What Do Ugly Holiday Sweaters Have to Do with Business Excellence?

Posted by Christine Schaefer

I love “ugly” holiday sweaters. Face it: many of you do, too. How else to explain the raging popularity of this wryly named commodity in recent years? As I bought one with bright colors and a fair-isle theme at my teenage daughter’s request last week, I thought about borrowing it to wear to an upcoming party of my middle-aged friends. It made me think of at least a half-dozen sweaters of my 80-year-old mother’s teaching career. She wore those brightly festooned markers of seasons for decades to amuse her grade-school students. But I decided against sharing those observations with my daughter. I didn’t want her to conclude that her new sweater could jeopardize her image in middle school hallways.

Whether it is true marketing knowledge or just plain luck, somehow clothing industry experts realized a golden opportunity. Cheerfully decorated sweaters can bring back fond memories for middle-age adults and continue a tradition for younger people. And teenagers are likely to see them as expressions of nonconformity and individualism. Thus marketing “genius” has turned reinvention into innovation.

I wonder how the companies that are capitalizing on this craze this season are planning for the inevitable drop in sales by an especially fickle customer group. (Trust me, the flow of barely worn cast-offs from my daughter’s closet to the family’s donation pile is proof that no retailer can bank for long on styles of the young.)

See how the 2015-2016 Baldrige Excellence Framework booklet complements my (borrowed) holiday sweater?

Given an uncertain market, surely any manufacturer or retailer of trendy goods could benefit from using the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence to ensure that they don’t lose their shirts (or be stuck with large leftover inventories of holiday sweaters) after investing in new products in a volatile customer market. As Baldrige Award-winning businesses have demonstrated, the systems perspective and other core values of the Baldrige framework help an organization make sound strategic decisions and be agile enough to sustain strong results for the long term.

Organizations operating with a Baldrige-based management system maintain an integrated focus on leadership; strategy; customers; measurement, analysis, and knowledge management; the workforce; operations; and results. The assessment questions that constitute each of the Criteria’s seven categories (named in the previous sentence) reflect what we call the “leading edge of validated leadership and performance practice” since the questions are revised every two years. With this proven framework for excellence supporting their performance, organizations of any size and sector can continually improve their key processes and thus achieve beneficial results.

So what do ugly holiday sweaters have to do with business excellence? A lot or a little: the answer depends on whether or not those businesses making, selling, or otherwise capitalizing on the trend are using the Baldrige framework. Those that do use it have the scaffolding to perform better year after year—even when no one is wearing ugly holiday sweaters but People Like Me.1

I will end this blog post with a sample note to prepare you to read the newly available Baldrige Excellence Framework: A Systems Approach to Improving Your Organization’s Performance, the booklet that includes the 2015–2016 Criteria for Performance Excellence.


  1. Terms that appear in small caps in the Baldrige Criteria are defined in the Glossary of Key Terms in the booklet; for example:

People Like Me: Those who, in the eyes of the young, have not looked stylish since we tumbled down the other side of the proverbial hill after our fortieth birthdays and started wearing comfortable shoes

This entry was posted in Award Recipients, Baldrige Excellence Framework (Criteria) and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *