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Learning from the Best of the Best: Lessons in Excellence from the 2017 Baldrige Award Winners

For the last 30 years, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (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.

As the nation's only Presidential award for performance excellence, the Baldrige program has adapted to continually support America’s global competitiveness by helping companies and organizations achieve the highest levels of performance.

On November 15, I joined Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross as he called to congratulate the 2017 Baldrige Award winners. As the recently appointed Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology, it was a pleasure to share my own congratulations during each of these calls.

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

  • 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 service area. They deliver outstanding services with only 68 employees, through highly-leveraged partnerships and infrastructure. BTES’ reliability rates exceed best-in-class averages, at approximately two times higher than industry averages – earning them customer satisfaction levels approaching 100 percent.
  • Stellar Solutions is a woman-owned aerospace engineering services company in Silicon Valley, with a vision of helping every employee achieve their “dream job.” The company uses this philosophy, together with the Baldrige Excellence Framework, to support consistent growth of its revenues and profitability year after year. Over the past three years, Stellar Solutions has maintained such high levels of customer satisfaction that 100 percent of their customers say they will recommend them to others.
  • The 2017 Baldrige winners in the health care sector, Southcentral Foundation in Anchorage, Alaska, and the Adventist Health Castle on the island of O’ahu in Hawaii, consistently deliver outstanding patient outcomes and the highest standards of clinical care, while operating in unique geographies and serving distinct communities. These leading healthcare providers rank in the top 10 percent nationwide for patient wellness and other metrics for health care outcomes and quality measures. Both companies attribute their consistent achievement of outstanding business results, including revenue growth and cost management, to the use of the Baldrige performance framework.
  • In an era where other cities are struggling, the City of Fort Collins, Colorado, has implemented the Baldrige Performance Excellence Process to successfully develop its leadership, stakeholder engagement and organizational responsiveness. The city maintains an “Aaa” credit rating from Moody’s and ranks 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 U.S. cities for place to live and work, quality of culture and recreation, job opportunities, air and water quality and attractiveness.

Although the winning organizations represent a diverse range of markets – from utility services to health care 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 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, everyone knows their organization’s goals and how their actions lead to achieving them.

Each of these exemplary organizations also 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; and
  • A tireless focus on operational excellence.

It should also be no surprise that – by embracing these positive, inclusive and often altruistic goals – the Baldridge winners also excel at producing solid 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, inter-dependent and respectful team environment that always strives for excellence.

I feel very fortunate to lead and be a part of 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.

Together with members of the NIST senior leadership team, I look forward to in-depth benchmarking and sharing of best business practices with Baldrige winners in the coming days.

A hallmark of the success of America’s Baldrige program is the commitment of its participants to give back and inspire others – volunteering, sharing, analyzing and 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 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 from the top companies of the U.S.

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 at Commerce.