Baldrige at risk – a price tag on quality?

Many countries have a national quality award. In the U.S., we’ve had the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award since 1987.

On Nov. 10, we learned that a fiscal commission created by President Obama has targeted the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program for elimination in a round of budget cuts and tax increases. Read ASQ’s Baldrige letter of support.

Any vote taken by the fiscal commission is advisory—Congressional approval of potential cuts is the next step. ASQ, along with its Washington consultants and other organizations, has devised a strategy to help keep the program alive.

As I read the supporting language—“businesses should already have enough incentives to maintain the quality of their products and services without awards from the Baldrige National Quality Program”—I must say I had a chemical reaction. How could the report’s authors so misunderstand the purpose and value of this program?

The purpose has never been awards, and it has never been aimed at products and services. The Baldrige Program serves to:

  1. Identify and recognize role model organizations
  2. Establish criteria for evaluating improvement efforts
  3. Disseminate and share best practices

I wonder if any member of the commission reviewed the program, spoke to the CEO of a recipient company, or attended the Quest for Excellence Conference? I wonder if the authors made any connection to the program and the healthcare crisis in America. Or whether they reviewed the case study of Montgomery County Public Schools and wondered, as I do, why more schools system aren’t using the Baldrige criteria to manage improved performance.

I guess there’s an argument to be made saying the program is 20 years old and has served its purpose. I don’t think anyone who’s aware of the unmet opportunity for improvement would agree.

The Baldrige award is, in my opinion, a model program and a return on investment for American taxpayers in a multiple of the cost. Just see the list of recipients—including manufacturers, services, small businesses, and education, healthcare and nonprofit organizations—and read their success stories: Convince me that the U.S., or any country, benefits from leaving excellence to chance.

I’m all for fiscal restraint, but I can think of many other things I’d rather do without. Bringing attention to, and celebrating America’s best-managed organizations, is not one of them. These organizations do everything from improving our competitiveness to creating jobs to saving lives.

What does the voice of quality say at a time like this? Globally, what is the value of national quality or excellence award programs?

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12 Responses to Baldrige at risk – a price tag on quality?

  1. Dan says:

    Why is this post not being shopped to impact journals ranging from the Wall Street Journal, Huffington Post, New York Times, and Washington Post? ASQ will not become the Global Voice of Quality by posting one article to its private blog. On such a point of interest to the Society, the Washington lobbyists as well as any communications organization that the Society uses, should be engaged in getting these points to influential media.

    In a related question, when this potential expense cut became known, why didn’t any news media contact ASQ for a comment? Conversely, why didn’t ASQ make it known to media outlets that it had an opinion. Go back to “how do we operationalize the new brand: “Global Voice of Quality?”

    • Paul Borawski says:


      Thanks for your insights and suggestions.

      ASQ has a very active media outreach effort. Last year (which ended June 30, 2009) ASQ’s media team created 1.8 billion impressions of quality related topics of interest to ASQ members. That means stories about ASQ appeared in hundreds of newspapers and publications. But that’s obviously not enough and part of the reason we’re looking to “raise the voice of quality.” Your voice.

      Our team will shop this story anywhere it can get attention. We are currently working with several trade publications who have expressed interested in developing a story on this issue. But right know – an unapproved commission report that makes mention of Baldrige funding in the appendix won’t get much media attention. Rest assured that as we see which course the commission’s findings take during the 2012 budget cycle ASQ will look to turn up the volume. Even then, the real work will be in the halls of Congress and with congressional staff. By the way, over the years there has been good support for the Baldrige program in Congress and this isn’t the first challenge Baldrige funding has undergone.

      I hope you will let your legislators know you have a voice on this topic.

  2. Paul – this could be an opportunity actually. For NIST and ASQ to practice what we preach. I however, completely agree with you that withdrawing the grant seems a very stupid (you did not use this word though) move.

