ASQ - Team and Workplace Excellence Forum

Online Edition - August 2002


People and Excellence—People Aspects of the Baldrige Criteria

“The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award has had a profound impact on quality in the United States and around the world.” That’s a statement most people involved with improving products, services, and processes would support enthusiastically. In fact, three of the four leaders involved in our panel interview (“Where Have We Been? Where Are We Going?” July 2002) cited the Baldrige Award as one of the five most significant developments of the past two decades.

Before jumping on the bandwagon, however, NFC thought it might be worthwhile to explore how the Baldrige criteria deal with people—particularly participative management and teams. So we contacted David McClaskey, who not only served as a Baldrige judge for three years (1999-2002) but also designed and delivered the training for the initial 1988 Malcolm Baldrige Board of Examiners. McClaskey agreed to share his perspectives on this subject with us.

NFC: In your view, how has the Baldrige assessment of human resources (HR) practices changed from its inception in 1988 to the 2002 criteria?

McClaskey: In 1988, Baldrige was more prescriptive than it is now, and it had a general philosophy in many of the HR areas that more was better. For example, in the earlier years of Baldrige, the following considerations were apparent:

  • The more people on teams the better.
  • The more quality training the better.
  • The more training in general the better.
  • The more employee suggestions received and adopted the better.
  • The higher the employee satisfaction the better.
  • The more expensive and comprehensive the employee benefits the better.
  • The more innovation and creativity the better.

By 2002, the Baldrige criteria in all areas, including HR, have evolved to be less prescriptive and more focused around a holistic business model. Baldrige has grown from being “quality” criteria to being comprehensive business criteria. Everything is linked and aligned to the key organizational requirements, such as key competitive factors, key customer requirements, and key competitive challenges. This has fundamentally impacted how Baldrige assesses HR.

No longer is more automatically considered good. After all, spending money on things that don’t return the best value is the way to get less competitive and, maybe, to go out of business. Instead, having the right level of various HR-related approaches that are linked and aligned to the key organizational requirements and strategies is what is appropriate.

Many questions are asked by examiners prior to determining if the various aspects of HR described by an applicant are a strength or an opportunity for improvement. For example, suppose an organization spends 100 hours per year, per employee on employee training and shows that this is twice as much as the next best competitor. Baldrige examiners set out to determine if this is good by asking questions such as:

  • How did the organization determine who needed what training?
  • Was the training well targeted and aligned to the most important knowledge and skill gaps related to the key competitive factors and strategic objectives?
  • Was the on-the-job use of the knowledge and skills to create value effectively reinforced?
  • Is the training process systematically evaluated and improved using facts and data?
  • Do the benefits of training outweigh the costs?

NFC: What about the Baldrige perspective on teams?

McClaskey: The thinking around teams has undergone a similar evolution. The question is not “Does the organization have teams?” The questions are “How does the organization design jobs and work to promote cooperation, initiative/innovation, flexibility, communication, and knowledge sharing?” and “How does the organization motivate employees to develop and utilize their full potential toward achieving the organization’s mission, vision, strategies, customer and stakeholder requirements, and key competitive factors?”

Teamwork is always a part of the picture, but teamwork doesn’t always mean team structures. In some organizations, teams are a major mechanism used to accomplish the organization’s mission and strategies; in other organization, teams are of little importance.

Some questions Baldrige examiners might ask to learn about the work/job designs and the mechanisms used to help people work together to achieve the mission include:

  • Are the approaches on work and job design and HR practices appropriate to enable employees to develop and utilize their full potential toward the organization’s overall objectives and strategies?
  • Are the approaches systematic and responsive to the needs of the organization?
  • Are the approaches evaluated systematically and improved using facts and data?
  • Are the approaches aligned with and derived from the organization’s needs, including the strategies and strategic objectives?

NFC: You’ve mentioned key organizational requirements several times and the word alignment keeps coming up. All of this seems a bit vague. Can you explain how this works?

McClaskey: Having Baldrige based on the key organizational requirements means that organizations need to choose approaches that work for them. Every approach used needs to be evaluated contextually, so examiners cannot assume automatically that any approach is good or bad. Assessment of the approach is based on how well that process works for that organization.

For example, one company may fire people if they make a few mistakes during the probationary period of employment; other organizations may not fire anyone unless they break a law or reveal confidential information to competitors. Either approach to firing may be a strength or weakness, depending on its impact and support of the key organizational requirements.

This same assessment approach is used for every major aspect of the Baldrige criteria. When considering the HR criteria, it identifies organizations that have designed a holistic HR system—one that works to accomplish key organizational requirements and key competitive factors most effectively and efficiently.

NFC: Why doesn’t Baldrige tell us the best way to do various aspects of our business?

McClaskey: It would be nice if there were one correct way to do strategic planning, interviewing, hiring, etc., but the lesson that’s been learned from role model companies and Baldrige Award recipients is that there is no one correct way.

There are aspects of major approaches, such as strategic planning, that all organizations address, but each organization must find its own unique way of dealing with those aspects. These major aspects of the key management approaches are what is addressed in the Baldrige criteria—through the categories, items, and areas to address.

An example of a major aspect in strategic planning is using facts and data to assess the key factors of significance. Another is that specific strategic objectives with goals emerge from the strategic planning process.

NFC: Can you tell us how the core values fit into this?

