Q & A With David Spong, Two-Time Winner, Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award

David Spong is the only two-time winner of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for two different organizations in two different sectors. Dr. Spong recently retired from a 40-year career with Boeing as president of Aerospace Support for Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, which won the Baldrige Award in the service category in 2003.

David Spong is the only two-time winner of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award for two different organizations in two different sectors. Dr. Spong recently retired from a 40-year career with Boeing as president of Aerospace Support for Boeing Integrated Defense Systems, which won the Baldrige Award in the service category in 2003. Previously, he headed Airlift and Tanker Programs for Boeing Military Aircraft and Missile Systems, which won the 1998 Baldrige Award in the manufacturing category.

Q: How does Baldrige differ from ISO 9000? What is the role of lean in Baldrige?

A: There is the perception that there must be one superior methodology for improvement. Proponents of each will argue that Six Sigma, ISO, Lean, Kaizen, or the methodology they are skilled in is the only viable choice for organizations to embrace, at the exclusion of all others. While many of these tool-sets work very effectively together, they are much more powerful when put into the context of an overall management system.

The three quality measurement systems, the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence, ISO 9001:2000 Registration, and Six Sigma each offer a different emphasis in helping organizations improve performance and increase customer satisfaction. Six Sigma concentrates on measuring product quality and improving process engineering. It drives process improvement and cost savings. ISO 9001:2000 Registration is a product/service conformity model for guaranteeing equity in the marketplace. It concentrates on fixing quality system defects and product/service nonconformities.

In contrast, the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence focuses on performance excellence for the entire organization in an overall management framework. identifying and tracking all-important organizational results: customer, product/service, financial, human resource, and organizational effectiveness. Or, as explained by April Lusk, Director of Quality for Trident Precision Manufacturing, Inc. (1996 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award recipient in Small Business), in describing her organization’s use of the Baldrige Criteria, “You need an overall organizational approach if you are looking for guidance in how to link the product approach with such organization functions as strategic planning, customer satisfaction, and staff and supplier satisfaction.”

Spokespersons from other MBNQA recipient organizations agree that Baldrige, Six Sigma, and ISO are different, but can be compatible. Each may have a place in the management system of a successful organization. It shouldn’t be “either/or.” It can be “one, two, and/or three.” So say many Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award recipients when asked if it is best to choose only one of the available performance improvement tools. To ensure the overall future development and success of an organization, you need a systems approach and Baldrige provides that. Where you begin often depends on what your organization needs now.

Q: What kind of value can applicants gain simply from the application process itself?

A: One of the criticisms leveled at the Baldrige Program is that is all about an award and thus there is a belief that what one does is only useful to win the award. Unfortunately, this perception is widely held in spite of many attempts to explain that the real benefit of using the criteria is to focus improvement methodology on the whole organization. It is like getting a complete “Physical” for the whole organization. Many organizations never apply for the award they just use the criteria as an internal improvement system.

It has been said that a leader has the loneliest job. Today’s businesses are beset by a multitude of problems and issues, many without easy or obvious solutions and you, as the leader, must solve them. Most of us “lonely” leaders draw on our experience and the capabilities of our staff to solve the problems. We fight our day-to-day fires. We hope our strategic planning will help us steer our organizations toward a healthy, sustainable future. But we never are quite sure if our plans are up to our challenges or how to convert plans to integrated organizational action.

Baldrige Success Stories

“It amazes me that U.S. businesses spend so much money on ‘how-to’ books and coursework to teach leaders how to build successful organizations. My recommendation: implement the Baldrige-based Criteria in your business. No other single document can help build a long-term successful organization.”

Jerry Rose, President Sunny Fresh Foods
Baldrige Award recipient, 1999.

“For us, going through the full application cycle was a major catalyst in improving our organization. It served as the primary learning tool as we dissected the Criteria, analyzed the requirements, and developed our responses. For affordable application fee and site visit expenditure, Baldrige provides education applicants with teams of experts who conduct a thorough review and provide detailed feedback, expertise that would be too costly for us to purchase on the open market.”

