Benefiting the Lab with Baldrige

April 2016 - Vol.5 No. 3 - Page #2

The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, established in 1987, recognizes quality achievements and provides a mechanism for sharing successful strategies among US organizations. The Baldrige Award is the only formal recognition of the performance excellence of both public and private US organizations given by the President of the United States. The Baldrige Excellence Framework, commonly referred to as the Baldrige criteria, was envisioned as a standard of excellence that would help organizations achieve world-class quality. They now are widely accepted as a gold standard for performance excellence.

The criteria are designed to help organizations enhance their competitiveness by focusing on two goals: Delivering perpetual value to customers and improving overall organizational performance. The program also aims to raise awareness about the importance of quality and performance excellence as a competitive edge. The Baldrige program began giving awards in education and health care categories in 19991 and clinical laboratories are eligible to apply. Although the award and its recipients are often in the spotlight, a broader national quality initiative and community of quality and performance excellence professionals have evolved around the award and its criteria. More than any other program, the Baldrige Award is responsible for making quality a national priority and disseminating best practices across the United States.2

Where to Start

Local and state Baldrige-based programs offer an avenue for organizations to begin and continue the journey of performance excellence. Many national award recipients have started with their state quality award programs. The Alliance for Performance Excellence is a non-profit network of national, state, and local Baldrige-based award programs; for information on a program in your area visit

Raising Quality Awareness

Keep in mind the Baldrige Award is much more than a contest; while recognizing organizations that have successful performance management systems is the most visible part of the program, its intent is much broader. The program’s role in raising awareness about quality by encouraging all US businesses and organizations to establish performance improvement programs (regardless of whether they intend to apply for the award) is much more important and impactful. Baldrige Award winners tend to become quality advocates, as their efforts to educate and inform others on the benefits of using the Baldrige framework are substantial. To date, the recipients have given more than 30,000 presentations reaching thousands of organizations.

The Baldrige Criteria

These criteria focus on quality results and continuous improvement by providing a framework for designing, implementing, and assessing a process for managing all business operations (see FIGURE 1). The criteria comprise seven categories that any organization can use to improve overall performance:

  • Leadership: Examines how executives guide the organization, how the organization addresses its responsibilities to the public, and how it practices good citizenship
  • Strategy: Examines how the organization sets strategic directions and how key action plans are determined
  • Customers: Examines how the organization determines requirements and expectations of customers and markets
  • Measurement, Analysis, and Knowledge Management: Examines the management, effective use, and analysis of data and information to support key organization processes and the organization’s performance management system
  • Workforce: Examines how the organization enables its workforce to develop its full potential and how the workforce is aligned with the organization’s objectives
  • Operations: Examines aspects of how key production, delivery, and support processes are designed, managed, and improved
  • Results: Examines the organization’s performance and improvement in the key business area of customer satisfaction, financial and marketplace performance, human resources, supplier and partner performance, and operational performance. The category also examines how the organization performs relative to competitors1

The criteria are used by thousands of organizations nationally for self-assessment and training, and as a tool to develop performance and business processes (see FIGURE 2). Approximately 2 million copies have been distributed since the first edition in 1988, and heavy reproduction and electronic access multiply that number many times. The newly introduced Baldrige Excellence Builder is based on the Baldrige Excellence Framework and its Criteria for Performance Excellence. This free resource is available on the Baldrige website and enables laboratories to assess themselves against the most important features of organizational performance excellence. To download, visit:

The Application and Selection Process

Organizations that are headquartered in the US may apply for the award and those applications are evaluated by an independent board of examiners composed of 300+ primarily private sector experts in quality and business. Examiners look for evidence of maturity of processes (see FIGURE 3), achievements, and improvements in all seven categories. During the first step, each application is evaluated independently by at least eight different examiners. Successful organizations demonstrate through facts and data a robust management system that is continually improving.

The highest scoring organizations are visited by teams of examiners to verify information in the application and to clarify questions that come up during the review. During these site visits, examiners interview employees and review pertinent records and data. An organization that hired someone to simply fill out an application would never make it through this rigorous review if its application was not supported by facts and data. By the time the review is complete, some applicants will have gone through over 1,000 hours of evaluation. Regardless of the outcome, each applicant receives a written summary of strengths and areas for improvement in each area addressed by the criteria.1

Click here to see FIGURE 3.