    My more detailed response is on

    • Paul Borawski says:

      If you mean for the Baldrige Program and ASQ to practice quality, I think you’d be mighty proud of the Baldrige Program staff and their improvement practices. And you might be interested to know the Department of Congress has just hired an executive to apply performance excellence (Baldrige) within the department.
      I know that the Baldrige program consistently runs cycles of improvement in all its processes, and think you would be proud of the improvement savings that have been wrought out of the program year over year.
      I’d be one to say the taxpayers get a lean bang for the buck in Baldrige. And as a contractor I can assure you the program is more efficient each and every year. There is a cost awareness and sensitivity in everything that is undertaken.
      And ASQ Headquarters has twice been recognized by our state level Baldrige program (the Wisconsin Forward Award) at the “Mastery Level.” And, we are proud that over the 21 years that ASQ has administered the Baldrige Award under contract with NIST, that we have never included a fee for our services. Yes, we get our costs reimbursed with G&A, but we do not include fees, which are common in similar contracts. It has been one of the ways ASQ has supported the value of Baldrige over the years.
      However, I think a focus purely on costs, won’t get us anywhere. I don’t think an offer to reduce the cost by 50% would impress the report writer’s of the Commission. Again, for me the point is they are missing the point. It’s the value of the program and its potential to create jobs, certainly save jobs, to reduce waste in our economy, to improve the competitiveness of our businesses and effectiveness of our schools and the outcomes of our healthcare sector that revs me up.
      I’d love to see the quality community turn its attention to the value and impact of a larger scale adoption of the Baldrige model. The cost would really be insignificant compared to the value. In fact, in my opinion, it already is.
      In your blog posting ( you offer many good ideas for consideration. Thank you.

  3. Navin S. Dedhia says:

    The commission needs to look at what Baldrige has provided to the corporation and industries. Baldrige has created more awareness of quality amongst CEOs and Corporate executives and other influential leaders. Baldrige shoule be saved to keep the momentum going. Our echo should reach Washington. More positive results and actions have happened as a result of
    Baldrige Program. Quality in Education, Healthcare Quality and Quality in Government became more known after the Baldrige program.

    • Paul Borawski says:

      Thanks, you hit the nail on the head. There is a cost and value proposition in the argument for Baldrige. How to get that message through to our decision makers is the challenge.
      It’s evident in some of the other posts we’ve seen, here and elsewhere, that even the quality community is not convinced of the value of Baldrige, or at least the value of government expenditures. Some of the authors are well informed, others I’m afraid haven’t delved very deeply into the program and its intent and impact.
      I hear the old quality cliché, “In God we trust, all other’s bring facts.” I wish I had the talent to craft the facts I have seen over the years into a convincing case for readers. I trust there are others in the community who have the ability.
      Over the past 24 years I’ve heard many of our member say ASQ has to reach the C-Suite and convince executives of the importance and efficacy of quality. Baldrige has been the constant of the past 21 years that has done the most to inspire leaders to raise their voice.

  4. Michael Glowacki says:

    Interesting how everyone who states they care about fiscal responsibility is quick to say, “Don’t mess with my special interest.” This is why things don’t change. I understand why it’s necessary for Paul Borawski to defend the award. What would be better is true grass roots outrage or anguish. When the ED of a quality organization and Baldrige Examiners raise voices in defense, they are easy to dismiss as heavily biased by self-interest.

    Each defense points to the one in a million companies that has earned recognition and improved their business. Throw in the rare school or the even rarer school system that has benefitted from following the criteria and you’re not really raising a defense of the expenditure (less than $10 million) but more offering an indictment of inefficiency.

    Besides, we’re fortunate Congress doesn’t exemplify “performance excellence.” Despite the reports and recommendations of the National Committee on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, nothing will change. So stop the chicken little act and get back to the real business of ASQ The Global Voice of Quality, which is supporting the transfer of American jobs to low-paid foreign laborers who work in unsafe condition so we can buy cheap plastic crap at Walmart.

    • Paul Borawski says:

      You offer the countering point of view, and fuel for thought. One member shouts, “why isn’t ASQ doing more?” And you offer – be careful, it’s easy for others to conclude ASQ’s self interest is at work here. One member says, “it’s time to stop government spending lest our children will not be able to pay the bill.” Another member argues – “what better examples for us to emulate than the successes of Baldrige recipients?”
      Michael cites the relatively low number of recipients as the evidence of inefficiency of the expenditure. I’m reminded that until late the legislation only provides for two recipients in any category in a year. It’s not designed for quantity. And that’s been true from the start. Today the number of recipients is capped at 12.
      I’d cite the hundreds of thousands of criteria that are distributed annually. I’d cite the number of organizations that use the criteria in one form or another.
      Michael cites the cost, I’d point to the value. Too few applicants? Maybe, but why hasn’t the quality community brought more companies, organizations, schools, and hospitals to the table? Why doesn’t the quality community put the recipients briefings on the desks of their CEOs with their recommendations?
      I hope ASQ, and I, are not coming off like Chicken Little. Some members suggest ASQ should be a champion for quality. Others, it seems, would prefer we let nature take its course.
      I go back to the ASQ Vision statement – Board approved, and since 2003 member validated – “By making quality a global priority, an organizational imperative, and personal ethic, ASQ will become the community of choice for everyone who seeks quality concepts, technologies, and tools to improve themselves and their world.”

