Performance Excellence Process
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Global Insights Archive
Baldrige Excellence in Professional Service
Organizations:
A Powerful Tool for Improving Client Results
by Craig A. Anderson
May 2005

The record is clear: a commitment to using the Baldrige self-assessment tools can
make any organization better. We think this is especially true in professional
service organizations, where value creation depends largely on the way that the
organization uses the full creativity, innovation, and knowledge of its workforce.  
Baldrige provides an easy way to smoke out opportunities to improve
performance in all parts of the organization.

A common barrier to improvement that we find is that leaders don’t know where to
begin. In any organization there will be an array of factors that can impact
effectiveness. These factors are both external—competitors, market shifts,
regulatory shifts, partnerships, technology shifts—and internal—employees,
management systems, work processes, measurement systems, etc. Further,
organizations have unique histories and cultures, which must be addressed in any
effort to change the status quo. For leaders of complex organizations, the reality is
that it is easier not to make the effort to change. This is bad for organizations (and
not so great for external change management consultants, either!)

OK, so can Baldrige help? Yes. First, Baldrige provides a common language for
improvement. The Criteria for Performance Excellence have been field tested for
almost twenty years in the world’s best organizations, and represent an informed,
consensus view of what excellence looks like in practice. Baldrige is not an idea
dreamed up by one person sitting in an ivory tower; Baldrige is a pragmatic tool
with a huge body of shared experience and best practices. Years of research in
different disciplines has documented that teams deliver better outcomes than
individuals, as long as they share a common language, vision, and methodology.
Baldrige provides this common platform.

Second, Baldrige has been conceived as a tool for internal users. People inside
an organization are always in the best position to improve performance, as they
have the deepest understanding of the methods, requirements, constraints, etc.
This is especially true in professional service organizations, where the nature of
the work requires an intimate understanding of the history, complexity, and quirks
of client and project requirements. There is no way that an outsider can come in
and tell you how to improve with only a superficial understanding of all of these
factors. Baldrige, as a tool for enlightened self-assessment, focuses instead on
drawing out views and resources from within the organization. In other words,
Baldrige uses an organization’s existing resources as the driving force for
systematic improvement.

A recent project with a professional auditing organization has provided some
good examples of the power of the Baldrige process in a complex professional
service organization. Our team has been working with the Indonesian Supreme
Audit Board, the Badan Pemeriksa Keuangan (BPK), in Jakarta, on a long-term
project to build the organization’s capacity, agility, and flexibility. The BPK is
committed to achieving the vision of its Chairman to assume the role of a true
supreme audit institution operating at international standards, guiding the
development of a strong financial management and accountability framework
across the Republic of Indonesia. As the world’s third largest democracy, this
often-overlooked country of 220 million predominantly Muslim citizens has the
potential to serve as a model for tolerance, openness, and economic dynamism.

Baldrige has been a natural fit here from day one. We found an organization in
transition, with a new leadership team, a new primary customer (Indonesia’s first
fully-elected parliament), and an energetic commitment to making a difference in
helping to build the new Indonesia. We formed a core group of employees, the
“Champion Team”, who committed to learning the Baldrige methodology and
using it as the basis for a systematic transformation of BPK. The Champion Team
assigned Category Leads for each of the seven Baldrige Performance
Categories; the Leads will “own” the strategies, action plans, and outcomes in
each of their Categories.

We found that the talented auditors we are working with connected easily with the
self-assessment focus of the Baldrige Criteria. After all, the BPK auditors conduct
assessments for a living. Baldrige provides a systematic method of turning the
focus of the assessment inwards, looking at performance and results in all areas
that matter to customers, stakeholders, and employees. The BPK auditors are in
this organization because they want to make a difference; there are many
opportunities in this dynamic economy to make money apart from working as a
government auditor. Culturally, the Champion Team members seem to connect
with the Baldrige values, philosophy, and commitment to harmony and
interdependency.  

For us, the lesson seems clear: professional service organizations, in Jakarta or
anywhere else, can achieve rapid and profound improvements in performance and
results by stepping back and using the Baldrige self-assessment Criteria to build
on strengths and smoke out opportunities for improvement.