Tips from Baldrige Award-Winning Businesses

Posted by Christine Schaefer

The following have been compiled from interviews of presenters at the Baldrige Program’s 26th Annual Quest for Excellence® conference.

How to Get Started Using the Baldrige Framework:

  • Communicate: Make sure you have the support of senior leadership and employees. Instigating organizational change is not a one-person challenge, and the only way to truly sustain change and excellence is if everyone is on the same page.
  • Share/steal: The Baldrige community is so generous and open; take advantage of conferences and best-practice sessions. If you’re struggling in a certain area, it’s likely that other organizations have been down the same path and come out on the other side. There’s no sense in reinventing the wheel when so many great leaders and organizations are eager to share their stories with you.
  • Keep going: It’s a journey, and one that will take you longer than you might expect. The Baldrige framework is not about an award or a temporary fix. It’s about lasting, continuous improvement and a systematic framework for excellence. You will never “master” the Criteria. Instead, you can use it every year, every month, every day, to ensure that your organization is striving for excellence in every aspect.

These tips are from Kelsey May, general counsel of MESA (2006 and 2012 Baldrige Award recipient, small business). Read the complete interview at

How to Build a Customer-Focused Strategy:customer service desk graphic

  • Don’t treat continuous improvement, Lean, or another improvement strategy as an add-on to your current operations or a “bolt-on accessory.” Integrate improvement with your culture and how you do business.
  • Build ownership for your strategy among the workforce. This means that you have to get people’s buy-in, but understand that some things are non-negotiable, such as safety, health, morals, and ethics.
  • Work on a “demand-pull” approach of people wanting your products, rather than a “supply-push” approach.
  • Don’t focus on efficient measures (these are noble, but you can wind up with lousy measures); instead, try for effective measures that are focused, do what they are supposed to do and are not overburdened with too many different purposes.

These tips are from Ken Dean, vice president/director of quality systems with the Customer Development Group of Nestlé Purina PetCare Company (2010 Baldrige Award recipient, manufacturing). Read the complete interview at

How to Manage Organizational Change:

  • Shrink the change to effect change.
  • Build on your “bright spots” (people, processes) to effect change.
  • Understand that information is not necessarily the key to change; the key is not only to inform but also to demonstrate the change and ensure understanding through accountability checks.
  • Innovate to sustain the change. To achieve different results, you have to do things a different way. Thinking of new ways to conduct value-added processes is key to growth.

These tips are from Jan Englert, RN, principal of quality and safety at Premier (2006 Baldrige Award recipient, service business). Read the complete interview at

How to Align an Organization and Manage Performance for Improvement/Change:

  • Consider these three key accelerants to the organizational alignment needed for an improvement journey: (1) Highest-ranking officers who are personally committed to steering the journey, (2) senior executives who hold leaders accountable for metric-based performance outcomes through a performance management and evaluation system, and (3) senior teams who provide their leaders with the skills needed to maximize their own potential by providing mandatory, quarterly leadership training.
  • Address chronically low-performing members of the team to prevent negative impacts on the culture of the organization, and reward successes of high-performing individuals so that you don’t miss out on the opportunity to maximize the potential of the lifeblood of the organization: the solid performers who need mentoring and coaching. A key work process for high-performing organizations includes a consistently practiced, fair, documented, and objective series of discussions with high, solid, and low performers to sustain the momentum for the arduous journey of cultural transformation.

These tips are from Craig Deao, member of the senior executive team of Studer Group (2010 Baldrige Award recipient, small business). Read the complete interview at


Editor’s Note: The next two blogs in this series will feature tips from Baldrige Award recipients in the health care and education sectors, respectively, based on interviews of presenters at the Quest for Excellence conference this year.

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Baldrige Proves Inspirational for Small Business Owner

Posted by Dawn Marie Bailey

For veterinarian Dr. Rona Shapiro, running a small business can be challenging.

dog 1“Many times, I’m the person pushing the broom, and being the veterinarian, and answering the phone. We all work very hard. . . . Running my own business—sometimes it tends to run you and you don’t run it.”

Then Shapiro began using the self-assessment tools that are a good starting point for the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence.

“When I started working with the Baldrige Criteria, I felt a light bulb switch on. [The Criteria framework] really gives me guidance as a business owner. . . . What Baldrige has done is it’s given me tools to feel like I know how to be a better leader. It has helped me understand what I need to do to lead my organization. . . . For the first time since owning a business, I feel confident in making decisions.”

