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Using the Baldrige Excellence Framework to Improve Organizational Resilience and Sustainability

A follow-up conversation with organizational leaders  

Published: Thursday, September 22, 2022 - 11:02

The purpose of this article is to highlight actions that organizational leaders can implement to help improve organizational resilience and sustainability. Building on the case study, “Using the Baldrige Framework to Improve Organizational Resilience and Sustainability” by Garfield et al (2022), we interviewed leaders from national Baldrige Award recipients and top-tier alliance program recipients to learn how their organizations used the Baldrige Excellence Framework to promote resilience and sustainability.

We focus on five key actions that were repeated themes across the interviews. They are: 
• Engage all organization levels in the journey to performance excellence, with a focus on motivation, teamwork, and collaboration.
• Use the Baldrige framework to augment efforts the organization is already doing instead of starting new.
• Use voice-of-the-customer information as a key management tool to improve customer interactions, improve workflow efficiencies, and ensure alignment with customer needs. 
• Consider more than just the financial bottom line. To be successful, organizations must also consider stakeholder needs and produce high-quality products. 
• Collaborate, learn from, and grow with other performance excellence-oriented organizations across industries. 

Engage all organization levels

Organizations pursuing performance excellence focus on engaging and motivating the entire workforce. This allows the organizations to maximize the creativity, productivity, and resiliency of the organization's human resources. According to one participant, “A commitment to the employees is a huge imperative for culture. Culture is critical in resiliency. A performance-based culture has high expectations of performance as a member of a team.” Leaders must see past the short-term difficulties and look to maintain engagement throughout organizations, even during times of crisis.  

Motivation, teamwork, and collaboration promote the ability to adapt to changes and execute. However, during times of high stress, organizations may choose to reduce resources allocated to ensuring employee engagement in achieving organizational goals and objectives.

Reducing these resources degrades the very capability they need to overcome challenges and threats. As a participant explained: “This most-recent crisis was an opportunity to reshape the business from a headcount standpoint [i.e. laid people off or had an imperative to do so, driven by their balance sheet]. Almost all of our competitors laid people off. Almost all of our competitors had a hiring freeze. Most of our competitors truncated their bonuses. Several of our competitors eliminated their summer internship program. Last year during the Covid crisis, we didn't do any of that. We didn’t lay a single person off. We hired people. During the crisis, we never had a hiring freeze. We fully funded our bonus pool.”

Crisis can have a negative effect on the workforce in terms of added stress, demands, and expectations. It’s during times of crisis that increasing motivation is necessary to maintain workforce performance. 

Leaders navigating environmental factors continually consider the motivation factors of their workforce and adapt to address changing needs and wants. They develop team capabilities that are dynamic, adaptable, and resilient. They maintain and support an environment of collaboration and solutions systematically. They do these things despite the demands of the environmental factors. Participants in our study indicated the importance of maintaining a culture of engagement, high motivation, and focus on performance at all levels during difficult times. They indicated the importance of maintaining and reinforcing motivation despite short-term financial pressure.  

Use the Baldrige framework to augment efforts

Participants in our study reported that the Baldrige framework was a means to extend a more systematic approach to the work they were already doing.  For example, the framework provided guidance that helped organizations in our study improve their processes for strategic planning, innovation, benchmarking, and agility (Garfield et al, 2021).  Because the Baldrige framework is nonprescriptive, the organizations in the study reported that they could use the framework to build from what they already had in place rather than create something new.  This made it easier to obtain buy-in from the organization, and the learning curve and resource investment were manageable.  One participant said: “Baldrige was an extension of what we were already doing. It validated what we were already doing.” 

Use voice-of-the-customer information as a key management tool

The study results indicate that fluctuations in business revenue are a natural cycle. These fluctuations can be potentially mitigated by using voice-of-the-customer (VOC) as a critical management tool to extract valuable operational data such as resource knowledge, capacity, interest, and efficiencies. The VOC is an invaluable tool for orchestrating business decision making, and it’s vital to understanding the total customer needs while reassuring business commitment and decision-making confidence. One study participant stated: “Being aware of your product value through continuous VOC feedback is critical for identifying customer needs that translate into informed business decisions.” Continuous communication from the customer creates real-time data feedback for proactive change. 

