Borawski, ASQ’s Executive Director. We do not agree on all of the issues confronting ASQ and the global quality movement, and I think that is a good thing.  It is through the diversity of our thinking, that new ideas and opportunities emerge.

To get the legal bit out of the way, here is the disclaimer that I am supposed to share with you about my participation in this ASQ effort:

I’m part of the ASQ Influential Voices program. While I receive a variety of quality resources as honorarium from ASQ in exchange for my commitment, the thoughts and opinions expressed on my blog are my own.

OK, that takes care of the legal bits.  On to the real issues at hand.

The Malcolm Baldrige system to assess and recognize business excellence has been with us since 1987.  Note that I have very deliberately NOT used either the words “quality” or “award” in my initial description.  This is, in my view, critical to understanding the true nature of Baldrige, and its ultimate value to the nation.

At the time it was created, American business was reeling from foreign competition, primarily from Japan.  After World War Two, Japan’s business leaders took the teachings of Deming and Juran to heart, and focused on continuous business process improvement.  As they listened to Dr. Deming, they drove down costs, and improved quality for their customers.  The philosophy and methods of process improvement became central to the values, management, and daily practice of these successful Japanese businesses.

So in the late 1980’s, as American businesses also turned to Deming, Juran, Crosby and others for help, the art and practice of continuous process improvement took center stage in America (for a while).  The central focus of Deming and Juran’s teaching was understood to be the emphasis on improved quality.  So it was not surprising that the process improvement as a whole, got labelled as the “Quality” movement.  Ford proudly proclaimed that “Quality is Job One.”  For a while, it was.

In government, following a Reagan-era mandate to study options for quality and productivity improvement, the focus also turned to quality and process improvement.  In the late 1980’s, the Federal Quality Institute was created to teach and encourage the use of these improvement methods in the public sector.

The Baldrige system was America’s response to the need for an INTEGRATED SYSTEM TO IMPROVE BUSINESS PROCESSES AND RESULTS.  Yes, it is true that there is also a system for assessment and recognition of achievement.  But this is not, and never has been, the reason for Baldrige to exist.  Baldrige has evolved over the years to reflect our best thinking on a measured, rigorous approach to deploy improvement methods throughout organizations, and improve results.  The Baldrige system notes the dynamic links between leadership, business process improvement, workforce engagement, and of course, measured results.

We can argue the impact of the Baldrige system over the years.  But it is easy to see the positive impact in many places.  I happen to live in a town with a Baldrige-winning hospital.  They proudly advertise their success with improvement efforts in every one of their ads.  They continue to do things that I have never seen in any other hospital, to improve patient outcomes and satisfaction.  Leaders of the hospital have spoken at conferences all over the country about their journey towards improvement excellence.  Others hear the message, and explore the options for their own organizations.

The issue in the news recently, was the question of continued Federal funding for Baldrige.  Here’s my take on the matter:

1)Do we believe Baldrige is of value to the nation?  In my view, a resounding yes.  Many states have created their own versions of the Baldrige framework, and spread the value of continuous process improvement to their own constituencies.  We have seen data that Baldrige-recognized businesses have outperformed the S&P 500 in market value.  Correlation isn’t causality, but it is likely that Baldrige matters.  Today, America is again faced with massive foreign competition in manufacturing and service sectors.  Government is viewed as often ineffective or unproductive.  We need only look back a few years to the 1980s and 90s to see the gains made in all sectors during the heyday of the Quality Improvement movement.  Baldrige and other similar methods WORK.

2)Do we believe that Baldrige should be publicly funded?  In my view, of course.  How else can we assure objectivity and neutrality?  If we want the best minds to produce the best thinking for all, we need to provide a safe and open environment for that to happen.  Baldrige is such a system.  It WORKS, and its leaders keep making it better.  The amount of money to fund Baldrige is tiny in the overall budget.  The return on this investment is provably significant, many times over.

Is Baldrige the right approach for every organization?  Probably not.  It is comprehensive and rigorous when done right.  There is a reason that many of the state awards created progressive levels of recognition, with lower threshholds of achievement than the Baldrige system.  But as a guide to become the best, Baldrige provides a truly valuable system.

May the bright light of the Baldrige framework for Excellence continue to illuminate our way for many years to come.

Bruce Waltuck

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This entry was posted in ASQ, Continuous Process Improvement, Government Improvement, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to The public’s interest: Support for the Baldrige Excellence System

  1. Terri Lewis says:

    I have led private industry teams through three process improvement initiatives with the federal government. As someone who has worked as a federal contractor, an administrator, and a leader in the not for profit world, I cannot speak strongly enough about the need for government to get and keep a process improvement program in place. The impact of employee turnover, program overgrowth and shrink, and lack of true transparency, time, cost, and scope constraints beg for process improvement and a controlled approach to informing resourcing governmental initiatives. When there is no expectation, there is no inspection or measurement and subsequently no improvement or change management. No, resoundingly, the Baldridge program should not be shelved. It may not be perfect, but it creates expectation for transparency, measurement and collaboration and as a country in crisis, continuous improvement processes provide us with direction for measurement to effectively make resourcing decisions.

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