Return on Investment

“The application and review process for the Baldrige Award is the best, most cost-effective and comprehensive business health audit you can get,” says Arnold Weimerskirch, former chair of the Baldrige Award panel of judges and former vice president of quality for Honeywell, Inc.1 For many organizations, using the criteria results in better employee relations, higher productivity, greater customer satisfaction, increased market share, and improved profitability.1 Thousands of organizations are using the Baldrige Excellence Framework to assess their organization and to improve quality. The program has helped to stimulate a performance excellence movement amongst US organizations and the statistics speak for themselves:

  • 92.5%: Median growth in revenue for two-time Baldrige Award winners3
  • 65.5%: Median job growth for two-time Baldrige Award winners (compared with 2.5% for a matched set of industries and time periods)3
  • The benefit to the U.S. economy is $820 to every $1 spent on the program4

Every applicant receives an extensive and invaluable feedback report highlighting strengths and areas for improvement. An article in the Journal for Quality and Participation reported that the Baldrige feedback report is arguably the best bargain in business consulting in America.1

Baldrige Examiners

Each year, more than 300 experts from industry, educational institutions, government, and non-profit organizations volunteer their time reviewing applications for the award, conducting site visits, and providing each applicant with a feedback report. Organizations receiving a site visit benefit from over 1,000 hours of volunteer examiner time. Members of the board of examiners are selected through an application process and are experts in evaluating performance management systems. Examiners serve as speakers, as information resources, and as consultants.1

Beyond Quality Management

The criteria go beyond what laboratorians typically think of as quality. Financial performance, including business decisions and strategies that lead to better market performance, gains in market share, and customer retention and satisfaction are included. Organizations are urged to use financial information, including trends in profit, to analyze and assess overall improvement in performance. Some may ask how the Baldrige Excellence Framework differs from quality standards such as ISO 9001 or ISO 15189—the ISO standards cover less than 10 percent of the Baldrige criteria.1 The ISO standards describe the need for an effective quality system, for ensuring that measuring and testing equipment is calibrated regularly and for maintaining an adequate record-keeping system. The scope of the Baldrige criteria includes all of an organization’s management systems, not just the quality management system.

Baldrige in the Laboratory

The Baldrige Excellence Framework has been embraced by the health care industry and is being employed by many hospitals. The changing landscape of health care places an urgent emphasis on improving the quality of patient care and reducing overall costs. As laboratory leaders, we know that laboratories are not immune to these pressures. Organizations “are successfully navigating the storms of change, achieving operational effectiveness and efficiency, improving financial results, enhancing customer service, and winning new markets through application of the Baldrige Criteria.”5

The Baldrige Award is presented to only a few applicants that meet the highest standards and exemplify performance excellence. However, every organization that employs the criteria for self-analysis, organizational learning and change benefits immensely due to their increased ability to learn, adapt, innovate, and achieve excellence. It is my sincere hope that laboratories across the country embrace this proven performance excellence framework. That crystal trophy would look fantastic in the hands of a laboratory organization’s leaders, but more important, the lab industry can reap many quality and financial benefits from this program.

For a list of past Baldrige Award recipients, including several in health care, visit:


  1. NIST Baldrige Program website: Accessed 1/5/16
  2. Building on Baldrige: American Quality for the 21st Century. Council on Competitiveness. Washington, DC (1995).
  3. Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, NIST, “The Verdict Is In—Baldrige Is About Revenue and Jobs—Part 2,” September 19, 2011.
    Accessed 1/5/16
  4. Link AN and Scott JT. Economic Evaluation of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program. December 16, 2011.
    planning/upload/report11-2.pdf Accessed 1/5/16
  5. Baldrige 20/20: An Executive’s Guide to the Criteria for Performance Excellence. Baldrige Performance Excellence Program. National Institute of Standards and Technology. Accessed 1/5/16

Jennifer Dawson, MHA, DLM(ASCP)CMSLS, QLC, QIHC, is the Vice President, Quality & Regulatory Affairs for Sonic Reference Laboratory in Austin, Texas. Having built the quality program from the ground up, she is responsible for oversight of a strategic approach to a robust, best-practice quality management system, as well as regulatory compliance for the lab. Jennifer serves on the CLMA Board of Directors, the ASCLS Patient Safety Committee, the AACC Management Sciences and Patient Safety Division, the CLSI Expert Panel on Quality Management Systems and General Practices, and the National Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award Board of Examiners.


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