Based on the study results, participants who used the Baldrige VOC framework component were able to extract unarticulated customer needs. The extracted insights, such as real-time data collection and end-user feedback across all organization services, support rapid planning and provisioning of new programs. The VOC element fills leadership business-decision gaps by forming relationships that identify end-user needs and by enabling informed action that leads to customer satisfaction (Byrne et al, 2003).

Past research completed by Singh et al (2021) indicates that VOC delivers synergistic and reliable engagement interactions across diverse customer-deliverable interfaces. The results further suggest that managers who implement a VOC management style close customer-need gaps related to capacity and project priorities according to changing customer needs. One study participant stated: “The Baldrige VOC framework served as a guide to extract unknown end-user need priorities and pain points to improve the customer experience, business resilience, and sustainability.”  Addressing customer pain points using VOC is a comprehensive approach to solutions that produce a delightful customer experience.

One participant noted that the most-cited reasons for adopting a VOC approach included understanding customer needs and potential solutions, stating: “Using the Baldrige VOC framework, we learned what was causing product problems and what was needed to drive improvements, including the resources servicing the product life cycle. Some feedback focused on mentoring and offering training or transition steps to produce a workforce having interest with more capacity to perform better.”  
According to Macedo Morais et al (2020), the Baldrige criteria that focus on VOC as a critical component increase management success because the outcome creates a sense of customer purpose and satisfaction that further evolves into business performance improvement. The study supports the contention that, by taking a balanced VOC-feedback approach, organization leaders can remain flexible in using the most appropriate resources for the organization’s benefit. A CEO study participant said: “The Baldrige framework served as a guide that allowed us to make profound process transformations with speed, not through hierarchical delegation but VOC insightful support.” VOC is a way human beings play a critical role for sustainable product decision making and development.
The study results also support the Baldrige mindset of listening effectively to the VOC to understand customer needs and the level of customer value to deliver. The VOC co-creates a business approach that engages customers to provide products or services with resilient and sustainable customer value. 
The empirical study results suggest strong links between the Baldrige customer-focus VOC element and customer-experience improvements. Peng et al (2015) elucidated that developing customer relationships through communication enhances performance and increases business sustainability. The opportunity of every industry is to practice specific management efforts according to the needs and desired customer outcomes (Peng et al, 2015). Maximizing this effort can use specific Baldrige constructs. The results suggest that the customer Baldrige VOC element can maximize business practices. 

Consider more than just the financial bottom line

Organizations pursuing performance excellence must implement a systems perspective. Continuously adapting systems to meet ever-changing customer and stakeholder needs is critical in staying ahead of competition. Systems perspective and continuous improvement are consistent with Deming’s perspective and the Deming cycle.

According to one of the participants in our study: “We were doing PDCA [plan-do-check-act] midcourse as well as our strategy of staying the course.” Maintaining a focused approach on high-quality services is given a higher priority than growing market share for another participant: “Ensuring a strong alignment between customer and organizational capabilities; ensuring fewer customers with stronger relationships and the organization’s ability to address customer needs; building a strong relationship and understanding with customers.”

This understanding is consistent with the Deming chain reaction (Evans and Lindsay, 2020). However, it takes an understanding of the interconnected nature between quality and business growth to leap beyond short-term profitability for long-term organizational stability.

According to another participant: “Being successful is not about just making money. To accomplish this, you also need good employees; need to take care of customers; need to have the right product to sell. You cannot know this information unless you go through the strategic-planning steps. Then you need to be able to execute.”

Considering the needs of stakeholders and understanding how they are affected by the system was a consistent theme in the study.  

Collaborate, learn from, and grow

The organizational leaders in our study reported that the Baldrige framework was a means of connecting with other organizations across sectors to understand a variety of innovations and best practices to promote performance excellence.  There are many examples of concepts that were initially more prominent in certain sectors that have since been more readily adapted in other sectors through cross-sector sharing.  At one higher-education organization, for example, cross-sector Baldrige learning led to implementing cascading, balanced scorecards; using specific tools for listening to the workforce, such as rounding and town halls; and developing custom networks and consortia to obtain peer-comparison data.  

Further, study participants provided many examples of key learnings that cross sectors, as evidenced by our most prominent themes, which included strategic planning, leadership, measurement and analysis, and valuing people (Garfield et al, 2021). External collaboration enables greater insight into how to set priorities, establish meaningful data metrics, and provision pragmatic daily change that ensures business sustainability and resilience. Reaching out to the industry community produced findings regarding successes and challenges to shorten the learning curve. Sharing concepts was a way to unleash unforeseen knowledge of how to provision the framework into an existing process thought to be unchangeable or at the end of its life cycle. Collaborating with others who are successful can increase the speed to get needed results, and verifies that the framework has flexibility and adaptability to different business circumstances. 


