Using the Baldrige Framework: 16 Do’s and Don’ts

Posted by Christine Schaefer

A few years ago, we published an introductory book about the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence, Baldrige 20/20. Our aim was to build understanding of the framework and its benefits among senior leaders of businesses and other kinds of organizations. To that end, we shared aggregated results data, turnaround stories, and other information and guidance from recipients of the Baldrige Award.

The tips shared by executives in the success stories of Baldrige 20/20 are timeless and applicable to organizations of nearly any size and sector. So I am posting three sets of those do’s and don’ts here—from a health care organization, a small business, and a manufacturing company—for your convenient reading and sharing.Dos and Don'ts

Tips from Rulon Stacey, (former) CEO of Poudre Valley Health System (PDF profile), 2008 Baldrige Award winner (health care):

  • Don’t let Baldrige become an activity your organization does on the side. As Stacey remembers it, “Initially, Baldrige was something people did once a year, looking at each category in a silo, separate from their ‘real jobs.’” This approach did not work.
  • Don’t overemphasize the award. At one point in Poudre Valley Health System’s journey, says Stacey, “There was a perception among employees and physicians that this was just one more award we wanted to add to our résumé . . . [so] motivation dropped when we found out that we were not a winner.” However, Stacey adds, “It was so much more motivational to engage our workforce in providing world-class care instead of asking for their help to win another award.”
  • Don’t give up. “There were lots of times in our journey when we questioned whether it was worth it,” says Stacey. “We got disappointed, even angry, and staff seemed to lose motivation. But we persisted and focused on improvements we had already made and improvements we wanted to make.”
  • Don’t “cram for the test.” Don’t do Baldrige by simply memorizing the “right” answers before the Baldrige examiners visit your site as part of their evaluation, advises Stacey, “Live it!”
  • Do get buy-in from the top. As Poudre Valley Health System found, direction and empowerment from leadership is essential.
  • Do consider Baldrige-related activities productive time. “A common question we get is, how much productive time do you lose to Baldrige?” says Stacey. “If you’re asking that question, you don’t get it yet. Baldrige has to be how you run your business.”
  • Do make improvement your main focus. Says Stacey, “We realized that a lot of our focus had shifted to ‘winning the award.’” When the main focus shifted back to improving, Poudre Valley Health System began seeing the beneficial results that led it to the Baldrige Award.

Tips from Terry May; CEO, president, and founder of MESA Products, Inc.; 2012 and 2006 Baldrige Award winner (small business):

  • Don’t set expectations for a quick journey to performance excellence. MESA’s early expectations were unrealistic, says May—a certain recipe for frustration, discouragement, and failure.
  • Don’t focus just on winning an award. “Every year we didn’t win, we’d still gotten better as a company,” says May. He recommends focusing on the positives, addressing the opportunities for improvement in feedback reports, and never losing sight that the organization is improving throughout the journey.
  • Do things your way; there is no magic formula. “Our method was trial and error—and it took us five years,” says May. “As a small company, our resources are limited. But although we may not do things the way others do, we find ways to get things done.”
  • Do be patient, and do your best. One trick is not to call this process “Baldrige,” says May. “We needed this to become part of our daily job, so we called what we were doing ‘The MESA Way.’”

Tips from Ron Fiala, process improvement manager, Cargill Corn Milling (PDF profile), 2008 Baldrige Award winner (manufacturing):

  • Don’t expect only highs along the journey. Executives must be willing to make incremental improvements every day.
  • Don’t reject external feedback without giving it due consideration. The hardest part about feedback is having the courage to accept it.
  • Do make the decision to truly become a process-honoring culture. In 2002, Cargill Corn Milling made this decision, which became a defining moment.
  • Do accept that an outside set of eyes can point out your blind spots.
  • Do recognize the elements critical to success: leadership involvement and support, determination, resources (both internal and external), and willingness to accept feedback.

Are you trying to convince senior leaders or your workforce that adopting the Baldrige systems framework will boost the performance of your organization? Consider reading and sharing other information in Baldrige 20/20 or elsewhere on our website to help you make the case.

Or, if your organization has already been using the Baldrige framework and demonstrating excellent performance, get ready to apply for the next Baldrige Award using the 2015 application forms and guidance now posted on our website.

Coming soon: “16 More Do’s and Don’ts from Baldrige Award Winners”
Coming this week: Check the Baldrige website for news on the 2014 Baldrige Award recipients.


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