The Seven Habits and Baldrige Excellence:
A Powerful Combination for Success
by Craig A. Anderson
Fifteen years ago, Dr. Steven Covey's book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective
People, introduced millions of readers worldwide to a framework for self-
improvement that was based on a systematic progression from dependence, to
independence, to interdependence through attention to the following "Seven
Be Proactive. Adopt an attitude of taking the initiative rather than continuing to
react to situations in your life.
Begin with the End in Mind. Set long-term goals based on "true-north
principles" and formulate a "personal mission statement" that documents your
Put First Things First. Prioritize work based on your most important long term
goals; avoid focusing on urgent but less important activities.
Think Win-Win. Seek solutions that benefit all parties to an agreement or
Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood. Listen thoroughly
and understand the other person's point of view before giving out advice.
Synergize. Foster effective teamwork to achieve results beyond the sum of what
each team member could have achieved on his/her own.
Sharpen the Saw. Regain productive capacity by engaging in physical and
Seven Habits. Seven Categories of Baldrige Criteria for
Performance Excellence. One model focused on individual excellence; one
model focused on organizational excellence. This got us thinking: what kind of
synergy is possible when you align Seven Habits and Baldrige? Well, you won’t be
surprised: Seven Habits and Seven Categories add up to more than the sum of
the parts; in fact, we think that organizations can gain real benefits by incorporating
“Seven Habits” thinking as part of their Baldrige-based transformation efforts.
Let's compare the Habits and Criteria point by point.
Be Proactive. This is the essence of Baldrige Performance Excellence, which
is a tool to move an organization forward in a disciplined way. No more reactive,
random acts of improvement. Baldrige Excellence demands a relentless
assessment of the current state and the identification of opportunities for
improvement. Organizations that remain reactive will be smoked out by the
Criteria that constantly ask for evidence of proactive thought and action.
Begin with the End in Mind. Category 1, Leadership, forces an organization
to determine its own "True North", challenging leaders to set a clear and
compelling vision, mission, goals, and values that everyone can rally around. It is
impossible to move toward Baldrige Excellence without having the "End in
Mind" because leadership is specifically tasked to monitor progress toward this
goal and make midstream adjustments if/when necessary.
First Things First. Category 2, Strategic Planning, examines every aspect of
how an organization determines the "First Things" (priorities) and ensures that
they indeed end up "First" (deployment). The hard-headed Baldrige process
focuses not only on the "what" but also the "how", that is, how priorities are
implemented to achieve real results. So First Things First is not only a slogan, but
a way of managing.
Think Win-Win is the essence of Category 3, Customer Focus. No
organization can be effective in the Baldrige process without having a clear
approach for identifying and satisfying the requirements of its customers and
stakeholders. Baldrige promotes and rewards organizations that find innovative
ways to break down barriers and achieve mutually beneficial outcomes.
Seek First to Understand. Baldrige addresses this Habit in several ways.
At the individual level, several of the Baldrige Core Values—Valuing Employees,
Managing by Fact, Organizational Learning—seek to build a culture that promotes
understanding. At the organizational level, Category 4, Measurement, Analysis,
and Knowledge Management, in effect institutionalizes this Habit by requiring that
organizational decision making be based on a systematic process of
collecting and analyzing relevant data.
The sixth Habit, achieving Synergies through effective teamwork, would be a
cross-cutting driver of excellence in both Category 5, Human Resource Focus, and
Category 6, Process Management. These two Categories are the engines of
Baldrige Excellence, which can only occur through people and processes
working together. The Criteria in these Categories examine the methods the
organization uses to identify and improve opportunities for synergistic
Finally, the Seven Habits stress the need to Sharpen the Saw. This is very
consistent with the spirit of innovation and renewal that is embedded throughout
the Baldrige process. In fact, a key factor in the worldwide growth of Baldrige
Performance Excellence is the emphasis on open and honest self assessment
of strengths and opportunities for improvement, which must be the starting point for
any efforts to “Sharpen the Saw”.
Overall, it seems clear that organizations that integrate the best of both of these
performance models will gain a clear competitive advantage in preparing for an