The effectiveness of management using the Baldrige Excellence Framework is evident through positive business outcomes stemming from key program constructs, including engagement, leveraging organizational assets, understanding the customer, strategic decision-making that prioritizes organizational health, and collaborative organizational learning. Leaders guiding organizations believed that expertise isn’t a requirement in adopting the Baldrige criteria; the Baldrige community provides a wealth of support.

They also indicated the need to use the Baldrige framework in context. The “Xerox” approach is less effective. However, the framework is highly adaptable for organizations seeking performance excellence.

1. Byrne, G., and Norris, B. “Drive Baldrige level performance.” ASQ Six Sigma Forum Magazine, 2(3), 13–21, 2003.
2. Macedo Morais, G., Cordeiro Martins, H., & Ziviani, F. (2020). “Effectiveness of Management of Higher Public Education From the Baldrige Excellence Program.” Brazilian Journal of Management / Revista de Administração Da UFSM, 13(5), 1032–1049, 2020.
3. Peng, X., & Prybutok, V. “Relative effectiveness of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award categories.” International Journal of Production Research, 53(2), 629–647 (2015).
4. Garfield, Janice; Wentz, Meridith; Butlett-Swenson, Audrey; Wilkinson, Kevin; Zack, Gary; Dillard, Michael; Collins, Suzanne; Coleman, Andria; Adkins-Provost, Adrienne; Turner, Allen; McKeon, Susan. (November, 2021). “Using the Baldrige Excellence Framework to Improve Organizational Resilience and Sustainability.” Whitepaper published by the Baldrige Foundation for Performance Excellence.


About The Authors

Meridith Wentz’s picture

Meridith Wentz

Dr. Meridith Wentz, Ph.D., serves as the assistant chancellor for planning, assessment, research and quality at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.  In this capacity, she leads institutional research, strategic planning, regional accreditation, quality assurance efforts, assessment, and university policy and procedure development.  Dr. Wentz has served as an examiner, master examiner and judge for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for the past 11 years and presents regularly on best practices for data-informed decision making, strategy development and implementation, and performance measurement.  She also serves as a peer reviewer for the Higher Learning Commission. 

Kevin Wilkinson’s picture

Kevin Wilkinson

Dr. Kevin Wilkinson, Ed.D., is the B.S. Construction Program Director and assistant professor of Operations and Management in the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics, and Management at the University of Wisconsin-Stout.  After serving as a combat engineer in the U.S. Army, he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology at Plymouth State University, a master’s degree of business administration from the University of New Hampshire, and a doctor of education in organizational leadership from Argosy University.  He has held quality management and operations leadership positions in various industries for more than 20 years, and has been an assistant professor for 12 years. 

Gary Zack’s picture

Gary Zack

Dr. Gary J. Zack, DBA, resides in Mountain Top, Pennsylvania. He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from Drexel University, a master’s degree in engineering management from Wilkes University, and a self-designed doctorate degree in business administration management from Walden University. Dr. Zack has more than 35 years of engineering and management experience in various industries. Since 2012, he has been responsible for providing technical innovative leadership in design, implementation, operations, and dissemination of findings from investigating and implementing new technology in healthcare. Current projects include executing an agnostic enterprise virtual image archive system, workflow robotic process automation (RPA), integration platform as a service (iPaaS), cloud technology, blockchain DLT tokenization and self-sovereign identity platform, software testing solutions, and business process mapping. Other healthcare experience includes customer relations that involve the execution of technical needs for telehealth to the underserved rural community hospitals, electronic image transfer program, grant writing, technical liaison between foundation and board member/donor treatment facilities, and developing new customer relationships through outsourcing of clinician and hospital services utilizing the health information exchange network. Prior to joining the healthcare industry, Dr. Zack held leadership roles within the manufacturing and consulting industries focusing on innovative operations, machine learning algorithms, lean design methodologies, and business process re-engineering conceptual frameworks to improve system operational efficiencies through ubiquitous data sharing platforms and standardization. To reach Dr. Zack for information on healthcare interoperable platform technology strategies or guest speaking, email gjzack1@gmail.com.