A Harvard-Baldrige Connection, Twenty Years Later

Posted by Dawn Marie Bailey

kanterIn 1994, Rosabeth Kanter–Ernest L. Arbuckle professor, Harvard Business School, and chair and director, Harvard University Advanced Leadership Initiative–was an overseer for the Baldrige National Quality Program.

Now, twenty years later, her leadership experiences have come full circle back to Baldrige, as she will be the Monday morning keynote speaker at the Quest for Excellence® Conference on April 7.  Her presentation is entitled Big Leadership—How to Ensure the Impact You Want.

The role of the Baldrige Board of Overseers is to suggest improvements to the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award and function as an advisory committee for the Baldrige Program, reporting to the director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

In Baldrige 20/20: An Executive’s Guide to the Criteria for Performance Excellence, Dr. Kanter wrote that since 1987 and the advent of the Baldrige Award “to encourage American companies to examine their practices, benchmark against the best companies, and make necessary changes to become leaner, faster, and more customer-oriented, with fact-based decisions and responsiveness to multiple stakeholders, all in pursuit of zero defects and high performance. . . . The Baldrige Program has itself
evolved to add more variables that have become critical to effectiveness in an
intensely competitive global information economy. There is a high premium
for innovation, the faster the better, as well as the ability to continuously
upgrade products and processes.”

In terms of how the global economy and the leadership needs of American organizations have changed today, she wrote, “This context makes the Baldrige Performance Criteria more necessary and appropriate than ever. Continuous improvement is not merely a good thing for a handful of companies but a survival strategy for every organization—the only way to create organizations capable of rapid adjustment to rising standards and changing conditions.”

Dr. Kanter, who specializes in strategy, innovation, and leadership for change, has been repeatedly named to lists of the “50 most powerful women in the world” (Times of London) and the “50 most influential business thinkers in the world” (Thinkers 50). Through teaching, writing, and direct consultation to major corporations and governments, Kanter has guided leaders worldwide.

She wrote, “[The] Baldrige Criteria can help organizations assess and improve their performance, becoming more sophisticated about how to align all of their processes to achieve desired results. That is important not only to the success of manufacturing and service enterprises but also sectors such as health care and education which are vital to the future of the economy and the well-being of society. . . . The Baldrige Award is given to only a few of the applicants because they meet the highest standards. But in a sense, every organization that uses the Baldrige Criteria for self-study and change can turn out to be a winner due to their increased ability to learn, adapt, innovate, and achieve excellence.”

Twenty years after serving as a Baldrige overseers, Dr. Kanter plans to illustrate for Quest for Excellence audience members how purpose-based companies and institutions organize for impact, as well as the leadership skills and sensibilities that help them achieve greatness.

“The Baldrige quest for excellence is a valuable step on a journey toward high-impact goals that make a difference as an organization serves all of its stakeholders and society,” Dr. Kanter said.

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