What Do You Mean?
I have a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering and a MBA, but it still took me a couple of years in the National Award process and about four scorebooks to really begin understanding how the whole Baldrige thing works. It was really a struggle at first to look at a case study or application and identify the strengths and opportunities for improvement that a given organization had.
At the same time, I greatly appreciate the way in which the whole process works. Because the Baldrige criteria reflect a whole systems approach that is also results oriented, it simply takes time to learn all of the ins and outs - all of the connections between the different criteria items, the core values, and the scoring guidelines.
Most of the people who helped create this process and who have helped improve it over time are highly educated. Most of the examiners work for larger organizations that spend more on training than smaller companies do. In turn, the criteria do appear to be written in what many people tend to call ‘Baldrigese’.
If you have kept learning over the years and have a pretty good vocabulary, you can learn to create a criteria-based scorebook with a year or two of practice. Unfortunately, many of the people who want to use the criteria to make their companies better don’t want to learn to speak Baldrigese!
Since 1995, I have worked almost exclusively with small businesses - companies with 500 or less employees. As with the Baldrige process, it took me a couple of years to learn that most people don’t talk like a text book reads. The Reader’s Digest is written at a seventh grade level for a reason!
I learned over time how to take the variety of things I had learned at my Fortune 500 employers and through formal education and translate them into concepts and practices that anyone in a company could understand. It was not until I did this that I began to see true success in putting organizational improvement practices in place.
What language do people speak in your company? How many speak Baldrigese? Do you need an organizational translator?
The Power of Small Business
From my perspective, small organizations have a distinct advantage when it comes to improving their Baldrige score over time. Prior to technology such as personal computers and spreadsheets becoming affordable, this was not the case. Now, with low-cost technology to help drive information analysis and sharing, small businesses have the edge.
Why do I think this way? First of all, they have fewer belief systems to change because there are fewer people in the company. High performers deploy their key approaches to the entire workforce, and this is a lot easier to do when you have fewer people and fewer traditional paradigms in place.
Secondly, you are piloting a smaller boat. Most of us have heard the analogy about how hard it is to turn a big cruise ship moving at high speed across the ocean. When you are the captain of a clipper ship however, you can make turns more quickly simply because you are working with less mass and momentum.
Bureaucracy and ‘low performance’ beliefs will quickly kill a Baldrige-type improvement effort, especially if those at the top are the ones who promote such things through their daily behaviors and decisions. Small organizations can more easily detect these problems and correct them. Go small!
Do You Want to Be Trained Like an Examiner?
The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award process has been around for twenty years. As people became more interested in this process after seeing the results that the early winners were able to sustain over time, state award programs grew in number. Examiner training was the primary form of education that was used to help people learn how to conduct their own self-assessments.
Today, most of the self-assessment options that exist are either scale-based quick surveys or based on applications or case studies. Most self-assessment training uses a case study, and is similar in content and design to the Examiner training that is provided at the national level. There is not anything necessarily wrong with this approach - if you want to be trained like an Examiner.
I have found over time however that many small organizations in particular don’t want to be trained or assessed in this manner. They struggle to make sense of the criteria as they are worded, and they don’t have the time to put together an application or read a case study. At the same time, they believe in the Baldrige philosophy and they are convinced that Baldrige will make them better. What direction should they go?
As you evaluate the different self assessments that exist, you need to keep these factors in mind. The quick assessments that exist will give you a general idea of where you are at, but they won’t give you a solid set of improvement areas to pursue. Examiner-style training can be effective (that’s how I learned), but it takes a lot of practice and time. You also often end up needing to translate your learnings into everyday language to help others in your company make sense of the Baldrigese.
I found this out the hard way as I tried to serve as an organizational translator. After getting beyond the initial frustration, I realized that we need to simplify Baldrige for smaller groups, while also preserving the richness of the process. Before I knew it, the foundation of Great Systems! had been created.
Using Baldrige as my focal point, I now help organizations evaluate the systems that they have in place and identify ways to make them capable of providing sustained, great results over time. The application becomes the ‘end in mind’, instead of being the starting point. More importantly, I really work hard with my customers to make the Baldrigese meaningful. Do you need Great Systems!?
Would You Like Some Help?
Over the past 10 or so years, I have been performing Baldrige-based self assessments in a variety of different companies - both small and large - in the manufacturing, health care, and service arenas. This experience has helped me discover value added, simple ways to set up key work systems that will get you better, sustained results over time. Serving as a Baldrige Examiner and Senior Examiner has significantly changed both how I look at work and how I approach organizational improvement. You too can learn to work like the best do, and get the same types of results as well.
If you are interested in the Baldrige self assessment ideas that I have to offer, send me an e-mail at email@example.com. Better yet, give some thought to working further with me to help you improve your high performance work systems through my interactive "Build Your Business Around the Baldrige" workshop. I guarantee that you will be happy with both the learning experience and the outcomes!
Keep improving! -- Kevin McManus, the Systems Guy
Would You Like to Learn More?
Click on one of the following links to learn even more about Great Systems! and the types of systems improvements I can help you make:
“The only thing I know is that I do not know it all.” -- Socrates