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Walter Copan


Learning From the Best of the Best

This year’s five Baldrige Award winners exemplify quality organizations

Published: Thursday, December 21, 2017 - 13:01

For the last 30 years, NIST and the Department of Commerce, together with the President of the United States, have been recognizing the nation’s most outstanding organizations with the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award.

It was my privilege on Nov. 15, 2017, to join Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross as he called to congratulate the highest-ranking officials for each of the five 2017 Baldrige Award winners across the United States. As the recently appointed Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology, it was a pleasure to add my own congratulations in each of these calls. Our first call recognized the city of Fort Collins for its demonstrated performance and commitment to excellence in my home state of Colorado, where I have also had the opportunity to meet with other Baldrige winners from prior years.

Together with Secretary Ross, I was pleased to be joined by Robert Fangmeyer, NIST’s director of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program, as well as by Phillip Singerman, associate director for Innovation and Industry Services at NIST. Singerman is responsible at NIST for a wide-ranging portfolio, including oversight of the nation’s technology transfer program, as well as the Baldrige Program.

The Malcolm Baldrige Performance Excellence Program was named after Howard Malcolm “Mac” Baldrige Jr., an American businessman who served as Secretary of Commerce under President Ronald Reagan. Baldrige’s focus on business excellence contributed to enhancing the U.S. economy, as well as effectiveness and efficiency in government, while he served in Commerce.

I am pleased to be at NIST and to serve as Under Secretary as we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program. Reflecting its historic focus on quality in U.S. industry, the recognition is named the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. This is the nation’s only presidential award for performance excellence. During its 30-year history, the Baldrige Program has adapted to continually support America’s global competitiveness by helping companies and organizations achieve the highest levels of performance.

The results that the winning organizations in the 30th-anniversary class have accomplished using the Baldrige Performance Excellence process are truly exceptional.

Here are only a few of the performance examples from this year’s Baldrige winners.

Bristol Tennessee Essential Services
The fastest, most reliable internet service in the country is in eastern Tennessee, delivered by Bristol Tennessee Essential Services (BTES). BTES provides 10 gigabit per second internet, plus other fiber services and electricity transmission and delivery to a 280-square mile region of Tennessee. BTES delivers outstanding services with only 68 employees, using highly leveraged partnerships and infrastructure. This utility company provides reliability rates that exceed best-in-class averages, at approximately two times higher than industry averages. The company has earned customer satisfaction levels approaching 100 percent on many of its product and service offerings.

Stellar Solutions
Stellar Solutions is a woman-owned aerospace engineering services company in Silicon Valley, California, with a vision of helping all employees achieve their “dream job.” The Palo Alto-based company has used this philosophy together with the Baldrige Excellence Framework to support consistent growth of its revenues and profitability year after year. During the past three years, Stellar Solutions has maintained such high levels of customer satisfaction that 100 percent of its customers say they will recommend this company to others.

Baldrige Award winner Stellar Solutions is a global provider of systems engineering, integration, and program management expertise in government and commercial programs related to the aerospace field. Credit: Stellar Solutions

Southcentral Foundation and Castle Medical Center
America’s 2017 Baldrige winners in the healthcare sector, Southcentral Foundation in Anchorage, Alaska, and the Castle Medical Center on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, consistently deliver outstanding patient outcomes and the highest standards of clinical care, while operating in unique geographies and serving distinctive communities. Both of these leading healthcare providers rank in the top 10 percent nationwide for patient wellness, as well as in numerous healthcare outcomes and composite quality measures. Both companies also attribute their consistent achievement of outstanding business results, including revenue growth and cost management, to the use of the Baldrige performance framework.

Fort Collins
Finally, there’s the city of Fort Collins, Colorado. In an era when other cities may be struggling, Fort Collins has implemented the Baldrige Performance Excellence Process to successfully develop its leadership, stakeholder engagement, and organizational responsiveness. The city maintains a triple-A credit rating from Moody’s, as well as ranking in the top 1 percent nationally for emergency preparedness and resilience. Fort Collins has developed strong business processes and built engagement with its community and stakeholders. During a period when its population grew by 7 percent, its energy use decreased by 12 percent. Fort Collins now consistently ranks in the top 10 percent of cities nationally as a place to live and work, for quality of culture and recreation, job opportunities, air and water quality, and attractiveness.

These five winning organizations were chosen at the culmination of the Baldrige rigorous nationwide selection process to confirm that they are the United State’s top organizations. After a six-month-long process involving hundreds of Baldrige examiners across the nation, 14 finalist organizations were identified out of the many qualified nominees, and then site visits, data analysis, and in-depth interviews were conducted. The Baldrige judges reviewed assessments of the applicants’ organizational performance, including final physical site visits and interviews with employees and other stakeholders, to pick the best-of-the-best companies and organizations of the United States in 2017.

Although the winning organizations address a diverse range of markets—from utility services to healthcare to government—the leaders of all five Baldrige-winning organizations have several core principles in common. First and foremost, they have empowered their people and strive to consistently demonstrate that everyone representing them is valued and is focused on delivering value to the customer. From the receptionist at the front door to their senior leadership team, each person knows what the organization wants to accomplish and how individual actions are part of achieving that goal.

Every one of these exemplary organizations promotes:
• Long-term over short-term gains
• A culture of active collaboration with employees, customers, and stakeholders
• Strong corporate citizenship and participation in the community
• A tireless focus on operational excellence

It should also be no surprise that, by embracing these positive, inclusive, and often altruistic goals, these organizations excel at producing solid, positive financial results. They increase sales and profits, save their customers money, meet their financial obligations, pay their employees fairly, and consistently invest in employee development and growth.

The best organizations inspire leadership at all levels. They provide a positive, interdependent, respectful team environment that always strives for excellence.

I feel very fortunate to lead and be a part of just such an organization here at NIST and the Department of Commerce. Ever striving to excel, we have much to learn from one another and our Baldrige Award winners. I was pleased to meet with the Baldrige Foundation last week, and to celebrate 30 great years of positive impacts to the economy from this presidential program. A recent independent analysis has shown returns on investment of more than 800 to 1 to the U.S. economy from the Baldrige Program.

Together with members of the NIST senior leadership team, I look forward to in-depth benchmarking and sharing best business practices with Baldrige winners in the coming months. For example, we visited with Mid-America Transplant, a recent Baldrige Award winner based in St. Louis, Missouri, to review best practices in organizational management and strategic planning.

A hallmark of the success of America’s Baldrige Performance Excellence Program is the commitment of its participants to give back and inspire others—volunteering, sharing, analyzing, leading change—toward better American corporations and organizations competing globally with high effectiveness in a constantly shifting world.

I hope you will join me in April 2018 at the annual Quest for Excellence Conference, where the leaders of each of these organizations will openly share the keys to their success. I look forward to meeting you there, together with the other leaders of the top companies of the United States.


About The Author

Walter Copan’s picture

Walter Copan

Walter Copan is the Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and the director of the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST). He has had a distinguished and diverse career as a science and technology executive in large and small corporations, U.S. government, nonprofit, and other public-sector settings.