Shapiro’s business started in 1986, but after a year of practice, the founders realized that their original business model needed to be modified to sustain the quality of life of the veterinarian, including finding time to sleep. Another animal hospital and a 24-hour Animal Emergency Center were added to the Ohio practice, along with additional staff members. The three animal hospitals, staffed by 48 employees, now care for about 18,000 pets per year, and each hospital has a competitor animal hospital within a mile.

dog 2According to Dr. Shapiro, when she first read about the Baldrige Criteria online, she felt overwhelmed.

“Many companies have entire work groups, and all they do is human resources, or all they focus on is leadership,” she said. “As a small business owner, I am the workforce. I am the cage cleaner. I am the CEO. I wear many hats. It always seemed a little overwhelming to try and consider incorporating the Criteria in my company because I’m busy.”

For Shapiro, the Baldrige Criteria-based Are We Making Progress? survey proved the easiest way to begin and quickly identify areas to improve. She gave the survey to her staff members to learn how they thought the organization was doing.

“Using the results from that questionnaire gave us guidance on what we needed to do to make things better,” said Dr. Shapiro. “It was very clear once we got results that the animal hospitals [within the practice] had different problem areas to focus on.”

The next step for the small business owner was to write an Organizational Profile. Shapiro said she needed to figure out “how did we get here? What’s important to us? What are we accomplishing, and what sets us apart from others? . . . When I started writing the Organizational Profile, it started to make things much easier. . . . Writing the Organizational Profile helped me identify who I am. I never really verbalized it. When I know what we want, it makes it really easy to figure out solutions to problems.”

Shapiro said the veterinarian practice always had a mission statement, but after writing the Organizational Profile, she changed the mission based on having a better understanding of what the organization wanted to achieve. She shared the mission with workforce members, ensuring that everyone was in agreement.

“Now that we have alignment in the workforce, it makes it really easy to use our mission, vision, and values in everything we do. Identifying how they relate to every aspect of our work, how we interact with each other, how we care for each other, even when we are doing evaluations, every statement ties back to our mission, vision, and values. [The Baldrige Criteria have] just made it really easy to do that.”

Using Criteria principles to build alignment and consistency in the small business has alsoCat led to clarity for Shapiro as a leader. Because every decision is aligned with the organization’s mission, vision, and values, she said she finds it easier to manage the workforce.

“Every decision I make, I go back to the Organizational Profile,” said Shapiro. “It gives me clarity. . . . It helps me identify how we can become excellent, what are our stumbling blocks to that.” She gave the example of the Criteria making difficult employee conversations easier; employees can now be reminded of when their interactions may not be in alignment with the agreed-to mission, vision, and values.

Through writing an Organizational Profile, the small business identified one of its core competencies as making the patient experience as positive as possible, especially for fearful animals. Shapiro and her staff started building on that core competency by explaining to pet owners what staff were doing and why, and teaching the owners what they can do at home to reduce their pets’ stress and anxiety, thus reducing illness. Shapiro said such sharing has been very well received and enriched relationships with customers.

Baldrige also inspired benchmarking initiatives with other veterinarian hospitals outside of the service area, Shapiro said. Her practice is now in communication with similar practices to discuss ideas, software, challenges, and other issues–finding ways to help each other.

Shapiro has even introduced the Baldrige Criteria to the board of her veterinary fraternity alumni group, helping the board write a mission and vision. “This hopefully will help align our disenfranchised alumni with the very important work we do to help young, future veterinarians. Baldrige is truly inspirational,” she said.

In addition, Shapiro recently attended a conference sponsored by the Partnership for Excellence, her local Baldrige-based program that is part of the Alliance for Performance Excellence. “The biggest thing that I took away from [the conference] is that the Baldrige community is very generous. They embraced me. Everybody really wants to help you achieve excellence,” she said. From the conference, Shapiro said she learned how to coach for a culture of excellence and about the things that limit organizations from becoming excellent.

“Everything we’ve done [with the Baldrige Criteria] has made our organization a happier place to work. We’ve identified what’s really important to us,” added Shapiro. “Even though there is a lot to do, I’m totally not frustrated with the process because the little bit I have done has given me so much clarity. . . . [Baldrige] has already helped us so much. . . .  I’m inspired by it.”

Editor’s Note: The subject of this story is a relative of a Baldrige staff member. The Baldrige Program welcomes similar story ideas about people who have seen results from using the Criteria; however, the program cannot promise that it can use every idea.  Feel free to comment here.

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Supporting Effective Communications: the Baldrige Criteria

Posted by Christine Schaefer

Last year, the National School Public Relations Association (NSPRA) published a new benchmarking tool, Rubrics of Practice and Suggested Measures, to help its members measure the effectiveness of their school system communications. The Rockville, Maryland-based professional association—whose members include school communications professionals throughout the United States and Canada—tapped longtime Baldrige examiner Sandra (“Sandy”) Cokeley, APR, to help guide the groundbreaking benchmarking project. In a recent interview, Cokeley shared how the project benefited from the Baldrige Education Criteria for Performance Excellence.

