ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - August 2002


Using Baldrige to Lead Change

In its last issue, News for a Change focused on an analysis of past and anticipated future trends related to quality and teams. Now, we’re considering how AQP members and their organizations can prepare for the future—no matter what it ultimately may offer.

We feel that one of the most reliable methods for identifying required changes is a Baldrige-based self-assessment. So, let’s take a look at the some of the criteria and how they can be used to assess performance, set priorities, and lead change.

Self-Assessment: A Starting Place

Self-assessment is a process for comparing your organization’s processes and results to an accepted standard. Unlike a traditional audit, which is conducted by an independent evaluator, self-assessments are conducted by the people involved in the processes being examined. By comparing existing processes and results to a standard, such as the Baldrige criteria, performance gaps can be determined in a factual, noncritical manner.

The Baldrige criteria provide a comprehensive set of evaluation questions that are nationally and internationally accepted and can be applied flexibly to each unique organization. Using the Baldrige criteria ensures a systematic approach to self-assessment because the Baldrige criteria are updated annually by representatives from a wide cross section of organizations, which helps them maintain a broad-based and unbiased perspective. Additionally, networking and benchmarking are easier because so many organizations use the Baldrige criteria for self-assessments.

Self-assessment should be used as an organizational learning tool. Not only can it be used to monitor progress, but it also can serve as a foundation for strategic planning efforts, helping the organization to focus on its most serious issues and most significant opportunities.

The booklet Getting Started with the Baldrige National Quality Program Criteria for Performance Excellence: A Guide to Self-Assessment and Action (which is available at is provided by NIST and lists the following indicators of readiness for self-assessment:

  • Senior leaders are aware of the key issues facing your organization and need communication and employee “buy-in” to take action.
  • Senior leaders support self-assessment, action, and improvement initiatives.
  • You have talked to the organization’s opinion leaders to identify possible objections to self-assessment and action and their feedback increased your interest in starting the process.
  • A champion for self-assessment and action is on your leadership team.

There are many different approaches for using the Baldrige system for self-assessment:

  • Some organizations involve all employees in the process; some select representatives from different locations, functions, and/or levels of the organization; and others rely on a small group, such as an expert panel.
  • Some organizations look at the whole enterprise during the process, some examine segments of the organization independently and summarize the findings to get an overall perspective, and others encourage individual work units and/or project teams to conduct self-assessments without any compilation across the organization.
  • Some organizations begin by addressing only the information in the organizational profile, some tackle one category at a time over a period of time, and others evaluate all the categories at once.
  • Some organizations follow the process used by Baldrige applicants and examiners, some use facilitated discussions to reach consensus, and others use survey instruments.

Regardless of the approach chosen, the key is in selecting an approach that will provide credible findings within your organization—one that people at all levels of the organization will accept and be willing to address.

A 10-step process for self-assessment is described in the booklet as follows:

  1. Identify the boundaries of the organization to be assessed.
  2. Select seven champions, one for each category in the criteria.
  3. Decide on the format for and scope of your self-assessment and action plan.
  4. Have the organizational profile prepared by senior leaders and champions.
  5. Practice self-assessment techniques with the seven category champions.
  6. Select category teams and prepare a response for the assigned items.
  7. Share responses among teams and finalize findings to identify strengths and gaps.
  8. Prioritize key strengths and opportunities for improvement.
  9. Develop and implement an action plan for improvement.
  10. Evaluate and improve your self-assessment and action planning process.

Organizational Profile: Identifying Your Unique Business Situation

One of the most useful design features of the Baldrige system is the fact that it is not prescriptive; every organization chooses its own processes for addressing the key areas of the holistic business model. For a self-assessment to succeed, however, the evaluators must be able to reach agreement on which processes are effective and which need improvement. Some process needs to be used to provide an analytical platform that uniquely fits the organization.

The organizational profile was designed for that purpose. It asks questions that make it possible for an organization to summarize its key business requirements, including competitive pressures.

No matter what self-assessment approach your organization chooses to use, your interests will be served best by taking the time to prepare the organizational profile first. An added benefit of preparing the organizational profile is that it can help your leaders document the key business requirements that exist, so they can be shared with all members of the organization and other stakeholders.

The organizational profile documents the key influences on how your organization operates and the key challenges it faces, including the environment, relationships, and challenges that exist now and are expected to exist in the future. These provide a context for the organization, affecting its business results’ requirements and the processes it uses to achieve those results. There are two portions to the organizational profile: the organizational description and the organizational challenges.

Here is a summary of the areas to be addressed in the organizational profile from the Baldrige National Quality Program 2002 Criteria for Performance Excellence (which are available in their entirety at

Organizational Description

  • Main products/services and how they are delivered to customers.
  • Vision, mission, and values.
  • Educational level, diversity, bargaining units, contract employees, and safety requirements.
  • Technologies, equipment, and facilities.
  • Regulations—occupational health and safety, accreditation, environmental, financial, and product.
  • Key customers and/or market segments.
  • Suppliers’, dealers’, and supply chain requirements.