Dr. Frank Auriemma, Superintendent
Pearl River School District,
Baldrige Award recipient, 2001.

“Because the Criteria are focused on what best-in-class companies do and are ever evolving, measuring ourselves against them and applying for the Award has helped us strive to be the best we can be.”

Martin Swarbrick, VP and Director
Office of Business Excellence Motorola CGISS
Baldrige Award recipient, 2002.

“For us, Baldrige has provided the best consulting services we’ve ever received and the least expensive. Over the four years that we applied, we received more than 200 pages of feedback from highly trained, experienced, and professional Examiners, who spent literally hundreds of hours with our application and on site visit. To sum up, Baldrige is the best way to get better faster.”

Sr. Mary Jean Ryan, President/CEO SSM Health Care
Baldrige Award recipient, 2002.

“The next time I go to a hospital, I’d rather see a Baldrige Award on the wall than a Harvard diploma.”

Harvey Mackay
Source: Minneapolis Star Tribune 4/6/95

We know what keeps us up at night, the things that can wound or even kill our businesses, like demands for higher productivity, the pressure from Wall Street, and skyrocketing energy and health care costs. And we have some tools to fight them, but what we don’t know are our blind spots and they can also kill us. The blind spots are equivalent to the plaque that is about to clog our arteries, but we don’t know about it because we have not had a recent medical check-up.

Fortunately, there is an organizational health guide that has been available to manufacturers for their check-ups since 1988: the Baldrige Criteria.

That guide is very different today than it was in its inception. In 1988, Baldrige addressed largely manufacturing process improvement and customer satisfaction; the tools we needed to become more competitive with Japanese product quality and process efficiency. Today it addresses that and a lot more, everything we need to be competitive in a very different global economy. It is a systems approach. It accommodates tools we use like six sigma and lean, but it goes well beyond that to an overall management framework that includes governance, ethics, strategic planning, and knowledge management, all focused on delivering business results (financial, marketplace, HR, and more).

Q: What do you think is behind the diminished interest in the award from manufacturers? How has the foundation attempted to increase awareness and participation from the manufacturing segment?

A: With the benefits and advantages of using the Baldrige Criteria so clear to me, it’s a wonder more business leaders are not crossing the line and committing to using this proven guide.

Recent research by Zenger/Folkman gives some insights into why this might be so. Interviews with a small sample of chief executives reveals surprising ambivalence toward the Baldrige approach to organizational excellence. These executives have only a tenuous familiarity with the Baldrige criteria, and most say they have not received any information on it for several years. When asked about actually using the Baldrige criteria, executives divide into two camps: those who believe in it and those who question its value.

And yet this same group is fairly consistent about the issues they say are facing their businesses; they acknowledge that quality is one way of addressing these issues; and they feel their quality is already good and is better than it was five years ago. They intend to increase their emphasis on quality in the future, although to a lesser degree than their intent to emphasize innovation, efficiency, and employee satisfaction.

Q:As an expert in quality, what types of recommendations can you give to manufacturers looking to improve on existing processes?

A: Among those executives who question its value, there is a perception that Baldrige is just another costly and complex add-on program; that it is an even rather than a journey (win the award and you’re done); and that it looks backward rather than forward.

Just as an individual wouldn't rely on a single approach (say, daily vitamins) and a single diagnostic (say, blood pressure) to assess and improve health and fitness, neither should organizations. Building a robust organization requires an integrated approach that begins with a deep understanding of its vision, mission, and values that is shared throughout every part and extends to partners and collaborators.

And then there is the feeling that Baldrige is not new; for the lonely executive with the weight of the entire organization on his or her shoulders, there is still this nagging misconception that he or she must discover the novel approach that will set the organization apart from all others. Rather than look for that silver bullet, I advise chief executives to embrace the proven Baldrige approach. It’s worked for me. Twice.

For more information on the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, visit www.quality.nist.gov.