Cokeley was director of quality and community relations of the Pearl River School District when it became one of the first recipients from the education sector to receive a Baldrige Award in 2001. She also has been involved with NSPRA on many levels since 1989, serving as president of the local and state chapters in New York and as president of the national association in 2008-2009. An active alumni member of the Baldrige Program’s 2014 Board of Examiners, Cokeley today continues using the Baldrige framework to help various organizations in the areas of public relations and organizational improvement. She said her background with the Baldrige Program and related knowledge of continuous improvement led to her role with the NSPRA benchmarking project. Following are her responses to questions about the project.

1. The Baldrige Education Criteria are credited as a reference in the NSPRA publication. Tell us more about the connection.

The strong alignment between this project and [the Baldrige Criteria] is evidenced through the parallels between the PDSA (Plan-Do-Study-Act) model for continuous improvement and our RACE (Research-Analyze-Communicate-Evaluate) model for communications. (PDSA is used by many organizations pursuing continuous improvement through the Baldrige Criteria; the RACE model is a standard practice in public relations planning.) The rubrics are organized across three levels (“emerging,” “established,” and “exemplary”), which align with the maturity of the two models.

NSPRA Rubric Descriptors

NSPRA Rubric Descriptors

2. How has your Baldrige background helped inform the benchmarking project?

For decades, school communications professionals have shared best practices with one another, but not necessarily in a formal, measured way. Folding the Baldrige framework into the benchmarking project helped strengthen how we compare and evaluate our performance because of the strong connection between the RACE model and PDSA.

With RACE, you research the existing knowledge, attitudes, and opinions of the people you’re communicating with around what you’re trying to communicate; you then analyze that research and develop a plan; next, you do the actual communicating; finally and most important, you evaluate and see if you realized that change in knowledge level, attitude, or behavior that you were seeking.

Being able to articulate the RACE model along with key principles of the continuous improvement model, such as alignment, integration, and measured results, helped us tremendously. Emphasizing the results component of benchmarking was also significant.

3. Tell us more about the development of the benchmarks.

One of our [NSPRA] members approached us in 2011 regarding the development of benchmarks in our profession. Education has been focusing on increased accountability with recent linkages of student performance to teacher performance and associated administrator accountability. Per NSPRA past practice, we developed a task force to explore how we could develop benchmarks our members could use to evaluate and grow their communications program.

Because our work encompasses a broad cross section of focus areas and approaches, we first decided to narrow our focus in three primary areas. We identified three “Critical Function Areas” for our initial focus (with plans to expand later): (1) Comprehensive Professional Communications Program, (2) Internal Communications (Faculty and Staff), and (3) Parent/Family Communications.

Next, using both our own research as well as other research available in the field, we identified program components under each of these three areas. For example, for the Function Area of Internal Communications, program components include the following:

  • Researching and Understanding Employee Needs, Expectations, Opinions, Attitudes, Knowledge Levels
  • Employee Engagement
  • Employee Alignment with the School District’s Vision, Mission, and Goals
  • Leadership and Management Communications
  • Managing Information Overload
  • Customer Service
  • Employee Ambassadors
  • Communicating with Employees During a Crisis

In the true spirit of benchmarking, we next went out to our members and asked them how they were measuring their effectiveness in each of these components and to share their results with us. We then shared this compilation of work and sought feedback from our members at a seminar in July 2012. What evolved was the idea of developing rubrics of practice under each of these function areas against which our members could evaluate their program. They also asked for standardized measures, either through set survey questions or a set survey instrument.

We went to work on the rubrics first. Over the next year, we developed the Rubrics of Practice in the three Critical Function Areas and published them as a resource last year.

4. How have school communications professionals received and used the new rubrics?

We are receiving great feedback on the tool. Members are using it in all of the ways we wanted, from independent evaluation of their program to inform improvement to a more comprehensive evaluation with involvement of their board of education.

Still, this is very much a work in progress. We acknowledged from the beginning that it was a huge undertaking and would most likely continuously evolve given how our work is always changing.

5. What are the next steps in this work?

This past year, we added a fourth area of “Branding and Marketing Your Schools.” The revised version is in production now and should be available soon.

Looking ahead, we have identified other areas for future rubric development and are also exploring the standardized survey/measure request.

Editor’s Note: The 2013–2014 Baldrige Education Criteria for Performance Excellence are available for download. The 2015–2016 revised version will be available in early 2015.

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Do You Have a Desired Future State?

