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Scott Paton

Will the Baldrige Endure?

The Baldrige Award needs a public face to survive.


I recently returned from my annual pilgrimage to Washington, D.C., for the presentation of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. As usual, the ceremony was filled with pomp and circumstance: The Marine Corps band played "Hail to the Chief" and the honor guard presented the colors prior to the playing of the national anthem. It was a regal ceremony befitting the Baldrige's status as the nation's premier quality honor.

 Despite the Baldrige's presidential support, the award seems destined to be mired in relative obscurity. Quality journals, including this one, dutifully report the winners each year and run the occasional article on Baldrige happenings, such as the recent addition of the education and health care awards. But the business press at large pays scant attention to the award or its winners.

 Look at the hoopla surrounding Six Sigma. It's been celebrated by the likes of Business Week, Fortune, Forbes and the Wall Street Journal. The Harvard Business Review champions management success story after success story, but you'll find nary a whisper about the Baldrige inside.

 It's not because the Baldrige process doesn't work. The growth in the Baldrige Award recipients' stock value alone should be worthy of major news coverage. From 1990 to 1999, the publicly traded recipients, as a group, outperformed the Standard & Poor's 500 by 4.2 to 1, achieving a 685.26-percent return compared to a 163.11-percent return for the S&P 500. Entire best-selling business books have been written about far less; witness the success of books based on cheese and fish. They sound more like cookbooks than business books.

 This is especially frustrating considering all the good a Baldrige-based process can do within an organization for relatively little investment. No special karate gear is needed and registrars need not apply. The Baldrige process relies--like the quality gurus say any good process should--on top management support, a concept that ISO just finally fully integrated into the third release of ISO 9001.

 Perhaps the Baldrige's obscurity is due to the Baldrige Award itself. The program is administered by a group of people dedicated to performance excellence not to selling consulting, registration or books. Instead, they focus on spreading the Baldrige process through an international network of local, state and international awards based on the Baldrige criteria. Although the approach is noble and certainly keeps the process pure, it's dangerous in this era of shrinking government and a slowing economy. With rumors of the President's Quality Award's imminent demise, the Baldrige office might want to rethink its approach. In short, the Baldrige needs a public face--a champion who can press the flesh and sell the process to CEOs.

 We're willing to do our part. Look for a series of interviews and articles on the Baldrige Award and its winners starting in next month's issue. E-mail your thoughts on the Baldrige Award to .

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