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Bill Kalmar

Quality Insider

ISO? Baldrige? Mukluks?

A smorgasbord of quality

Published: Monday, November 6, 2006 - 23:00

As the cool, crisp air of autumn begins to make its annual appearance here in the Midwest, and the trees on country roads are aflame with color, it’s time to make some wardrobe decisions. Should I select the fur-lined parka over the Gore-Tex windbreaker? Are the Eddie Bauer boots warmer than the L.L. Bean mukluks? And which hat provides the best cover for my receding hairline? Although the goal is to keep warm, how will I look to my friends?Similar questions and choices surface when organizations begin their journey to quality and performance excellence. Which process will insulate us from error? Which process will reduce red tape? Which process will have a good effect on the bottom line? Which process will help us exceed the expectations of our customers?

Depending on the industry and organizational intent, quality practitioners must choose from myriad processes such as, AS9100, BS7799, EN46000, EN9100, FS9100, ISO 14000, ISO 9001, ISO/TS16949, JIS Q 9100, Baldrige criteria, Six Sigma, the joint commission on accreditation of health care organizations (JCAHO), Q9000, QS-9000, kaizen, lean manufacturing, Q9858A, MIL STD 45662A, the U.S.A. Quality Cup, MIL STD 105E, TL9000, Juran’s, Deming’s, and the various state quality awards.

At a buffet people instinctively choose items they’re familiar with. Even then they may choose something that’s wrong for them (e.g., too many calories or trans fats).

It’s the same with quality. Organizations at times choose a process whose name is familiar or one that a successful competing organization has used. Frankly, the best choice could be a process that has had little notoriety, but one that after some time you determine fits your company best.

Is there a regulatory agency that insists on a certain certification for your company? If you’re a supplier to the auto industry, chances are you will need to be ISO standards-certified. Health care facilities must comply with JCAHO, while the aerospace industry is under the umbrella of AS9100. Processes such as these define the entry level for a quality journey. To remain at that level may ensure some success, but most companies want to distance themselves from their competition and, in so doing, provide customer service that is unparalleled in their particular industry. The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award process provides an extra level of performance excellence and can boost a good company into becoming an extraordinary company. Let me explain.

The Baldrige Award was created by an Act of Congress in 1987 and named after former Secretary of Commerce Malcolm Baldrige. The goal is to provide a systematic process—a logical management system, if you will—to help organizations raise their level of service. Baldrige was designed to be a stretch over existing programs.

The Baldrige program:

  • Helps stimulate American companies to improve quality and productivity for their own sake and for the pride of recognition, while obtaining a competitive edge through increased profits. Recognizes the achievements of companies that improve the quality of their goods and services and business results and provides an example to others.
  • Establishes guidelines and criteria that can be used by business, industry, government, education and health care—including nonprofits—to evaluate their own competitiveness, performance and quality improvement efforts.
  • Provides specific guidance for other American organizations that wish to learn how to manage for high performance by making available detailed information on winning organizations that were able to change their cultures and achieve eminence.

Since its introduction, companies have discovered that even if they don’t apply for the award, using the criteria in their strategic planning can be rewarding.

As a former Baldrige examiner myself (1996–1997) and a former member of the Baldrige board of overseers (2000–2003), I have an affinity for the Baldrige, whose winners have enjoyed a level of quality that has surpassed their competition. Until recently, a survey of S&P 500 companies was compared against publicly-traded Baldrige winners and the result was staggering. Baldrige Award winners outperformed the S&P by 5 to 1.

If you’re having doubts about implementing the Baldrige criteria in your organization, consider:

  • More than 60 countries use Baldrige-based criteria to enhance the productivity and quality of their organizations.
  • Health care and education applications have increased dramatically over the last couple of years, because these organizations are seeking ways to improve and differentiate themselves from their competition.
  • In my opinion, the number of manufacturing and service applications has declined because the focus in these industries seems to have shifted to short-term strategies.

In a recent speech before the Philippine Society for Quality, David Spong, a retired president of Integrated Defense Systems unit of the Boeing Co., a two-time Baldrige winner, stated it best: "The Baldrige framework will work in any business situation, whether you are in manufacturing or in services. It can turn a crisis into a noncrisis, a losing company into a profitable one, a noncrisis situation into a successful one, and a successful company into an even more improved one."

I recently interviewed Harry Hertz, director of the Baldrige Award, regarding the Baldrige process. His comments are worth noting:

  • “Whatever your choice in processes to improve and strengthen your organization, you can make a difference. Any process is better than doing nothing at all.
  • “The Baldrige Program is proud that many of the other quality processes are incorporating appropriate pieces of our criteria into their operating procedures. In the meantime, the Baldrige process continues to evolve as we continue to improve. Each year we carry out a systematic improvement process, culminating in an Improvement Day, when examiners, award applicants and other interested people gather to critique and improve our processes. Perhaps I am most proud of our award recipients who tirelessly share their successful performance strategies so that others might learn. They even share their applications for the award, after removing proprietary information.”

Each year the current winners convene in Washington, D.C., to discuss their journeys. At the "Quest for Excellence Conference" they discuss the application process, disclosing everything but the most confidential proprietary information. This past year, 30 percent of the 1,100 attendees were from the health care industry, illustrating the importance that industry has placed on moving beyond the normal boundaries of JCAHO.

A colleague who was involved in Baldrige criteria training asked the participants for their reasons for attending the workshop. One gentleman said that his boss had read that someone in their state had won the Baldrige Award. His boss said, "Have we won one of these? If not, go get us one." You can bet that quality journey was sidetracked long ago.

To sum up, I recall an old management axiom: "If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there." Don’t go down a road because it looks easy or it’s the new buzzword. Confer with your customers and any regulatory agencies that oversee your company and then choose the process that best fits your needs. If your initial choice wasn’t the Baldrige process, I strongly recommend that you travel down that road again, and this time exit at the sign marked Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Program. In my estimation, it will be the best off-ramp that you could have taken.

Back to my cold weather choices. I think I’m going with the mukluks and the wool hat. I won’t win any awards for looks, but as with quality and performance excellence, I’m in it for the long haul.

Discuss

About The Author

Bill Kalmar’s picture

Bill Kalmar

William J. Kalmar has extensive business experience, including service with a Fortune 500 bank and the Michigan Quality Council, of which he served as director from 1993 through 2003. He served on the Board of Overseers of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program and has been a Baldrige examiner. He was also named quality professional of the year by the ASQ Detroit chapter. Now semiretired, Kalmar does freelance writing for several publications. He is a member of the USA Today Vacation Panel, a mystery shopper for several companies, and a frequent presenter and lecturer.