Performance Excellence Process
Baldrige Workshops
Global Insights Archive
Government: Partners in Performance Excellence
by Craig A. Anderson
Performance & Results
November 1999 (Revised September 2004)

In a recent issue of Performance & Results, we discussed the Malcolm Baldrige
National Quality Award and how underutilized it is as a tool for promoting
systematic improvement in organizations. After the article was published, we
received several emails from people whose organizations are engaged in some
way with the Baldrige criteria. It was encouraging to see the inroads the award is
making into federal and state government organizations.

Any organization, regardless of status, size, industry, or orientation, will benefit
from a rigorous self-evaluation against the performance standards embodied in
the Baldrige criteria. The criteria define a universal view of what performance
excellence looks like in practice.

One reader questioned the suitability of the criteria for federal organizations,
noting that most of the publicized successes have been for-profit organizations.
This is a different shade of a question that comes up a lot, reflecting a perception
that perhaps federal government organizations should be held to different
standards of performance excellence. I strongly disagree. All organizations,
whether federal, not-for-profit, service or manufacturing, comprise the same
building blocks: people, work processes, customers, suppliers, performance
objectives, etc. The principles of performance excellence apply to all organizations.

The beauty of the Baldrige approach is that it establishes a level playing field for all
organizations. In working with state and federal clients, I always encourage them to
test themselves against commercial counterparts using the Baldrige criteria. As an
Award Examiner, I have scored commercial applications below 200 points (out of
1000) so I know first-hand that there are ample opportunities for improvement in all

Another reader commented on how she valued the Baldrige criteria as a tool for
improvement, but wondered how to overcome the legacy of "burnout" from past
reengineering efforts. This is a common problem for many organizations. It is a
typical good news/bad news situation: The good news is that the Baldrige criteria
will provide alignment and consistency for future efforts; the bad news is that a
legacy of distrust and disappointment may block any future effort from realizing its
full potential. In the case of the reader who posed this question, I am familiar with
her organization and know that it is full of talented people; with the right approach, I
think that the Baldrige process can eventually lead to significant improvements in
performance across the board.

What is this "right approach"? First, address the current reality head on. As much
as I respect the intellectual integrity of the Baldrige approach, I will be the first to
say that the process itself is secondary to the mindset and openness of the people
charged with its implementation. The Baldrige process is a great tool, but it must
be completely embedded within a larger framework of trust and integrity.
Dissenting voices must not only be listened to, but they must be solicited and
embraced. The logic and accumulated experience of the Baldrige process will
prove compelling to intelligent people, as long as the process is not marketed as
the next "fad of the month." Let people talk about their frustration with past
reengineering efforts, and use this experience to build a foundation for going
forward. Frankly, one of the most effective means of dealing with a destructive
legacy is to involve the noisiest critics in development of a new approach--these
are often the people with the passion and commitment to care about what is

Second, promote the benefits of adopting the Baldrige framework. Let the award
seep into the organizational consciousness. Educate and inform the folks who will
be working with the criteria; publicize successes and case studies from other
organizations. For example, we like
this article on Solectron Corporation, the first
two-time winner of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Solectron's CEO,
Ko Nishimura, has embraced the Baldrige process in a way that very few leaders
have, with terrific results.

Concurrently with the dissemination of information about the Baldrige process, a
third step is to develop a deep, working knowledge of the Baldrige Criteria and
their application within a critical mass of the organization's employees. Adopting a
systematic view of the organization requires a common framework that cuts
across different divisions, offices, and functions. The Baldrige process provides
this framework, but only when it is engaged at numerous points in the organization.

To develop this deep knowledge, consider a non-traditional route: Set a basic
learning expectation as appropriate, provide alternative channels of information,
and let people select the learning approach that best fits their needs. Some
people may want to attend a course, some may want to study on their own, and
others may want to network with those involved in the Baldrige process. Make
information and people freely available--an abundance of resources for all. Not
everyone needs to know each criterion and how it is evaluated. However, everyone
should understand at least conceptually that the overall performance of the
organization depends on the way the various parts work together.

Once the pump has been primed, perform an organizationwide self-assessment
against the Baldrige criteria to establish a starting point for all subsequent
improvement efforts. Sufficient information is available at the main Baldrige Award
website, (, including detailed application guides,
score sheets, etc., to enable any organization to perform a reasonable
self-assessment. Keep it light--the point here is organizational learning. Tally up
the points and see how you do. Frankly, anything over 200 (out of 1000 possible
points) for an organization new to the process is unlikely if the scoring is objective
and fair. A score north of 300 requires a "sound and systematic approach" to be in
evidence. I don't know about your organization, but "sound and systematic" is just
not that common. We have not been historically trained to think systemically, and
this will be reflected in the scores. Everyone should understand that the overall
performance of the organization depends on the way the various parts work

The bar is set high for the Baldrige criteria. World-class performance in Baldrige
parlance means a score in the 600-700 range. To score in this range, an
organization would need to demonstrate to Baldrige examiners well-defined,
integrated, high-performing systems in every part of the enterprise. These systems
would be aligned throughout the organization, aimed at continuously improving the
organization's ability to serve its customers. Information flow would be pervasive,
and all key performance areas would be measured and continuously improved.
Alignment is key to Baldrige success--it takes time, vision, and commitment to
make sure that every part of the organization works in sync with every other part. It
is easy to say, but hard to implement in the real world of shifting priorities and
conflicting incentives. Leadership must develop a clear vision and plan, and work
tenaciously to deploy this vision throughout the organization.