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From an Examiner's Perspective:
Notes from the Baldrige Front Line
by Craig A. Anderson
July 2006


This past month was the deadline for Baldrige Examiners to turn in their completed
assessment scorebooks, which is the first hurdle for organizations that are
competing for one of the 2006 Baldrige National Quality Awards. Over the last
several weeks leading up to the June 29 deadline, hundreds of Examiners all over
the country spent dozens of hours hunched over keyboards, surrounded by
applications, scoring guidelines, Criteria books, immersed in the particular
nomenclature of the Baldrige process, key factors, themes, processes, scoring
bands, core values, etc., and ultimately making tough decisions about how their
applicants rated in each of the relevant scoring bands. There is not an easy
process, but speaking for my colleagues, I can honestly say that this is one of the
most rewarding things we do each year.

Baldrige Judges will now review the individually prepared scorebooks and select
the applicants who will go on to stage two, a day-long consensus call, where the
6-8 Examiners who each reviewed a particular application "meet" in a
teleconference to review their findings and reach a consensus on how to score the
application. After that, the Judges will make a further determination of which
applicant's will receive a site visit, and, beyond that, who will be standing with the
Secretary of Commerce and President or Vice President to receive the Baldrige
National Quality Award.

As always, each year's application review cycle captures tons of information about
what is going on at the "leading edge of validated management practice". Of
course the process is completely confidential, and no Examiner will ever identify
the organization he/she is assessing, but there are always broad themes which
emerge, both in discussions among Examiners at training (many Examiners work
for organizations that either have won, or are competing to win, the Baldrige
Award), through professional associations, and "through the Examiner grapevine".
Remember, the goal of the open source Baldrige system is to always operate at
"the leading edge of validated management practice", and this spirit of innovation
and learning is pervasive within the Examiner community.

In the spirit of sharing, here is a summary of some of the key themes emerging in
this year's Baldrige Examination cycle.

Intense Sharing within the Health Care Community
One of the key goals for the Baldrige program is to facilitate sharing and learning
among organizations, whether in the same industry, or across industries. For
whatever reason, this focus on learning appears to be particularly strong right now
in the Health Care sector. Perhaps it is because these organizations share
profound missions with life and death consequences for poor performance, but it
is especially gratifying to see health care organizations embrace fully the vision
contained in the founding legislation of the Baldrige program to "provide specific
guidance for other American organizations that wish to learn how to manage for
high quality by making available detailed information on how winning organizations
were able to change their cultures and achieve eminence."

Let me share a small anecdote. We recently participated in an online forum run out
of California by the Inthinking Network (
http://www.in2in.org), an organization that
has as its aim "to make thinking about systems, variation, knowledge, and
psychology, and their interaction - which comprises W. Edwards Deming's system
of profound knowledge - more conscious." The forum featured Clare
Crawford-Mason of "If Japan Can, Why Can't We" fame, the seminal 1980 TV
documentary that introduced Deming's work in Japan to a national audience here
in the United States. Anyway, to make a long story short, the question of health
care quality came up several times. Ms. Crawford-Mason excitedly discussed the
impact that Baldrige was having on transforming health care, and gave examples
of Baldrige Award winning hospitals that she had studied. It was great to see the
Deming and Baldrige communities connect when this has certainly not always
been the case!

Customers, Partners, Suppliers, Collaborators....?
It should be no surprise that an open source management system focuses on
defining important relationships that extend beyond the four walls of the
organization. With rampant outsourcing of everything from support services to
manufacturing and even research and development, it is clear that organizations
that hope to compete at the highest levels must treat these relationships with as
much focus and discipline as their key internal processes. And yet...this is often
not the case, even with relatively high performing organizations that are deploying
the Baldrige system. The introduction this year of the concept of "Collaborator" in
the Baldrige Criteria was another gentle nudge by the Program to get
organizations to think creatively about ALL important external entities that are
involved in their success. Perhaps at some point the Criteria will officially expand
to include an Assessment Category that specifically addresses outsourcing, but
for now, applicants need to step up and do a better job of managing these external
relationships.

And Again, What About Government?
Wow, did we hear about it when our May newsletter asked "Where is the Federal
Government" (http://gpsinc.us/Insights_2006May.html) and stated that "it is clear
that up to now Baldrige has not gained any traction in the Federal government."
Needless to say, it was brought to our attention (usually gently) that, on the
contrary, it is clear that there are a number of outstanding government
organizations at all levels, Federal, state, and local, that are going great guns with
Baldrige. We received calls, emails, documents, etc., from hard working quality
champions that more than made the case that we need to be very cautious about
making any sweeping generalizations about Baldrige, especially with the recent
expansion of the Criteria to include the government and non-profit sectors of the
economy. So, congrats to all our Baldrige colleagues toiling across government to
make Baldrige Performance Excellence a way of life in their organizations.

Keep the Big Picture in Mind
July is here, which means lots of outdoor fun with family and friends, and a powerful
celebration of our Independence Day on the Fourth. It continues to amaze us how
our Nation's Founders had the vision and courage, in a world ruled by tyrants and
despots, to create and implement something as profound as our Declaration of
Independence and Constitution. Of course we are still working out the strategic
execution of the vision--this process will never end--but measurable progress is
certainly there for all to see. Not a bad metaphor for the Baldrige system--the
stakes may not be as high, but the principles of vision, teamwork, sharing, and
learning, are timeless. Keep focused, work hard, have fun, and be a role model. It
really does come down to this: Baldrige Examiners must decide in the course of
their work if the organization they are assessing is a "role model"--that's the
ultimate hurdle. Strive to be a role model in everything you do as an organization.
Make it easy for us, make it easy for you.