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Dawn Bailey

Quality Insider

For Manufacturers, Baldrige Could Be ‘Cure’ for an Uncertain Future, Part 1

Two company’s reasons for pursuing the Baldrige and some of the benefits they found

Published: Thursday, July 9, 2015 - 07:42

When the recession hit during the early 2000s, Michael Garvey left his fast-paced life trading equities on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange to help save the “family farm,” a bronze foundry in Youngstown, Ohio.

Garvey said his parents and many other manufacturers got caught in the “perfect storm” that led to the implosion of the former heavy industrial belt, or rust belt along the Cleveland-Pittsburgh corridor. He worked hard to restore the manufacturing base that had been his family’s business for almost 100 years but never forgot the pressures that his dad had internalized as he struggled to save the business. “I committed to myself that I would never get myself into that situation,” Garvey says.

Garvey spearheaded a 15-year “phoenix activity” to build a new manufacturing company, M-7 Technologies, an engineering, manufacturing, and research organization. “I wanted to make sure that I created as sustainable a business model as possible,” he says, and read dozens of books and hundreds of articles in Harvard Business Review, Industry Week, and The Wall Street Journal, among other journals and industry research.

“All roads kept leading back to the Baldrige process,” Garvey says. “I wanted to learn the Baldrige Criteria from the inside out so that I could really begin to understand how to build performance excellence in a corporation, in a small business. I became convinced that to create a sustainable business model, I had to aspire to performance excellence. That aspiration was realized through the learning process I went through on the Baldrige Criteria. I became so convinced that [Baldrige] was a very powerful program that.... I signed up to become a [Baldrige] examiner.”

Realizing the relevance of performance excellence came later for Robert Du Fresne in Vadnais Heights, Minnesota. Du Fresne had the Baldrige Criteria in mind when, in 1991, he started Du Fresne Manufacturing, a precision sheet metal fabricator. During the early days, the company was in survival mode, chasing opportunities to increase revenue. Du Fresne performed many company roles himself, from sales to human resources to manager on the shop floor.

“I didn’t know the real value of [the Criteria] until 2008–2011,” he says. That was the time when the recession hit, and as Du Fresne relates, “We were looking for a cure to help sustain stronger financial security and job security... because of what happened to us in the recession. [Leaders realized that the Baldrige Framework] has to be our cure to raise us to higher performance and make the competition irrelevant.”

How manufacturers use Baldrige Criteria to focus on future

For both Garvey and Du Fresne, the Baldrige Excellence framework, which includes the Criteria for Performance Excellence, serves as a road map for performance excellence and a focus on the future.

“[The Baldrige Criteria] bring a sense of stability,” says Garvey. “They build a foundation that gives you a well-organized road map to performance excellence.”

Garvey feels that the “whole package” of the Criteria supports his business, starting with the leadership category that helped him understand the roles and responsibilities of true, visionary leaders. The Criteria outline a leader’s responsibilities not only for the workforce but also for customers, stakeholders, the supply chain, and shareholders. “How you create your working philosophy, how you fulfill your responsibilities to your community; just everything [is outlined in the Criteria],” says Garvey.

Garvey learned a lot from the Baldrige Criteria. “As a result of that [learning], we are now one of the highest-performing small businesses in the state of Ohio, complete with having been recognized as the Ohio employer of the year in 2010,” he says. “That goes back to the workforce component of the Criteria. We outperform our peer group an average of 2:1 on all key metrics in small machine shops.” Those key metrics include revenue dollars per employee, net income before taxes, and customer complaints.

For Du Fresne Manufacturing, which recently received the Baldrige-based Performance Excellence Network Award (formerly the Minnesota Council for Quality Award), the Baldrige Excellence framework has been a “cure for many business strategies and critical sustainability decisions.”

According to Kris Diemer, Du Fresne Manufacturing’s vice president of human development, “The Criteria have provided a structure for us. When a company is doing well, you concentrate on different things, but when you experience a recession like many manufacturing companies have, you realize that there are things that need to be in place to ensure the security of what we call our members as well as our company. And that experience... brought us to realize that the Baldrige Criteria are the cure for the stability of our organization.”

Part of that cure has been alignment, which is key to the systems perspective in the Criteria. For example, in 2007 alone, the 25-year-old company received more than 16,000 ideas from employees on how to improve processes. “But what Baldrige gave us was the alignment, that all of these ideas coming from the employees are now going to be linked to our balanced scorecard,” says Du Fresne. “That was a real advantage we had as an organization. [The Baldrige framework also] helped us align our processes into four key systems. Some of the systems had been around for awhile, but it’s the alignment that really woke us up. We realized that they weren’t aligned; that they weren’t always matching up to the balanced scorecard. And they wouldn’t drive us to the human development that we needed. The alignment we’ve gotten from the Criteria has had a real critical and positive effect on our organization.”

The Criteria helped reinforce the company’s workforce engagement, too, where seven out of 10 employees were submitting ideas not just to make their jobs easier but to make it easier for the next person to do the job. “That type of engagement, once we get it aligned because of the Criteria, there was no stopping us at that point,” says Du Fresne, citing a company theme of employees’ mettle in facing demanding situations in spirited and resilient ways.

Du Fresne says that Baldrige also inspired the moral and ethical responsibility of business owners and leadership teams. The manufacturer now considers human development one of its product offerings. “That’s the whole essence of developing meaningful work that leads to meaningful life,” he says. This focus on development has led to gains in market share, gains in the strength of the organization, more ideas submitted, and a very low turnover rate.

Du Fresne is particularly proud of the manufacturer’s business performance model, inspired by the Baldrige Criteria and lessons learned from the recession, that replaces performance reviews with reviews that look to the future. “It’s the first time each employee knows exactly what he or she has to do within the job to advance, get better, reach higher performance, and make more money,” says Du Fresne. To assist with this, the company has developed 900 knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) outlines one for each job, in addition to team targets aligned with the balanced scorecard, personal targets determined in collaboration with the manager and team member, and behavioral competencies most important to the culture.

First published June 16, 2015, on the Blogrige.


About The Author

Dawn Bailey’s picture

Dawn Bailey

Dawn Bailey is a writer/editor for the Baldrige Program involved in all aspects of communications, from leading the Baldrige Executive Fellows program to managing the direction of case studies, social media efforts, and assessment teams. She has more than 25 years of experience (18 years at the Baldrige Program) working on publications and education teams. Her background is in English and journalism, with degrees from the University of Connecticut and an advanced degree from George Mason University.