  5. Steve Brant says:

    Dear Paul –
    As much as I regret that Baldrige was targeted for elimination by a commission that obviously doesn’t understand it’s educational and mentoring purpose, I have to wonder if both ASQ and Baldrige don’t also need to take a hard look in the mirror about how the program is promoted.
    I know it’s hard to sell the concept of “thinking differently”, but that’s essentially what Baldrige – and the quality movement in general – is all about. Dr. Deming’s philosophy represents a radical break from the mechanical view of how things work to a systems-based view. I know that Systems Thinking wasn’t highlighted in the Baldrige criteria in the beginning, but I believe it’s featured fairly prominently at this point in time.
    Were the Baldrige program – and ASQ’s work as well, for that matter – to be promoted as being the answer to the Einstine quote (which my mentor, Russ Ackoff, used all the time): “The specific problems we face cannot be solved with the same patterns of thought that created them. We need new patterns of thought.”, I believe more people (including in the mainstream media) would begin to explore the work we’re doing and discover how much better society would work if what we know were broadly applied to education and healthcare (for example).
    Ever since my early days (in talking 1991 here, when I first joined ASQC), I have wondered why the movement doesn’t advertise in publications like TIME or Newsweek… so that “ordinary people” could discover we are out here. I also regretted the end of the satellite event which was part of National Quality Week.
    But back to the Baldrige being “at risk”, as a long-time blogger on The Huffington Post whose work is regularly featured, I invite you to let me know what ASQ plans to do to help Baldrige avoid being eliminated by accident (because its purpose and mission are not understood). I will plan a HuffPost essay on this potential mistake (by the Obama administration) for some time in January.
    Looking forward to hearing your thoughts on all this.

    • Paul Borawski says:

      Steve, Thanks for your insights. Good to have you weigh in and to bring Dr. Ackoff into the discussion. I have quoted him more than once. His wisdom was profound, and know you agree. I accept your suggestion that ASQ and the Baldrige program rethink their approach to promoting Baldrige. Yet, I can’t help but say there are tens of thousands of enlightened folks, if not substantially more, who collectively have a larger impact on the perceptions of the Baldrige program. There are a lot of voices out there who need to be getting the message out there.
      ASQ has on several occasions invested in major media advertising. WSJ, NYT, FORTUNE, and others. The problem is these campaigns are very expensive and ASQ lacks the resources to sustain a campaign long enough to be noticed. Our Communications Team has year over year down a tremendous job of getting the word out. Last year they created 1.8 Billion impressions of ASQ’s (and our members work) through all manner of outreach. Yet, our attention is so bombarded that we fail to notice.
      That’s exactly way we’re turning the table and using new tactics to say “Raise Your Voice Steve.” We’re not going to get there if we only rely on ASQ. We’ll continue to shout as best we can, but to have real impact in this time of social media we need thousands of voices chiming in. Your voice is much needed. Now more than ever.

  6. I believe that Baldrige award is a more prestigious and classic award when compared to many other quality awards and recognitions. There are awards in other countries that are modeled purely based on the Baldrige award. Still, it’s being targeted to be decommissioned. I always wondered why some people under-estimate quality and consider these activities a pure overhead. Are the success stories not convincing enough? If yes, can we mine down and find out the savings the corporations and the country is making by adhering to best quality practices?

    A new forum should be formed with the world’s leading quality-conscious corporations, NIST and ASQ to focus on supporting and keeping the Baldrige award alive and happening. I suggest that this forum should also look at the Baldrige program expenditure and evaluate cost saving options.

  7. Monex says:

    It is administered by the Baldrige National Quality Program which is based at and managed by the an agency of the U. The Program and Award were named for who served as during the Reagan administration from 1981 until Baldrige s 1987 death in a accident. The following three sector-specific versions of the Criteria which are revised every two years are available for free from the Baldrige National Quality Program .

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