Organizational Challenges

  • Competitive position, size, and growth in industry.
  • Factors that determine success relative to competitors.
  • Strategic challenges, such as operations, human resources, business, and global issues.
  • Performance improvement focus and organizational learning and knowledge sharing.

Specific Categories: Determining Acceptability of Your Processes and Results

The Baldrige model for performance excellence is divided into seven categories, six that deal with the organization’s processes and one with its results, as follows:

  • leadership,
  • strategic planning,
  • customer and market focus,
  • information and analysis,
  • human resource focus,
  • process management, and
  • business results.

A comprehensive self-assessment involves evaluating all seven categories, but it is not uncommon for organizations or business units within organizations to evaluate a sub-set of categories—generally one of the process areas and its associated results.

The process categories are evaluated based on the approach used and the level of deployment, using the following questions:


  • How well do the organization’s methods, tools, and techniques fit the requirements?
  • Do these methods, tools, and techniques used by the organization ensure that key customer requirements and key operational requirements are addressed?
  • Are these methods, tools, and techniques repeatable, integrated, and consistently applied?
  • Are these methods, tools, and techniques regularly evaluated and improved, building cycles of learning?
  • Are these methods, tools, and techniques based on reliable information and data?
  • Are these methods, tools, and techniques prevention-based?
  • Do these methods, tools, and techniques fit the organization’s environment, relationships, and challenges?
  • Do these methods, tools, and techniques incorporate approaches or adaptations that have been proven in other applications or types of businesses?


  • For every requirement from the criteria that is pertinent to your business context and performance, does your organization have methods, tools, and/or techniques in place?
  • Are these methods, tools, and techniques used as designed by all work units, locations, employees, and suppliers/partners when intended?
  • Are these methods, tools, and techniques used as designed for all products and services for which they were intended?
  • Are these methods, tools, and techniques used as designed for all transactions and interactions with customers, suppliers/partners, the public, and other key stakeholders for which they were intended?

Business results are evaluated quite differently. Actual performance is compared to selected internal and external references and both its level and trend are taken into account. Here are the questions used to assess results:

  • Does the current level of performance ensure that key customer requirements and key operational requirements are achieved?
  • How does the current level of performance compare to organizational goals, industry standards, competitive performance, and other benchmarks?
  • What rate of improvement is being achieved?
  • How long have the results been improving?
  • How widespread are the improvement trends?

It’s important to remember that the answers to these questions must be evaluated in context to the information identified in the organizational profile. Additionally, the following questions should be considered when assessing results:

  • Are the outcomes related to the important customer, market, process, and action plan performance requirements identified in the organizational profile achieving the targeted levels?
  • Are the outcomes related to the important customer, market, process, and action plan performance requirements identified in the organizational profile improving?
  • Does a cause and effect relationship exist between the methods, tools, and techniques used and the organization’s outcomes? In other words, is there evidence that the methods, tools, and techniques used are directly responsible for the outcomes achieved?

Although it’s possible to assign specific scores during the assessment, this may bring out a competitive spirit in some assessors—particularly in initial assessments. Instead, the focus should be on reaching agreement on the findings—the strengths and opportunities for improvement—not on defending current practices and results. The use of facts and data, such as flow diagrams and trend charts, can enhance the decision-making process greatly, aiding in building consensus. When the self-assessment provides a set of findings that can be accepted without debate, it is much more likely to provide a platform for change.

Setting Priorities: Putting the Assessment to Use

Once your organization has identified its strengths and opportunities for improvement, it can begin to prioritize them. Leaders can determine which require the most immediate action and how much effort should be put into them. People can be assigned and resources can be allocated. Because the assessment is based on the organization’s key requirements, the priorities that are set should enable progress against the strategic plan and achievement of the mission and vision.

Subsequent assessments can check to see if the actions taken resulted in better findings, creating an upward improvement trend. Decisions can be made on where to continue current efforts, where to implement new efforts, and where to discontinue efforts.

In the end, this cyclical process can provide a highly effective method for identifying required changes and determining how effectively they’ve been designed and implemented. The assessment findings can be used as justification for the planned changes and the organizational profile information can help develop a shared view of the organization’s direction and challenges. These are just a few of the reasons that so many U.S. organizations rely on Baldrige-based self-assessments to help them lead change effectively.

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August 2002 News for a Change Homepage


 In This Issue...
People and Excellence— People Aspects of the Baldrige Criteria

Using Baldrige to Lead Change

Where Have We Been? Where Are We Going?

Book Nook

From Our Perspective

What’s Up?


  Return to NFC Index

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