ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

January 1998


Have Faith In Your Future
Popcorn Discusses Consumer Trends, Effects on Business

Success Comes From Breaking New Ground - Not Plowing The Old

Taking It To The Public
Business Community Works With School Leaders to Turn a District Around

A Marriage Of Convenience
Unions, Management Team Up to Counter Takeover, Redesign Organization

The Baldrige Award: Winning Isn't Everything, Improving Is

Cutting Off Your Nose To Spite Your Face


Caring About Place
by Peter Block

People Powered Organizations
by Cathy Kramer


Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Book Review


The Baldrige Award: Winning Isn't Everything, Improving Is

What could be more elevating for an organization than winning the acclaimed Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award ? The answer: really using what is learned along the way to improve. Sweeping self-reflection is required of Baldrige Award applicants and the resulting 'scores' typically produce an extensive list of possible improvements. But how does one read the results? Where should one focus to improve? Identifying and acting upon a manageable number of high-leverage areas for improvement seems to be the key.

The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award (MBNQA), named in honor of the former U.S. Secretary of Commerce, has played an important role in motivating and acknowledging the accomplishments of quality organizations. Since 1988, 648 applicants, ranging from major manufacturers to service and technology-based firms, have participated in the Baldrige assessment process at the national level. And studies indicate that winners not only excel at the Baldrige criteria, they tend to be high financial performers as well. A 1997 National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) study reported that the stocks of 16 publicly-traded (1988-95) winners, as a group, outperformed the S&P 500 by approximately three to one. But with only a maximum of six award winners being chosen each year, the great majority of participants are left only with their scores and a detailed assessment report. How the findings are interpreted and acted upon is critical if the organization is to truly benefit from its participation.
Richard Belville, principal of J. Richard Belville & Associates, Dublin, Ohio, a consulting firm which helps companies understand, utilize and benefit from the Baldrige assessment process, comments, "The Baldrige assessment is a ready-made and universal tool which organizations can use to identify their strengths and areas for significant improvement." Whether used for self-assessment or as formal application for award consideration, the Baldrige process requires intense, candid self-evaluation. It exposes participants to an assessment based on a composite of what the best are doing, a framework of criteria by which they can objectively identify their own strengths and perhaps even win the coveted award. The MBNQA is a competitive award to be won, but, more importantly for most, it is a process which can help identify and improve those areas of one's operation that are limiting success.

Completing the Baldrige process, applicants are better informed about what it will take to move forward with their quality efforts. However, it's easy for organizations to fail when it comes to maximizing the benefit of the assessment feedback. Why? "Companies often take on too many areas for improvement at one time," says Belville. "MBNQA feedback typically identifies about 65 - 150 areas for improvement, however, the experiences of actual participants indicates only five to 10 areas can be successfully addressed, depending on the size of the organization and the resources available at the time." When pursuing too many improvement initiatives at once, companies are disappointed to find that none or few corrective actions are actually completed. Frustrations rise and internal attitudes about the improvement effort go sour. For some, the flame of motivation gained through the process smolders under the complexities of executing changes.

So what is the right way to utilize Baldrige assessment results? Benefiting fully from the Malcolm Baldrige opportunity means utilizing the assessment results in the most advantageous manner. Richard Belville explains, "Many have discovered that the greatest long-term benefit can be gained when they focus on only a few key improvement areas and implement sound, systematic corrective action before moving on to the others." Yet a key challenge is identifying what areas for improvement will be most advantageous to address. For this, Belville suggests the following steps.

Using Assessment Results Well:
Five Steps

First, it's important to understand the structure of the MBNQA criteria and scoring system. Knowing the hierarchical nature of the criteria can help you focus efforts on the most fundamental and essential areas first. Fixing a foundational problem can often serve to improve a variety of down-line areas for improvement.

Next, do a "reality check." Ask yourselves - do the assessment scores reflect what is really happening in the business? If not, maybe there has been a lack of communication or a misunderstanding has occurred in the process. This step helps avoid the risk of expending resources on fictional problems.

Do a 'gap analysis.' This means understanding where you differ most from 'the best,' and it can help you decide where to focus the most improvement effort.

Identify potential projects by 'areas-to-address.' Organizing by area helps you group, balance and sequence the improvement effort. Importantly, this step helps you preserve the integrity of 'strengths' while you work on improving weaknesses.

Finally, prioritize and select between five and 10 'high-leverage' improvement projects. This step, usually implemented by a corporate quality council or another segment of senior management, links the assessment results with other business considerations and marketplace realities. Essentially, this step asks - how does all of this fit with our overall direction and strategy? How much can we really afford to expend on improvement efforts? The step involves considerable discussion and final management decision regarding the five to 10 action areas.

Properly understood and utilized, pursuit of the MBNQA can, itself, be an effective tool for expediting organizational improvement. But using the tool to maximum benefit means focusing available resources on the right problems in the right order. The criteria is comprehensive, complex and tells much about an organization's strengths and deficiencies. But the information is only as valuable as it is actionable.
Adds Belville, "Most find the preparation of the MBNQA application or the self-assessment to be exciting activities, although a great deal of work and long hours are required. However, all of that work is of no benefit unless the organization is made more effective."

January '98 News for a Change | Email Editor


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