A Baldrige Award Recipient Shares Leadership Practices That Support Operational Excellence

Posted by Christine Schaefer

In 2007, the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center (ARDEC; PDF profile) became the first U.S. federal organization to receive the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.

Located at Picatinny Arsenal, New Jersey, ARDEC had been using the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence (part of the Baldrige Excellence Framework) since 1994 on its journey to excellence.

Although ARDEC has had many changes in leadership over the past two decades, it continues to use the Baldrige framework and principles to make improvements and support high performance, according to Joseph (Joe) Brescia, ARDEC’s director for strategic management and process improvement.

Brescia said that at conferences where he has presented on using the Baldrige framework, “the question we always get is, ‘with many changes in leadership, how do we ensure that we have continuity in terms of maintaining momentum and continuous improvement?’ At ARDEC, we’ve always had the perspective that leaders have to be the unequivocal champions of quality. Our focus has always been, ‘What are we going to do next?’ So there’s always a focus on continuous improvement. That’s an enduring principle of [ARDEC] leadership: that you focus on continual improvement.”

At both of this month’s regional Baldrige conferences in Nashville, Tennessee, and Denver, Colorado, Brescia and James (Jim) Caiazzo, team leader for the Office of Strategic Management at ARDEC, will be presenting on their organization’s leadership principles, showing how they are linked to the Baldrige Criteria. In a recent phone interview, Brescia and Caiazzo answered questions about their upcoming presentation and their organization. Following are highlights of that interview.

How does the Baldrige framework support your organization’s leadership practices and performance?

“We found that leaders who demonstrate principle-centered leadership more effectively link mission, vision, values, strategy, structure, and systems to foster a culture of continuous improvement based on trust, respect, and empowerment,” said Brescia.

“The principal takeaway” for those who attend the ARDEC session at this year’s Baldrige regional conferences, Brescia said, is that the organization’s “development of strong leadership principles is firmly embedded in the Baldrige Criteria and is essential for sustained superior performance.”

Caiazzo said, “We’ve combined some of the principles of Baldrige that you find in the [Baldrige Criteria] category entitled ‘Leadership’ with the principles of the U.S. Army and its leadership development program and process.”

“Those principles are based on what is called the Department of the Army Doctrine as represented by Field Manual (FM) 6-22. It contains all the principles we feel are important that are inextricably linked to category 1,” continued Caiazzo. “For instance, category 1 talks to how important the mission and the vision and the principles and values are; and in our own leadership development program, we emphasize those right up front.”

 A slide from ARDEC’s upcoming conference presentation depicts the organization’s integration of the Baldrige framework and the U.S. Army’s leadership development principles.

A slide from ARDEC’s upcoming conference presentation depicts the organization’s integration of the Baldrige framework and the U.S. Army’s leadership development principles. Slide provided by ARDEC.

In regard to the Baldrige emphasis on continuous improvement, Caiazzo pointed out that the Army Field Manual 6-22, “Army Leadership, Competent, Confident, and Agile,” defines leadership as “the process of influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation to accomplish the mission and improve the organization.” Therefore, he said, “the whole principle and concept of improvement is the central theme to our three-tier leadership development courses.”

Among other ways that ARDEC has continued to use Baldrige in its improvement efforts, Caiazzo described how the organization this year adapted and used the online Baldrige Criteria-based surveys Are We Making Progress/Are We Making Progress as Leaders? After customizing the questions for the organization, he said surveys were given to both managers and employees to identify improvement opportunities. The organization is now conducting focus groups based on the survey results. And “each of the 20 units within ARDEC is coming up with a plan on ways to improve on gaps identified,” said Caiazzo.

What are a few key reasons that organizations in your sector can benefit from using the Baldrige framework?

“We found that the Criteria are applicable to any organization, public or private, large or small,” said Brescia. “Successful organizations, wherever they may come from, tend to have great leadership teams, maintain a high-performing workforce, develop and deploy effective business strategies, know their customers as well as their competitors, have very disciplined work processes, and are typically very data- and results-driven. Now, if that sounds familiar, that [is because those elements] represent the seven categories of the Baldrige Criteria. So it really doesn’t matter whether you’re profit-driven, focused on maximizing shareholder value, or like us in the public sector … focused on executing our mission effectively and efficiently: those key seven areas are applicable no matter what your organization’s type or sector.”

Added Caiazzo, “Baldrige provides a turnkey solution to looking at an organization with a degree of objectivity as to what’s truly important for accomplishing its own mission.”

According to Brescia, another benefit for organizations that adopt the Baldrige Criteria is that “it’s a really good framework for building business acumen within your workforce. And business acumen is one of the key characteristics of great leadership. In other words, understanding how the different facets of your organization work together to deliver outstanding results for the customer is really critical to developing your future leadership. … In the public sector or the private sector, it’s a very beneficial way of building that business acumen in the workforce at every level.”

What are a few tips for others about using the Baldrige framework to make improvements and achieve excellence across an organization?

  1. “Step number-one in change management is always for leaders to establish a sense of urgency,” said Brescia. “Baldrige is a vehicle for establishing and maintaining transformational change in your organization. The responsibility of great leaders is to align the mission, vision, and values within the organization. Paint the vision of what change looks like and how the Baldrige framework gets you there.”
  2. “Use the Baldrige Criteria to provide a common language to discuss improvement,” Caiazzo said, “so that everyone is using the same vernacular.”
  3. “Make sure you focus on results,” said Brescia. “In other words, the way to institutionalize the Baldrige framework is to actually use it to manage the business. That comes down to establishing a formal venue for senior leadership to review results and make changes as required. This way, when you do have changes in leadership, with the venue institutionalized, it doesn’t live and die with the leadership that started it.”

Join us at the 2015 Baldrige Regional Conferences to attend this session and many more from 2014 and other Baldrige Award recipients.

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