How do you completely transform an organization from one that operates haphazardly into one which demonstrates performance excellence in every way?

Is it by hiring better people? Building a better product? Focusing on delivering better customer service?

As you might expect, the truth is that there is not a single cookie cutter solution for achieving excellence.

There is, however, a proven framework that allows companies to discover their performance gaps and embark on a journey towards outstanding achievement. It is employed by top organizations and, for a select few, culminates in an award given by none less than the President of the United States.

The framework’s name is the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program. What follows, is a detailed description of the program, and some recommended steps for implementing it to completely transform your organization.

What is the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program?

The program, named after a former Secretary of Commerce, was released in 1987 as a means to increase U.S. competiveness in business. Since then, thousands of companies have used the question-based framework to dig deeply and self-examine how (or if) best practices are being followed in their organizations for the following seven categories:

· Leadership

· Strategy

· Customers

· Measurement, analysis, and knowledge management

· Workforce

· Operations

· Results

Organizations that feel their performance is up to mark may seek validation through the Malcolm Baldrige National Award. It requires the submission of an application comprised of up to 75 pages which describe a firm’s quality practices and performance. These applications are graded by trained examiners from diverse fields. A small group of high-scoring applicants are selected for the next phase, which involves a senior team of examiners who conduct site visits in order to conduct interviews and inspect documents. Finally, judges meet once more to review the top applicants and select winners.

Thus far, of the 1,600 organizations who have submitted applications for the National Award, only 99 have been awarded – demonstrating the strict standards of the program and judges.

Why is it so valuable?

The value of undertaking the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program is not in receiving any plaque or certificate, but in the application process itself.

It is much like a self-audit, covering areas identified as crucial for operational excellence with a holistic approach.

What follows is an abridged version of a sample question set, quoted right from this year’s criteria:

“What is your organization’s strategic situation?

“In your response, include answers to the following questions …What is your competitive position? What are your relative size and growth in your industry or the markets you serve? How many and what types of competitors do you have?”…

….”What are your KEY STRATEGIC CHALLENGES and ADVANTAGES in the areas of business, operations, societal responsibilities, and WORKFORCE?”

For each question, there are notes that elaborate on what examiners are looking for which provide valuable best practices to implement if your organization currently lacks them. As you can probably tell, answering these questions and implementing these best practices can transform an organization – and this is why the application process is so valuable regardless of whether you win an award or not.

How to Start Your Baldrige Journey

Begin by visiting the official websites for the program at and Both are full of resources to educate you on the Baldrige framework and the application process.

Next, purchase and download the criteria booklet here, choosing the appropriate version based on your industry:

Now, as mentioned earlier you can get tremendous value just from answering all the questions contained in the Criteria booklet and implementing best practices where applicable. However, for maximum benefit, consider investing in the full application. The cost is rather steep, especially if you make it to the stage where a site visit is required, but being held accountable to a strict set of guidelines audited by a third party leaves no room for a dilettante approach to performance excellence.

It is an investment many leading firms have found very well worth it.

How to Implement Changes Identified by Baldrige

The Baldrige process is non-prescriptive. This means that it does not dictate which steps to take or a specific methodology to use to fix your issues – it simply identifies them and makes some non-specific recommendations that are applicable to a multitude of industries. It doesn’t do all the work.

The next step is your responsibility. Once the questionnaire identifies the areas where you are lacking, you should develop a strategy for correction and tactical plans to accomplish this. This is where Six Disciplines complements Baldrige, because one of our focuses is to implement processes that address Baldrige-identified performance gaps and bring firms closer to excellence in execution.

We do this through a combination of proprietary methodology, software, and coaching to help organizations clarify their vision and create meaningful action and measures to achieve it. Six Disciplines has four coaches with more than 50 years combined experience in the Baldrige Framework. This experience, gained through leading award-winning organizations, serving as executives of state programs, and participating on and leading Baldrige examination teams, gives them a wealth of knowledge to share including strategy development, software implementation and coaching, and application writing services.

In fact, Six Disciplines is proud to be on the Baldrige Journey ourselves, having received the Silver Award from The Partnership for Excellence in 2014, and the Gold Award in 2015.

Please contact us if you would like more information about the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, the National Award application process, or the state and local programs also available to firms seeking to achieve organizational and performance excellence.

We are here to help you cross the bridge between sound strategy and effective execution, and we feel the Baldrige program is an excellent tool for achieving that.



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