Writing a Winning Baldrige Award Application:
Ten Keys to Success
by Craig A. Anderson
Regular readers may have noticed that in the two years that we have been writing
this newsletter, we have not spent any time discussing the process of writing the
actual application for either a state or national Baldrige Award. This has not been
an oversight--our intent all along has been to create an appreciation for the
Baldrige approach and how it can help any organization, anywhere in the world,
achieve and sustain a measurably higher level of performance. As we have
consistently stated, Baldrige is not a quick fix, but is instead a logical, proven
process of improving all important parts of your organization.
As we enter our third year of publication, however, we will begin by discussing the
process of outlining and writing a winning application. We have had several recent
inquiries from both Federal government and private sector organizations that are
interested in taking the next step and applying for various Awards, which is terrific,
and we want to do whatever we can to support this process. Not surprisingly, you
will find that many of the elements critical to success of the Baldrige Excellence
process itself are also critical to creating a winning application. Is writing a
winning application hard? You bet! But take the right attitude and you will find that
your investment of time and energy is returned many times over to you and your
organization, even if your application never makes the final cut.
OK, you are ready to show your stuff to the world. We have compiled the following
keys to a successful application, based on our experience writing and reviewing
numerous applications. We hope this information is helpful; we would welcome any
feedback or additional insights you would like us to share with readers in the next
Success Key 1: Never forget you are telling a story.
What makes your organization unique? Your financial statements and data? No!
You are unique because of your history, people, and culture. What makes your
customers say Wow! What are the rules (unwritten) that determine how things get
done in your organization? What is that ineffable essence that inspires your
people. Engage the Examiner in the story of how you got to where you did. Make
sure that your application reflects a story of your people as much as the hard facts
relating to your work.
Success Key 2: Master the Organizational Profile.
Your Organizational Profile is not scored per se, but is the most important part of
your application. It is here where you frame the entire Examination. We do not
know you. Use the Organizational Profile to help us zero in on what is truly
important to you, your customers, and your long-term success. Of course we will
apply the best possible thought and analysis to each of the application Categories,
but it is here in the executive summary where you can guide us to the areas of
most importance in your application.
Success Key 3: Clearly link actions and results.
Baldrige Excellence embeds Plan-Do-Study-Act thinking in all areas. You should
strive to operate at all times from a position of relentless inquiry, planning, doing,
studying, and acting upon the results of your work. This mindset must be reflected
in the application. The best way to demonstrate this is to show crystal clear
linkages between your actions in Categories 1-6 and your results in Category 7.
Small footnotes do not count. Make it easy for us to see the links. If you describe a
process as important, show us directly how you measure and improve it. Likewise,
if you show us important results data, it should relate to a process that has been
mentioned elsewhere in your application.
Success Key 4: Tell the truth.
You are where you are. Period. If you do not have an organizational culture that
embraces openness, transparency, and the occasional bit of bad news, you have
no hope of winning a top award. You will never win by preventing an Examiner from
gaining a clear understanding of your current state. The winning game plan is to
show us that you know exactly where you are today, where you want to go, how you
will get there, and how you will measure your accomplishment.
Success Key 5: Highlight your system for improvement.
Everyone WANTS to improve--that is a given as far as we are concerned. What
WE want to see is evidence throughout your application that you have a system
that will lead to meaningful improvement in key areas. Organizations today must
have the ability to accelerate their rate of improvement; make it clear to us how you
are pursuing this objective.
Success Key 6: Address ADLI for each Category.
It is not enough just to focus on Approach and Deployment anymore. A solid
application must address Learning and Integration for each Category. This is an
area of great opportunity for strong applicants, and not just in terms of writing
winning applications. It is at the intersection of Learning and Integration where
visionary organizations find their wellspring of creativity and innovation. Learning
comes into the organization from many directions; Integration turns that knowledge
into a chain reaction of excellence.
Success Key 7: Fill the gaps.
If you have enough interest to read this far, you are familiar with the comprehensive
nature of the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence. The multiple
requirements of each Criteria can involve dozens of questions that should be
addressed through self-analysis. Even though it is a challenge, make sure you
address all the requirements. Consolidate where it makes sense, and focus on the
higher level Basic Requirements at the top of each Category, but make an effort to
address all the Criteria. The Criteria are revised annually; the questions that are
asked are there because the Examiner community has determined that they are
relevant to Performance Excellence. Trust the process.
Success Key 8: Use comparative data.
It may be difficult to collect meaningful comparative data, but make the effort.
Again, not only for purposes of writing a strong application, but to become better.
Good comparative data can highlight areas of relative strength and weakness in
your organization, which provides the foundation for systematic improvement.
Success Key 9: Be brief.
Do not drown application Examiners in endless seas of jargon-laden text.
Graphics, tables, figures, and other visuals are vital parts of successful
applications. Used well, visual representations of data can free up the writer to use
the text to tell the narrative stories that personalize and energize the application.
Success Key 10: Understand the Scoring Guidelines.
If you are competing to win an award, you must understand how we assess and
score Items. Take the time necessary to study and understand the Criteria Scoring
Guidelines. Note that Approach, Deployment, Learning, and Integration elements
are included in each scoring band. In scoring an Item, we generally begin in the
middle band (50% to 65%) and then go up or down depending on best fit for each
of the ADLI scoring elements. This is often subtle; for example, to score in the
middle band, the scoring element for Learning is "a fact based, systematic
evaluation process and some organizational learning are in place…" while the next
higher band (70% to 85%) the evaluation process and organizational learning "are
key management tools." Likewise, within the scoring band, the difference between
50% and 65% can be huge; scores are again "best fit" based on whether the
organization is closer to the next higher, or next lower, band. In the case we are
looking at, the next lower band (30% to 45%) defines the Learning element as "the
beginning of a systematic approach to evaluation and improvement of key
processes is evident."
We could write a lot more here about the subtleties of scoring applications, but you
get the point; you must do your homework to be competitive. Good luck!