McClaskey: Baldrige has listed 11 core values and concepts. They are: visionary leadership, customer-driven excellence, organizational and personal learning, valuing employees and partners, agility, focus on the future, managing for innovation, management by fact, public responsibility and citizenship, focus on results and creating value, and systems perspective.

The Baldrige assessment for an organization is based on the particular key organizational factors that are most important to satisfy key customer and competitive requirements, but the core values can be considered a generic list that are found in well-managed, successful organizations. How and if these concepts are deployed in a particular organization can vary widely. Of course, you need to be careful with generic lists. Just doing things to check off items on a list rarely results in improvement. It is thinking about the best way to apply these values within a given company, considering its key customer and competitor factors that make them useful.

NFC: When we talk about the people aspects of Baldrige, we tend to focus on employees and human resource systems. Can you shed some light on how Baldrige looks at the bigger picture of people?

McClaskey: For any organization to carry out its mission, it has to satisfy a set of stakeholders. A typical list of stakeholders might include customers, employees, management, community/government, suppliers/partners, and stockholders. Stakeholders are those people who have a vested interest in the organization being successful. For an educational organization, the list of stakeholders tends to get very long.

All of these stakeholders have key requirements that must be considered as an organization designs its systems. Not meeting the basic needs of any stakeholder group may be enough to limit the organization’s ability to carry out its mission or even cause the organization to go out of business. Because many of the requirements of the various stakeholder groups might be contradictory, it may be impossible to meet all stakeholder key requirements. An organization must decide which key requirements to meet and at what level. Baldrige does not dictate an answer but looks to see if the key stakeholders and their key stakeholders are identified and considered appropriately when the organization makes decisions. Baldrige recognizes that tradeoffs must be made, but they must be made appropriately and result in a solution that works to give the organization a competitive advantage.

It is well known that the most successful companies do not necessarily have the most satisfied employees. On the other hand, the key employees on whom the organization depends are not leaving successful companies so rapidly that the organizations cannot function effectively. Excellent organizations find a balance that works best for them.

NFC: Does Baldrige follow or lead in setting new practices? Should our readers look to Baldrige to learn innovative approaches?

McClaskey: Baldrige helps to identify role model practices and approaches that are used to obtain world-class results in those things that are most important to the key business requirements. That means that Baldrige does not create any practices, but it plays a role in bringing new practices that work to the attention of many organizations. That’s one of the reasons why Baldrige Award recipients share their approaches and results in conferences, such as The Quest for Excellence, and in application summaries.

Each year the criteria are modified to make sure the right questions are being asked—the questions that identify the areas that are the basis for world-class companies’ effectiveness and competitiveness. These questions reflect the latest discoveries and proven experiences from organizational experience.

NFC: If you were an AQP member, how would you use the Baldrige criteria to advance participative management practices in your organization?

McClaskey: I would use the Baldrige criteria to help focus on the most important areas that need to be improved. If there isn’t a business case for more or different participative management methods, in terms of those factors that are most important to the organization’s success, then why should anyone do anything differently? This approach also gives you a business measure of success in terms of things that matter to business success.

The other way I would use Baldrige is its stress on systematic, data-based evaluation and improvement. Once you have identified an area where some modification of the management system or approach is needed, then use a systematic process to define the problem clearly in terms of a measurable gap, do a diagnostic journey to determine the root cause, and then make sure that multiple remedies are considered, selecting the one that will eliminate or reduce the root cause best. Then implement the remedy and determine if it works. If so, maintain the gain.

NFC: In addition to the actual Baldrige criteria, are there any articles or books that you can suggest to our readers to learn more about the people aspects of Baldrige?

McClaskey: I would start with the free stuff from the Baldrige office. These can be obtained through the Web site at: You also could call NIST at 301-975-2036. There is the Are We Making Progress? booklet, which is an employee questionnaire that will help you assess your organization. Other booklets available from the Baldrige office include Getting Started, Why Apply?, and issue sheets. You also can get a free copy of the Baldrige criteria. The criteria booklet contains a lot of good information and you can see what the criteria look like.

Some other books that are worth considering include the best selling Baldrige Award Winning Quality by Mark Graham Brown, Insights into Performance Excellence by Mark Blazey, From Baldrige to the Bottom Line by David Hutton, and Baldrige: A Profit Strategy by Maryann Brennan, Richard Eppig, and Karen Hawley.

You also can obtain the case studies used to train the examiners (complete with assessment information for the case study).

The best way to learn is to answer some of the criteria questions for your organization and see what you conclude. The important thing is to start by listing your organization’s mission, vision, values, strategies, key customers and their key requirements, as well as the key factors that lead to competitive success. Then assess your answers against what is most important related to these key factors.

DAVID MCCLASKEY is a performance excellence consultant who works for the 1993 Baldrige Award winning Eastman Chemical Company. He also has worked with hundreds of companies, teaching them his two-day “Understanding and Using the Baldrige Criteria to Improve” course and helping them use Baldrige to improve. Four of the companies with which he has worked have won five Baldrige Awards (approximately 10% of the total awards given), and he also worked with one U.S company that received the Deming Application Prize.

McClaskey has just finished his three-year term as a judge for the Baldrige Award. He has also been a judge for the Tennessee Quality Award and is currently a judge for the Georgia Oglethorpe Quality Award. He trained the initial Baldrige Board of Examiners in 1988 and was an examiner from 1988-91.

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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?


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