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Magazines & Newsletters / ASTM Standardization News


July/August 2008

The Baldrige and Quality

Considering the Top U.S. Performance Excellence Award

When it comes to the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, E. David Spong, Ph.D., is one of a kind: he’s the only person under whose leadership two different organizations have won the Baldrige Award in two different areas.

Managed by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Baldrige Award is the nation’s highest presidential honor for organizational performance excellence by U.S.-based groups. Today, as when it presented its first honors in 1988, the award program has one goal: improving the performance and competitiveness of and innovation in American organizations in a global marketplace.

Spong was vice president and general manager of Airlift and Tanker Programs for Boeing Military Aircraft and Missile Systems when that group won a Baldrige for manufacturing in 1998. He was president of Aerospace Support for Boeing Integrated Defense Systems when that organization earned the accolade in the service category in 2003.

“As with winning any award, it feels wonderful, and since it is given by the president, it is awesome,” said Spong, who now chairs the Foundation for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, which is an advocate for the program and raises funds for its endowment.

Wonderful and awesome the awards might have been, but they did not come easily. Capturing the honor each time took hours of work, critical self-assessment and evaluation by an independent board of examiners, all based on the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence.
Spong, like many others, believes that the Baldrige Awards — and equally important the criteria — make a difference in the life of American businesses, nonprofits and government organizations.

He saw that in his own organizations, where he said teamwork was key to winning the awards. “There are two major elements that need to be present. First, the leader must lead the use of the criteria both in completing an assessment and then using the feedback to improve. This work is hard — improving always is — and initially it is ‘over- and-above’ work,” Spong said. “Without the leader’s constant encouragement, it will die. The second element is that the workers, the people, must be good.”

The Baldrige process, Spong said, is beneficial in many ways. “By answering or trying to answer the criteria questions, you realize that there are many things you should be doing but are not. When you receive the feedback report, your first reaction is denial. After ‘counting to 10’ you realize that it is all true, and worse, deep down you knew it! In response to the feedback, you explore other ways to handle your work by seeking out approaches that others have used successfully.”

The Man, the Award and the Process

Created by public law in 1987, the awards are named for Malcolm Baldrige, the 26th secretary of commerce of the United States, who served from 1981 until his death in 1987. Baldrige, who had one of the longest tenures in the Department of Commerce post, was instrumental in developing and carrying out U.S. trade policy, resolving difficulties in technology transfers with China and India, opening doors to increased access for American firms to the Soviet market and reforming U.S. antitrust laws. Noted for award-winning managerial excellence, Baldrige had been a World War II veteran, Yale University graduate, Professional Rodeo Man of the Year (and later member of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame) and chairman and chief executive officer of Connecticut-based manufacturer Scovill Inc. prior to taking the cabinet post.

At the start, the award was open to manufacturers, service companies and small businesses. Ten years later, the president and Congress approved legislation that opened the award to education and health care organizations, and in 2006 they approved legislation that allowed nonprofit organizations to compete for the first time in 2007.

Harry Hertz, director of the Baldrige National Quality Program at NIST’s Gaithersburg, Md., offices, said that about 100 organizations apply for the award annually. Those applications are just a small part of the Baldrige picture: close to 1.3 million people downloaded the criteria in 2007 from the Baldrige site.

“Many, many, many more organizations use the criteria than apply for the award,” Hertz said. “We consider the Baldrige process to be a national educational program with a prestigious presidential award to call attention to the role models’ practices,” said Hertz, who termed the criteria a “journey toward performance excellence.” (Click here for sidebar, “Stats for Quality Control,” and information about ASTM standards to help ensure quality.)

According to NIST, “The criteria are designed to help organizations enhance their competitiveness by focusing on three goals: delivering ever improving value to customers, improving overall organizational performance, and organizational and personal learning.”

The criteria focus on leadership; strategic planning; customer and market focus; measurement, analysis and knowledge management; workforce focus; process management and results. In 2007, the criteria book totaled more than 80 pages, and organizations could submit an application of up to 50 pages.

The independent board of examiners conducts onsite visits, evaluates applications and provides feedback during the process. The evaluation is on a 1,000-point scale, with results counting for 450 points.

Up to 18 awards can be given each year. There is no minimum. On average, the program presents four awards annually. Last year, President George W. Bush and Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez presented the Baldrige to five organizations: PRO-TEC Coating Co., Leipsic, Ohio (small business); Mercy Health System, Janesville, Wis., and Sharp HealthCare, San Diego, Calif. (both health care); and the City of Coral Springs, Coral Springs, Fla., and the U.S. Army Armament Research, Development and Engineering Center, Picatinny Arsenal, N.J. (both nonprofit). About 1,200 people attended the presentation and Quest for Excellence Conference gala that honored the winners in April in Washington, D.C.

The Baldrige, which comes with a Steuben crystal stela with the presidential seal, has been awarded to 76 organizations. More than 10 million copies of the Baldrige criteria have been distributed with more than 40 states and 45 countries implementing programs based on those criteria.

The Quality Journey and the Big Q

John Friel, president and CEO of MEDRAD Inc., a Warrendale, Pa., medical device manufacturer that won a 2003 Baldrige for manufacturing, likened the award to winning the NFL Super Bowl. Still, he called it the “icing on the cake.” “The ‘real meal’ is going through the Baldrige journey,” Friel said. “The real benefits are the improvements you make in the organization.”

That journey, Friel said, includes getting feedback, making improvements, getting more feedback and making more improvements. “[With that, you’ve] become a legitimate contender for the award,” Friel said. “You’ve already won at that point.”

Spong agreed, noting that the Baldrige process impacts what he calls the “big Q,” or the concept of quality in everything an organizations does, not just product or service quality delivered to the customer. “In essence, big Q results from using the criteria to assess the operations of a company whether they apply for an award or not,” Spong said.

Educational and outreach activities, including spreading knowledge of program criteria as a way to stimulate organizational performance, are critical parts of the Baldrige mission. Winners are required to share their nonproprietary practices with others, and they have done so thousands of times with organizations around the globe.

Of the 20-year mark, Hertz said, “Like everything else in quality and performance, it’s a journey, and this is another milestone in the journey. We’re extremely pleased with the success of the program. It has become a respected symbol of excellence around the globe."


Patricia Quigley is an award-winning journalist and public relations practitioner who has written for local, regional, national and international publications. She resides in southern New Jersey, where she earned a B.A. in communication and an M.A. in writing from Rowan University.