Performance Excellence Process
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Global Insights Archive
Ideology-Free Excellence:
Baldrige is the Framework, but Reason is the Key
Craig A. Anderson
September 2007


We have long admired Lee Kuan Yew, the father of modern Singapore, for his
commitment to reason and discipline as the basis for building a modern society. In
a recent interview in the International Herald Tribune, Mr. Lee made an interesting
point regarding Singapore's lack of natural resources:

"Supposing we had oil and gas, do you think I could get the people to do this? No.
If I had oil and gas I'd have a different people, with different motivations and
expectations. It's because we don't have oil and gas and they know that we don't
have, and they know that this progress comes from their efforts. So please do it
and do it well...We are ideology-free. What would make the place work, let's do it."
(Interview with Lee Kuan Yew, International Herald Tribune, August 29, 2007)

Interesting concept: ideology-free excellence. The triumph of reason over emotion,
of common sense over opinions and beliefs. And this is one of the central
elements that makes the Baldrige Performance Excellence system so powerful: it
is based on an ideology-free foundation. Baldrige complements any method an
organization chooses to implement.... as long as the method is based on a
clear-headed, analytical assessment of the situation as it is, not as people wish it
would be.

In sharp contrast to the string of "one-hit wonders" that flit across the management
landscape, Baldrige is staunchly non-prescriptive, recognizing that there is no one
"right" way to do something, whether it is developing a strategic plan, managing
customers, developing employees, or organizing your work systems. What is
"right", however, is demanding that decisions be based on reason, analysis, and
thought. In the Baldrige system, this means that Performance Excellence is
defined in terms of questions: What do you do? How do you do it? What are the
results? How will you do it better? Baldrige does not check if you have the "right"
management philosophy or use the "right" quality control system, but it leads you to
understand yourself and your organization at the core. For it is only at this deep
level of understanding that you are ready to move up to the next level of
performance.

A word of caution. Basing decisions on reason does not in any way mean you
must function as an emotionless droid. Passion, energy, and excitement are part
of the fabric of any good organization. Your customer service is (hopefully)
charged with passion. Your organizational culture is energized by mutual respect
and care. You love what you do. No problem--reason and passion can co-exist
nicely. Baldrige only requires that you recognize that emotion alone will not, cannot,
substitute for systematic thought and action to achieve results. Wanting an
outcome will not get you there, but wanting an outcome and having the knowledge
and discipline to implement a total performance excellence system will give you
the best possible shot at achieving the results that matter the most to you, your
employees, and your customers.