Interview with a Baldrige Examiner: Meet Paul Grizzell

Posted by Zara Brunner

Part of the title reminds me of the movie “Interview with a Vampire” but this subject’s only correlation to said movie would be that most Baldrige examiners have to be nocturnal in order to work their demanding full-time jobs and commit the time they do to our program.  Some of you may have noticed that I’ve had a couple of posts about examiners (a bit of a broken record, I know–but they are the bee’s knees!).  This one is an attempt to showcase what they do and why they do it.  And I’ve selected Paul Grizzell as the lucky examiner to spotlight.  Those who know him know he really doesn’t need the spotlight since he towers over everyone anyway.  For those of you who don’t know him, Paul is a great guy and stands out in a crowd–to say he’s tall is an understatement.

So take a closer look at what it’s like from Paul’s perspective to serve as an examiner.  Then use the “downtime” over the holidays to apply as an examiner before the application closes January 13.

Paul Grizzell business

Q: What do you do as a Baldrige examiner?  I have the opportunity to help organizations identify the strengths that they need to sustain high performance, and the opportunities for improvement that will help them advance to higher levels of performance excellence.  I get to know an organization sometimes better than many of its own employees through review of its Baldrige Award application–and especially during a site visit.

From a detailed perspective, I do some pre-training work, then go to four days of training at NIST.  That keeps me current on the Criteria for Performance Excellence and effective methods of organizational assessment.  I then get a 50-page application from an organization that has applied for the Baldrige Award.  I spend time in an “individual/independent” review stage looking at this application on my own.  I develop strengths, opportunities for improvement, and a score based on comparing the application to the Baldrige Criteria.  Next I participate in a web-based, virtual “Consensus” stage where several other examiners who have also reviewed the same application come to  agreement on the strengths, opportunities for improvement, and score.  If the judges select the applicant to go to a site visit, I prepare to “verify and clarify” the strengths and opportunities for improvement through several days of interviews with employees at the organization’s location(s) and review of key documents.  The end result is a feedback report agreed to by the examiner team that is sent to the applicant.

Q: So how much time does it take to do that and how do you manage it with your “real job?”  It does take a personal commitment of time.  If you go all the way through site visit, I estimate about 150 hours.  Without site visit, it takes me an estimate of about 50-60 hours (note: Paul is a very experienced examiner who obviously found ways to lean out his process; this number is lower than the median hours it takes to do the work.).  It gets squeezed in to weekends, evenings, during the day when I can.  I sometimes feel that I miss all the good weather in Minnesota because that’s “Baldrige season” from April when we get training materials to site visit in October.  If you aren’t willing to put the time in, you shouldn’t participate as it impacts many people’s commitment to the process and, potentially, the quality of the feedback to the applicant.

Q:  Why do you do it?  I call it my continuous MBA.  I got an MBA in 1984.  How current is it?  Not very.  Baldrige stays current with effective business practices.  I feel that I am always on the cutting edge of what drives excellence in organizations by being involved as an examiner.  Being a Baldrige examiner exposes me to the bet practices of high-performing organizations in multiple ways: the application evaluation process (especially site visits), the Quest for Excellence,  access to Baldrige Award recipient applications on the Baldrige website, and my network of people committed to Baldrige.  That network of fellow examiners is great.  I tell people you couldn’t pay most people enough to do what we do as volunteer examiners for the Baldrige Program (so true–so thank you Paul and your fellow examiners!).

My personal purpose is “Advancing Excellence.”  The value I’ve seen in the process led me from doing this within an organization to being one of the examiners who made Baldrige a career.  I help organizations focus, align, and accelerate their performance excellence initiatives through the use of the Baldrige Criteria.

Q: How long have you been at it?   I got started as an examiner with the Minnesota Council for Quality in 1997.  I’ve been a Baldrige examiner at the national level every year since 2000.  It also led me to become a Judge of the MN Quality Award, Lincoln Award for Performance Excellence and the Baldrige-based Army Communities of Excellence Award.

Q: What’s your favorite memory from being an examiner?   Several years ago I was at Quest for Excellence.  I had been on a site visit at one of the recipients two years before they actually received the Award.  I sat in on their Category 2–Strategic Planning session.  I had been the lead on that during site visit.  The presenter showed a feedback comment as a PowerPoint slide and said “We got this comment from our site visit two years ago.  After reviewing it, we thought the examiners hadn’t understood our process, but then we finally recognized it as one of our blind spots.  We made some changes based on that comment that fundamentally changed the way we did strategic planning….for the better.”  I sat there with the realization that that was my comment from two years ago!  I wish every examiner could hear that kind of feedback on their work.  It made me realize the impact we can have as examiners, and that these organizations take it seriously.

Q: What are the top reasons you think other professionals should apply to serve as Baldrige examiners?

  1. Service to our country in helping improve competitiveness of American organizations
  2. Personal development
  3. Professional development
  4. Networking with others committed to personal and organizational excellence




About Barbara Fischer

NIST Baldrige
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