ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

March 1998


Teaching An Organization To Learn

Scenario Planning

The Sinking Of The Titanic

Through Rain, Sleet And New Quality Initiatives

Striving To Deliver Excellence

Not Your Typical Oil Change


Reality: What A Concept
by Peter Block

Reflections On The Baldrige Winners
by Cathy Kramer


Brief Cases
Business News Briefs

Views for a Change

Book Review


Reflections On
The Baldrige Winners
By Cathy Kramer

I have been to the Quest for Excellence conference for the past five years and I am always impressed with the Baldrige winners' ability to harness their organization's energy and talent by organizing around the Baldrige criteria. Even though the Malcolm Baldrige Award criteria may seem like yesterday's news, the core is still relevant and the principles practiced too rarely in most organizations. Indeed, Curt Reimann, former director of the Baldrige Award Office, noted in his closing remarks that the gap between the Baldrige winners and typical companies was getting larger. This causes problems in supply chains and will produce "an economic reckoning". The award criteria have changed from a focus on quality improvement to one of performance excellence. As Dr. Reimann noted, a key change in the past 10 years is that the focus is now on the "constant transformation of the workplace" rather than on "getting others to buy into quality techniques."

There are common themes that underpin the criteria which seem to be universal business imperatives. I want to highlight these themes by quoting three presenters at the Quest conference.

One theme is exemplified by a remark made by Ko Nishimura, the CEO of Solectron, the only two-time Baldrige winner. Nishimura said, "The future belongs to those who are better at getting better." Listening to the Baldrige winners is humbling at times - the focus and commitment they display as organizations toward getting better. Every Baldrige winner has explicit plans and activities in place for improving their performance in every aspect of the business, from partnering with customers to improving every business process. This is probably what is most unique about the winners.

Comments by Hal Minot, senior vice president of marketing and business development from Merrill Lynch Credit Corp. exemplify another theme. He stated that their organization was aligned around understanding customer requirements and meeting them. If you don't focus on client needs you will get what you always got, actually less than that, because your competition will have gotten better. "Change is the inevitable result of meeting customer needs." I like this statement because it normalizes change and gives a way for employees to embrace change as a means to do their jobs better.

As Xerox has made clear since 1989, when another one of their divisions won the Baldrige, "Our empowerment culture is the secret to our success." A customer-centered mindset and a framework for achieving performance excellence is unfeasible without all employees contributing their talents, knowledge of the business, skills and abilities enhanced through training, and an infrastructure that provides opportunities to contribute. As John Lawrence, vice president of quality noted, "Empowerment at its most basic level means being able to say 'yes' to your customers and is best expressed through a Xerox theme for 1998: It's your company. Own it."

All Baldrige winning companies invest enormous organizational resources in training and learning because they know their employees' skills and commitment are their competitive advantage. All of the winners highlighted the use of teaming to work on all business processes, from product development to measuring customer satisfaction. The use of cross-functional teams, self-directed teams, as well as functional teams were key elements of their business strategies, and training and an empowered environment were the vehicles.

It is interesting to note that the questions this year from attendees were more practical and concerned with 'how to do it'. This might be a sign that those attending came to be reminded that the payoff is in living quality and participation, as opposed to talking about and promoting their own progress.

These three business imperatives: constant improvement, customer focus, and creating an empowered culture are never 'done'. The winners made it clear that their investment in these areas is long term and constant. The winners are successful because they have sustained their focus over the years. In the face of economic
success and, in some cases, global growth, they have not been distracted from the reality that aligning the organization with
the customer in mind, employee participation and learning, and embracing change - win in the marketplace.

March '98 News for a Change | Email Editor
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