By Christine Schaefer
Who are the folks who judge applications for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award? In an ongoing blog series, we have been interviewing members of the 2015 Judges’ Panel of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. In the interviews, they share their insights and perspectives on the award process, on their experiences, and on the Baldrige framework and approach to organizational improvement.
Following is the interview with Roger Triplett, a third-year judge. Triplett is vice president of Eaton Business Excellence at Eaton Corporation.
About 25 years ago, I was working for a division of Eaton that served the military electronics market. The collapse of the “iron curtain” caused a significant decline in that market. We decided to pursue a state version of the Baldrige Award in hopes of differentiating ourselves in a crowded competitive environment. I found myself leading that quest, and after three years, we received the highest-level state award. That experience made me into a life-long believer in the Baldrige Criteria, and the assessment process, as a force to drive performance excellence in an organization.
I have been involved with Baldrige in one way or another continuously since that time. I began my direct service to the Baldrige program in the mid-90’s by joining the Board of Examiners. At that time, an experienced examiner coached me that to optimize my Baldrige experiences, I should “never say no” to a request from the [Baldrige Performance Excellence] Program office.
Baldrige has afforded me many rewarding experiences as an examiner, senior examiner, and alumnus over the years. I’ve had the privilege of facilitating examiner training at NIST a few times, and I served on a training scorebook team. When [Baldrige Program Director Emeritus] Harry Hertz called me and asked me to consider serving on the Panel of Judges, I was flabbergasted and intimidated, but extremely honored. Having been coached early on to “never say no,” I knew the right answer.
You have a great deal of experience in the business sector, particularly in manufacturing. How do you see the Baldrige Excellence Framework as valuable to organizations in that sector/industry?
Particularly for publicly held organizations in the United States, investors’ demands for quarter-to-quarter financial performance drives many such organizations to maintain a relatively short-term focus. At the same time, operationally focused performance-improvement initiatives or tools such as Six Sigma and Lean have become popular and important tools to help improve the cost side of the financial performance equation. These initiatives can be deployed with a relatively small investment and often generate measurable, beneficial results in a pretty short period of time. The relative ease of deployment and quick gratification provided by these tools has enhanced their traction in manufacturing businesses.
These tools fit seamlessly within the bigger picture of the Baldrige Excellence Framework, which addresses performance excellence organization-wide and encourages a long-term view. The Baldrige framework enhances the overall sustainability of a manufacturing organization and, in doing so, protects the long-term interests of all stakeholders, including investors. Concepts that Baldrige “insiders” embrace, such as process integration, drive the efficient use of organizational resources; enhance the quality of product, process, and financial outcomes; and poise an organization to be more nimble and successful at navigating through frequent, significant, and often unexpected changes in markets, customer requirements, and the competitive environment.
The “elephant in the room” question you haven’t asked is, “Why aren’t more manufacturing organizations pursuing Baldrige today?” In my opinion (and that’s all it is), there are a couple of factors. First is the focus on short-term performance I mentioned earlier. This is not an instant gratification process. It may be a cliché, but Baldrige is in fact a journey. It is a journey that requires some leadership vision to undertake and some courage to stick with until results appear. The degree of senior leadership churn that we see in some organizations may inhibit this demonstration of vision and courage.
Second, to a degree that is not as significant in health care or education, manufacturing today is highly competitive and global. The global nature of markets and manufacturing capabilities along with the ease of communications and logistics has driven many manufacturers similar to our early Baldrige Award recipients to diversify and to establish a significant presence in numerous regions of the globe.
The Baldrige Excellence Framework is still extremely valuable to these diversified, multinational organizations, but they may find distilling the “story” of their diverse and dispersed enterprise into a 50-page response to the [Baldrige] Criteria to be daunting (and yet still incomplete); as a consequence, we don’t see them pursuing the award. I think the Baldrige family could do a better job of articulating the Baldrige value equation for these manufacturing organizations.
How do you apply Baldrige principles/concepts to your current work experience/employer?
At Eaton, we have conducted internal Baldrige-type assessments for 25 years. For the first ten years or so, we were using the Baldrige Criteria as written to perform assessments using an internal board of examiners. These assessments were voluntary, but the businesses that were routinely assessed seemed to perform better and more predictably than others. About 15 years ago, we upped the game. Over time, some standard processes were defined that were expected to be deployed across the company. We began to tailor “the criteria” to drive and confirm deployment of these standard processes. Essentially, mandatory Eaton processes became the right answers to what were open-ended Baldrige approach questions.
The spirit of the overarching Baldrige Excellence Framework is intact, but it is expected that standard Eaton processes are deployed. Periodic assessments are required of all [our] businesses, and the most mature are recognized through an internal award process. We’re lucky at Eaton to have had the stability of senior leaders with the vision to see the value of deploying some standard processes within an overarching framework of a business system. My team at Eaton is responsible for educating leaders in the system and for managing our internal assessment process.
As a judge, what are your hopes for the judging process? In other words, as a judge what would you like to tell applicants and potential Baldrige Award applicants about the rigor of the process?
My experience as a judge has completed my view and understanding of the Baldrige process like the last piece of a puzzle. It all comes together when we see the examiner reports of what is really going on in applicant organizations. Sometimes as an examiner, we feel some of the assessment process steps seem a little bureaucratic; some of the documentation may seem a bit excessive, and the program requirements for examiners [may appear to be] bordering on OCD. Yet when the examiners’ products, the deliverables, are laid out in front of the judges, it all comes together. I get it now. The rigor of the process isn’t just in the judging. It comes from the consistency and performance excellence in every step of the process from examiner training, Independent Review, Consensus Review, Site Visit Review, and the judging process.
The consistency of each step and the hard work and dedication of the examiners to produce the information that comes to the judges enable the judges to do their job. The judges get to see the product of all the hard work of all the contributors. Reviewing the detailed documentation, the reports, and the stories of the excellent applicants is an amazing opportunity and honor.
I can also tell you that in my almost-40-year career, I’ve never worked with a group of such exceptional and dedicated people as those on the panel of judges. The composition of the panel changes year over year, but the caliber of the people continues to impress me. Examiners need to know how important their hard work and perseverance is and that it is much appreciated. Applicants should know we’re inspired by their stories and that we work tirelessly to make the best-possible recipient recommendations to the Secretary of Commerce.
What encouragement/advice would you give Baldrige examiners who are reviewing award applications now?
As a past examiner and senior examiner, I know well how demanding their job is. It consumes a vast amount of time of people who are accomplished and busy in their own right and can least afford the time. It demands an enormous amount of patience and emotional energy. Not every team will bring an award recipient to the judging process, but their efforts will help ensure that the right organizations are recognized, that the cause of performance excellence is advanced, and that the prestige of the Baldrige Award is preserved.
One more thing: Never say no to a request from the [Baldrige] Program office.
See other blogs on the 2015 Judges’ Panel: Laura Huston (chair), Dr. Ken Davis, Michael Dockery, Dr. Greg Gibson, Miriam N. Kmetzo, Dr. Sharon L. Muret-Wagstaff, Dr. Mike R. Sather, Ken Schiller, Dr. Sunil K. Sinha, Dr. John C. Timmerman, and Fonda L. Vera.