Speeding up results with the Malcolm Baldrige criteria

Your company is a leader in its field, but you still wonder how you can make small improvements to achieve the highest level of performance excellence. Or maybe your organization’s performance could be improved and company leaders are looking for a method to speed up improvement efforts. Or maybe your performance is just really bad, and you need a way to focus your efforts on recovery.

A performance excellence model

The Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award is the highest level of recognition for performance excellence in manufacturing, health and education. The award was created in the 1980s by the Department of Commerce to help American companies better compete in the global economy. Although originally developed as a business quality assessment, the Baldrige Criteria have evolved into a comprehensive management system that includes the same criteria for excellence, regardless of the industry.

Main characteristics of the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence:

  • The criteria focus on business results. Almost 50% of Baldrige scoring is based on a balanced set of results.
  • The criteria are non-prescriptive and adaptable. They don’t tell you what you have to do – they guide you through your own assessment of what’s important and how you approach these areas.
  • The criteria support a systems perspective to maintain the alignment of targets across the organization.
  • The criteria support target-based diagnostics – scoring criteria and guidelines allow you to assess organizational performance and the progress of improvements.

Why Malcom Baldrige criteria speed up results

Of course, organizations applying for Baldrige would love to receive the recognition of winning the Baldrige Award; however, the irony is that those who apply just for a trophy to put on their shelf will not succeed. The scope of the application and evaluation process ensures that award winners are truly examples of outstanding performance in practice.

Organizations that register for the Baldrige Award gain:

  • An external perspective that identifies strengths and opportunities for improvement. Each organization is measured using the same set of criteria based on the characteristics of high performance organizations.
  • Leaders who are aligned, because the criteria encourage a single, shared focus.
  • Focus on the highest organizational priorities, since the criteria provide an integrated management system that aligns efforts for performance excellence across the organization.

A model based on values

A set of core values form the basis of the Baldrige criteria. If you want to be an organization represented by these core values, Baldrige is a framework that will help you achieve this goal.

The values of the Baldrige model are: systems perspective, management for innovation, visionary leadership, management based on facts, customer-focused excellence, social responsibility, valuing people, ethics and transparency, organizational learning and agility, delivering value and results and a focus on success.

Application, evaluation and feedback

Like most quality award programs, to apply for Baldrige organizations submit a 50-page form and an additional 5-page profile of their organization as a preface. A key to writing a successful and effective application is ensuring alignment between the organizational profile, process categories and results categories. An effective Baldrige application is not simply a collection of answers to the criteria questions. Your application document should be a formal description of how your organization operates. There are three components to a Baldrige application:

1. Organizational Profile (Answer the question: “What is most important to us?”)

The Organizational Profile is a snapshot of your organizational environment and relationships, competitive environment, strategic challenges and advantages and performance improvement system. Writing an organizational profile is the first step in your Baldrige journey.

The Organizational Profile describes what is important to your organization. The profile includes your products and services, culture, key success factors, strategic challenges and performance management system. If you do nothing more than just fill in the Organizational Profile with the input of senior leadership, you will already have a useful tool that will help focus your organization’s efforts.

2. Processes (Answer the questions: “What do we do? How do we do it? and How can we improve?”)

Answers to the process questions address the six process categories:

  1. Leadership
  2. Strategy
  3. Customers
  4. Measurement, Analysis and Knowledge Management
  5. Workforce
  6. Operations

Baldrige examiners evaluate the maturity of your organization’s systems and processes (categories 1-6) using:

  • Approach – what do you do?
  • Implementation – how far do you go?
  • Learning – do you evaluate and improve your systems and processes?
  • Integration – how well is the approach aligned with your organizational needs?

3. Results (Answer the question: “Were we successful?”)

Results category answers address the following results areas:

  1. Product and Process Results
  2. Customer Focused Results
  3. Workforce Focused Results
  4. Leadership and Governance Results
  5. Financial and Market Results

Baldrige examiners assess the maturity of the results (category 7), taking into consideration:

  • Levels – what is your current performance?
  • Trends – what is your performance over time?
  • Comparisons – what is your performance in appropriate comparisons?
  • Integration – how well do performance results meet the key needs of customers, the market and processes?

A systematic approach to improvement

Baldrige evaluations are confidential. Examiners are required to maintain confidentiality and will not disclose the names of the organizations they evaluate. The Baldrige process is focused on helping your organization improve – results are not reported to anyone outside the Baldrige program until you win a Baldrige Award. At this point, you are required to share your journey of performance excellence and best practices as a means to help promote performance excellence.

Every organization working on continuous improvement has made progress along the Baldrige journey. What steps can your organization take on the Baldrige journey to performance excellence?

  • Awareness – the key to the success of an effort on the Baldrige journey is garnering the understanding and commitment of the senior leadership team. The commitment of senior leaders is not an option – it is a necessity!
  • Assessment – an initial assessment can help you determine where your organization is with respect to the Baldrige Criteria. The assessment can help build understanding and identify gaps in performance. There are several methods used to carry out this assessment – online, paper, interviews or a combination of all of them. This assessment can also be a great way to introduce Baldrige to the organization.
  • Registration – develop and submit your Baldrige application. A team writing approach can speed up the application process.
  • Progress – based on the results of your application, focus your improvement efforts by determining the best way to build on your strengths and prioritize and address your opportunities for improvement.


The Baldrige journey is not easy. Those who see the Baldrige Award as just a trophy to put on their organization’s trophy shelf will find this frustrating. But leaders with a vision of excellence will find the Baldrige Criteria, the application and evaluation process, and the resulting feedback report an engaging, inspiring, and practical roadmap for their journey to performance excellence.

Tobias Schroeder


Tobias Schroeder

MBA in Strategic Management from UFPR. Business and market analyst at SoftExpert, a software provider for enterprise-wide business processes automation, improvement, compliance management and corporate governance.

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