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Robert Fangmeyer

Quality Insider

A Peek Behind the Baldrige Curtain

Award selection is a rigorous and scrupulous process

Published: Monday, November 18, 2013 - 18:46

I am sure that most of you heard the Baldrige news a couple of weeks ago. What a great day November 13 was! But this article is not only about conveying congratulations to our newest role-model Baldrige Award recipients but giving a little perspective on the events of the past month.

The meeting begins

On Monday, November 4,  the Baldrige judges met at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) for the final phase of a five-month effort to determine which organizations should be recommended for the 2013 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award—the highest presidential honor for organizational performance excellence.

The judges arrived at about 7:30 a.m. and were quickly led to a secluded conference room in the maze-like basement of NIST’s administration building. The room had been prepped for their arrival: a large U-shaped arrangement of tables with plenty of room to spread out; an entire back wall lined with additional tables holding boxes, crates, and file folders containing materials that represented thousands of hours of effort by Baldrige Award applicants, volunteer examiner teams, and the judges themselves; a computer, projector and speaker phone; and one dinky table with muffins, fruit, and coffee.

After some procedural activities and a thoughtful review of the meeting purpose and processes, the fun began… three-and-a-half days later, the seal was broken, the door opened, and the judges staggered out with their final recommendations.

Of course, I am only kidding, but to those who haven’t had the privilege to serve as a Baldrige judge or staff member, this might seem to be what happens.

A rigorous process

In reality, during this final meeting of the 2013 Baldrige Award process, the judges follow a very rigorous process for each applicant that received a site visit:
• Judges who have a conflict of interest with a particular applicant receive none of its materials; conflicted judges leave the room for any and all sharing or conversation about that applicant.
• The lead judge for each applicant presents an overview of the organization, reviewing the examiner team’s overall findings, and reviewing the questions and issues the judges identified during their preliminary review of the application and detailed site-visit findings prior to the meeting.
• The lead judge then facilitates a conference call with the site visit team leader, exploring a standard set of questions asked of all team leaders.
• After the first call, the judges discuss what was conveyed and engage in dialogue to determine what issues and questions still remain to make a national role-model determination.
• A second call is held with the site visit team leader to probe very specific issues needing clarity or verification.
• After the second call, the judges debrief what they have learned, ensure that there are no further questions that need to be asked of the team leader, and identify the applicant’s key strengths and opportunities related to potential role-model status.
• Finally, a multilevel voting process occurs that requires a super-majority of judges to recommend a Baldrige Award recipient.
• After each applicant is discussed, a judge assigned as the process checker for that applicant leads a debriefing, looking for opportunities to improve.


The average cycle time for a given applicant is about three and a half hours, but since the judges’ motto is “it’s not over ‘til it’s over,” further discussion later in the meeting is not uncommon.

Final recipients

On Thursday, November 7, around 3:30 p.m., it was finally over… or was it?

The judging had been completed, with the three recipients and two additional organizations recognized for category-level best practices, but much remained to be done.
• Judges called team leaders to discuss suggested edits to the feedback reports that would be sent to applicants (yes, even award recipients receive feedback!).
• Press releases, recipient profiles, and talking points were finalized.
• John Jasinski, chair of the panel of judges, and I met with Pat Gallagher, the acting deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Commerce and director of NIST, to share the judges’ recommendations.
• The Department of Commerce was notified of the recommendations, and on Tuesday, November 12, I traveled to Washington D.C. to meet with Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker and Gallagher to call the award recipients. Secretary Pritzker congratulated the winners, expressing her confidence that the three organizations will undoubtedly continue the Baldrige legacy and serve as role models for their peers in the healthcare and education sectors. I also have to share with you that Secretary Pritzker thoroughly enjoyed her conversations with each of the recipients.


I hope you will join me in extending sincere congratulations to our recipients, three organizations with a deep commitment to excellence, driven by their desire to achieve outstanding results for the benefit of their stakeholders (students and patients, staff members and employees, families, and communities). It’s a commitment that starts at the very top, is clearly a part of their culture, and anchors organizational decisions and directions.
Pewaukee School District, Pewaukee, Wisconsin (education)
Baylor Regional Medical Center at Plano, Plano, Texas (healthcare)
Sutter Davis Hospital, Davis, California (healthcare)

It is worth noting that each of these role model organizations has also won a top-tier award in the Baldrige-based program of its state (the Wisconsin Forward Award, the Texas Award for Performance Excellence, and the California Awards for Performance Excellence, respectively).

Finally, I hope you will join me and applaud these two healthcare organizations for demonstrating excellence in leadership (category 1 of the Baldrige Criteria) as part of the 2013 Baldrige Award process:
• Duke University Hospital, Durham, North Carolina
• Hill Country Memorial, Fredericksburg, Texas

Congratulations to all and a big thank you to all the many volunteer examiners and judges who make this program and the award process possible.

To learn more about the best practices of these national role models, in addition to the best practices of other Baldrige Award recipients, attend the 26th annual Quest for Excellence Conference on April 7–9, 2014, in Baltimore, Maryland.

First published Nov. 14, 2013, on Blogrige.


About The Author

Robert Fangmeyer’s picture

Robert Fangmeyer

Robert Fangmeyer is the director of the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program (BPEP) at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).