Baldrige in the C-Suite and Beyond

The last four weeks brought a lot of reflection on the Baldrige Program, its role, its importance, its funding, and its future. To sum up, the Baldrige Program was recommended for government funding cuts in November, though it’s safe for now. I recently attended the Baldrige Award Ceremony for the 2010 recipients and just returned from a Baldrige Fellows session hosted by Premier, Inc. (a 2006 Baldrige Recipient) in Charlotte, NC.

Baldrige Fellows are senior executives on a year-long Baldrige learning journey. Most joined the class to evaluate the potential of Baldrige to raise the performance of their organizations to the “next level.” There’s something about hearing CEOs espouse the importance of quality that is music to my ears. For the past 25 years (my tenure at ASQ) I’ve heard a constant plea of quality professionals for help in making the case for quality to their bosses, and ASQ has spent a lot of time and energy gaining access to the C-Suite to provide that help. There’s nothing I know that is quite so effective as CEOs listening to other CEOs. An example is Six Sigma, which Motorola coined in the ‘80s. It wasn’t until Jack Welsh brought attention to it 20 years later that organizations all over the world took notice. It’s quite heartening to see quality join the C-Suite and the 21st Century.

While voices who responded to my last blog post about Baldrige can argue the wisdom of public funding for the program, I didn’t hear much argument about the potential impact. A few cite the limited impact of the first 20 years, and I accept that as a failing of the quality community to raise its voice—not as a failure of the program.

Baldrige was legislated in 1987, and since then 90 other nations and regions have launched quality award programs with a variety of funding models, not just federal funding. Yet the U.S .program has had the greatest constancy, has been protected from the commercial exploitation, and has earned the highest praise for its objectivity and ethics. The private-public partnership that it takes to operate the program is not well understood.

Without Baldrige:

  • I wonder if Montgomery County Public Schools (2010 Baldrige recipient) would have ever started their improvement journey. And I wonder what the value of their improvement means to the students and families of Montgomery County.
  • I wonder what Dr. Terry Holladay (who learned about quality as the Superintendent of Iredell-Stateville Schools in North Carolina, a 2008 Baldrige recipient) will do with that knowledge as the State Superintendent of Schools in Tennessee.
  • I wonder if the 53 healthcare organizations that applied for the Baldrige award would be on their journeys of improvement without the Baldrige program. How many lives have been saved, how many dollars have been saved?
  • I wonder how many jobs have been preserved and created over the years?

According to Building on Baldrige: American Quality for the 21st Century by the private Council on Competitiveness, “More than any other program, the Baldrige Quality Award is responsible for making quality a national priority and disseminating best practices across the United States.” The Baldrige Program’s net private benefits to the economy as a whole were conservatively estimated at $24.65 billion. When compared to the program’s social costs of $119 million, the program’s social benefit-to-cost ratio was 207-to-1. (See details here.)

Quality works. That quality is misunderstood and not used to its full potential is one of the great wastes of our age. That potential is not limited by the tools of quality, nor the professionals who labor to be heard. It’s only limited by awareness and the tides of culture.

How can we raise that awareness—in the U.S. and on a global scale? I welcome your thoughts in the comments.

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: http://www.nist.gov/baldrige/ 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?