Why Bother with Baldrige? – Part 1

The Criteria for Performance Excellence

Baldrige Award TrophyThe well known National Baldrige Award program recognizes organizations that demonstrate outstanding levels of performance excellence. The program was established by act of congress in 1987. Every year since, a small number (typically 2 to 6) organizations receive the award, usually presented by the President of the United States or the Vice President. It is a truly prestigious award, perhaps comparable to a Nobel Prize or Olympic gold medal for organizational performance, if such things existed.

But this post isn’t about winning a prestigious award, as nice as that might be. This post is about the process by which winners become winners, and the implications of that process for your firm.

The Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence are published biannually. The Criteria comprise an extensive set of queries about the set of processes, policies, procedures and practices by which an organization operates. The queries are divided into seven Categories:


Strategic Planning

Customer Focus

Measurement, Analysis and Knowledge Management

Workforce Focus

Operations Focus


Here is an example from Category 6: [1]

Sample Baldrige Criteria 6

Key Idea
: To be effective, the set of processes, policies, procedures and practices that comprise Categories 1 through 6 must be integrated into a coherent and interactive system.

Key Idea
: The Baldrige Program rests on the proposition that an excellent system of processes, diligently executed, leads to exceptional results. That is, improvements in Categories 1 through 6 generate improvements in Category 7.

The first six Categories, taken together, constitute the premier “table of contents” for a comprehensive operations management system available today. And formulating and continuously improving a comprehensive operations management system [2]  for your business is what Baldrige is really about.

The first six Categories can be used to formulate a comprehensive operations management system in much the same way that the ISO 9001 Standard is used to formulate a quality management system. Obviously, the scope of a comprehensive operations management system is much broader than that of a quality management system. Still, the Criteria’s queries can serve the same purpose as ISO 9001’s “shalls” in identifying areas to be addressed. Like ISO 9001, the Criteria are not prescriptive — they don’t tell you how to address the queries. However, the Criteria demand results — ISO 9001 does not. Meanwhile, ISO 9001 explicitly demands extensive documentation — the Criteria do not.

The Baldrige Award process amounts to an evaluation of a comprehensive operations management system and the results that system generates. To apply for an Award, an organization produces a five page Organizational Profile [3] , along with responses to all of the queries in all seven Categories, packed into another fifty pages. If that sounds like a lot of work to you, you are right.

So, why bother? Because establishing and implementing responses for the first six Categories in order to improve the seventh Category is a real good way to use your time. Whether you have any intention of ever applying for an Award or not, creating a formalized comprehensive operations management system is a good idea for any business that intends survive and prosper in today’s increasingly globalized competitive environment.

How to Get Started

>> Download the (free) Baldrige 20/20 Executive Guide [4]. This 132 page brochure provides background and examples.

>> Download the (free) Sample from the Criteria booklet [5]. The booklet contains the Organizational Profile queries. Start by constructing an outline of responses to those queries. If you don’t have all of the answers, then you do know where to start.

>> Download a copy of the Criteria ($10.00) and the (free) Self Analysis Worksheet [6]. The Self Analysis Worksheet is a Word document that will start you on your way.

What Next?

Part 2 to this post will discuss the process by which Award applications are examined. Examining Baldrige applications (applications = descriptions of comprehensive operations management systems) provides real insight into systematic operations management, and how that system works to produce Category 7 results.

Chuck - CanadaThoughtful comments and experience reports are always appreciated.

…  Chuck Harrington

: This blog and associated website (www.JeraSustainableDevelopment.com) are intended as a resource for smaller manufacturers in the pursuit of Sustainability. While editorial focus is on smaller manufacturers, all interested readers are welcome. New blog posts are published on Wednesday evenings.

: National Institute for Sciences and Technology website, www.NIST.gov


[1] This excerpt is from the 2011 -2012 edition of the Criteria for Performance Excellence, business version, produced by the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, National Institute for Science and Technology (an agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce).


[2] All businesses have some collection of processes, policies, procedures and practices by which the organization operates. These may be clear, complete, formal and systematic; ad hoc and informal; or somewhere in between.


[3] The Organizational Profile is “a snapshot of your organization, the key influences on how it operates, and the key challenges that it faces”. It establishes specific context for the application of which it is a key component.


[4] Download at http://www.nist.gov/baldrige/publications/index.cfm There are more publications available from this page, mostly free.


[5] Download at http://www.nist.gov/baldrige/publications/business_nonprofit_criteria.cfm There are a lot more publications available from this web page, mostly free.