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by Laura Smith

On Nov. 23, Commerce Secretary Donald Evans and President George W. Bush announced the winners of the 2004 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. One of the four winners was Kenneth W. Monfort College of Business.

The college is part of the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, Colorado, and emphasizes a well-rounded business education. Students increased performance on standardized business school tests by 34 percent from 1994 to 2004. Student performance has consistently been well above the national average, and in 2003-2004 reached the top 10-percent level. The college adopted a mission of high quality in 1984 and focuses on providing small classes, ethics education, technology integration and high-quality instruction from industry experts.

Following is an interview with Joe F. Alexander, dean of the college.

 

QD: When and why did the college decide to pursue a Baldrige Award?

Alexander: In 1984, the college decided to eliminate all graduate business programs and focus 100 percent of organizational resources on undergraduate business students--not exactly the strategy of choice for most business schools then or now. Over the next 18 years, two deans led the college along a consistent path of performance improvement, while offering a single undergraduate degree program designed to become the best in the region. When I was appointed dean in March 2002, our faculty and staff agreed that we needed a new “stretch goal” around which to unify our energies without compromising mission focus. Baldrige made sense in that it represented a widely recognized system for driving continuous improvement, and it was consistent philosophically with our accreditation standards. Furthermore, given no [college] business program had ever earned the award, it certainly qualified as a stretch goal. Whether or not we won, we knew that going through the process would make us a better college.

QD: How much did you know about the process when you started?

Alexander: Given our “product” of management education, I think most of us as business professors had some familiarity with the basics of quality management. However, I knew only the generalities of what the award was and the significance of what it represented when we began. One of our professors, Sharon Clinebell, had served as a Baldrige examiner prior to the educational standards being developed, and one of our executive professors, Roger Maddocks, had previously guided Eastman-Kodak’s lean manufacturing program as its vice president of global manufacturing. We had good access internally to some experts who could help bring the rest of us up to speed once we decided to adopt Baldrige standards.

QD: Your growth in the past five years has been incredible. Where do you see the college next year? In five years?

Alexander: Our growth has been one of quality as opposed to quantity. We did not start this journey with the goal of being the largest business school, but rather the best in our niche. We actually serve a smaller student population of business majors now than we did five years ago. However, the academic quality of our incoming students is at an all-time high, and with the significant improvements in student satisfaction and retention we have achieved, we are now producing a larger number of graduates than we did five years ago.

One of our four strategic objectives for the current year was to build a program reputation that matched our program quality. Receiving the Baldrige Award has already allowed us to reduce that gap, but we still view our reputation as an opportunity for improvement. I would assume that as we proceed through the next five years, our college will continue its current focus on performance excellence. Since devoting our full energies to integrating a Baldrige framework, we have witnessed such rapid improvement on many of our key performance indicators it’s difficult to imagine veering from that course at this point.

QD: Was it difficult to get your management team/administrators and/or rank-and-file employees excited about the Baldrige process?

Alexander: I wouldn’t say it was difficult. The idea to pursue Baldrige stemmed from four separate brainstorming and evaluation sessions that included all of our faculty, staff and leaders. Our initial decision to move in that direction, then, was an employee-generated idea that senior leadership committed to exploring further. One of our first steps was to invite Dr. Julie Furst-Bowe from the University of Wisconsin-Stout (MBNQA recipient 2001) in for a campus visit. She shared their experiences and helped us gauge whether or not we were ready to make a formal application. Upon the conclusion of her visit, she asked “What are you waiting for?” I think that gave us the spark of external validation we needed to take the next step.

QD: Where do you think the quality movement is headed?

Alexander: I think that within most industries today, leaders are confronted with the prospects of narrower profit margins, increased competition, and an accelerated rate of environmental change--not to mention stagnant or declining customer markets. Such trends emphasize all the more the need for an organization to operate within a results-oriented framework that creates a basis for action and feedback. The available margin of error for an organizational approach that is ill-conceived or sloppy is much smaller than it was even five years ago. You either get better as an organization or you are replaced by an alternative solution for your customers. Overall, I think “quality” will continue to become more highly valued, given these trends.

About the author
Laura Smith is Quality Digest’s assistant editor.