Posted by Dawn Marie Bailey

A recent ASQ blog “Clear Vision and Focus for Success” by

road turnsThe Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence define “vision” as “your organization’s desired future state. The vision describes where your organization is headed, what it intends to be, or how it wishes to be perceived in the future.”

It seems to me that really defining their vision is one of the first steps for organizations that want to get started with the Baldrige Criteria. In fact, among the free resources for organizations new to Baldrige, Are We Making Progress begins by delving into “vision”:

  • Are your values, vision, mission, and plans being deployed? How do you know?
  • Are they understood and supported by your leadership team? How do you know?
  • Are they understood and supported by all members of your workforce? How do you know?
  • Are the messages being well received? How do you know?

When doing a Baldrige self-assessment, in the very second set of questions, you will be asked to define your vision. And, if you apply for a Baldrige Award, your answers to these questions will become part of what the Baldrige examiners will evaluate your application against. They will assess whether your actions and processes are in alignment with your vision and whether your results achieved are moving you closer to or father away from your vision. There’s no question to me that the importance of a clear and focused vision will be evident to Baldrige Award applicants when they read their feedback reports.

Sister Mary Jean Ryan, board chair and former CEO of SSM Health Care, the first Baldrige Award recipient in health care, has said that the Baldrige Criteria brought focus to the hospital system’s continuous improvement activities. In its Baldrige feedback reports, SSM was challenged to define its mission and vision statements to be actionable and measurable. “The Baldrige framework asked SSM to define ‘exceptional’ in terms of patient, employee, and physician satisfaction, as well as clinical outcomes and financial performance. We set goals around each of these measures, based on the highest-performing organizations inside and outside of health care,” she said during her acceptance speech for the 2014 Harry S. Hertz Leadership Award.

2009 Baldrige Award recipient MidwayUSA lists its vision, along with its mission, purpose, and non-negotiable values, right on its website. CEO Larry Potterfield has said that the small business’s vision statement can be recited by just about every employee. “All of the things that we do here are based on that simple, little vision,” Potterfield said. “I can’t imagine a more powerful vision. If there’s a stronger vision statement in America, then I’d love to see it.”

David P. Tilton, president and CEO of 2009 Baldrige Award recipient AtlantiCare, said that the health care system is always thinking about its future and that fuels its vision. “All of our work and planning are targeted toward our vision of building healthy communities well into the future, and all of our work is rooted in the Criteria. This is especially important because we believe that AtlantiCare and all health care organizations will experience some choppy waters with the transformation of the entire field of health care.”

Jo Ann Brumit, CEO of 2000 Baldrige Award recipient KARLEE, which just celebrated its 40th anniversary, has said, as a leader,  “You have to trust and have faith in your vision. Be very open, honest, and very appreciative of people. The team needs to feel your passion, energy, and commitment. They will follow your lead.”

Have you thought about your organization’s vision lately?

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Write to Learn…It Is Counterintuitive

Posted by Harry Hertz, the Baldrige Cheermudgeon

Intuition would say (at least to me) that I should read, listen, question, and maybe read or writing and thinkinglisten again to learn. So, I was caught by surprise when I recently read a Washington Post article by Barry Ritholtz in which he said, “Writing is a good way to figure out what you think.”

It suddenly dawned on me that I do the same. When I am trying to assimilate a significant amount of information on a topic I read a lot and then I write. The act of writing forces me to sift through the information, evaluate conflicting input, and form an opinion or translate the information for my intended use.

Daniel Boorstin, the former librarian of Congress had an interesting take on the topic. He said, “I write to discover what I think….After all, the bars aren’t open that early.” In the past as Director of the Baldrige Program, I was well-known for “I mow, therefore I think.” I found that riding my tractor around the yard to mow gave me unencumbered time (with the deer) to think about what I had recently read, and also been pondering, to begin formulating ideas to put on paper. My colleagues were always leery of what ideas would come forward when I started a conversation with, “I mowed this weekend.”

But I digress from writing to think….. Having mowed and mulled, I frequently write an Insights on the Road to Performance Excellence column or a blog to organize my thoughts and to share what I have learned. If you look back at Insights columns you will see that the subjects of these columns in the spring and summer of even-numbered years are frequently topics that will be themes in upcoming Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence revisions. I am writing these pieces to organize my thoughts on where the changes will occur in the Criteria (Items, Notes, commentary) and to alert readers to changes I perceive in the “leading edge of validated management practice.” Conversely, knowing that I plan on writing an Insights column forces me to have the disciplined thinking to make my thoughts coherent and convergent.

Writing is truly an effective aid to thinking and organizing thoughts! How do you learn? Have you ever considered writing to learn? Do you already use this approach?

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