Baldrige Process: Documenting Deeds in Many Words

by JAY MATHEWS

Applying for Baldrige National Quality Award is not easy. The Baldrige National Quality Program offices in Gaithersburg, Md., have stacks of helpful pamphlets and answers to frequently asked questions and encouraging words, but a look at the winning applications submitted by the Chugach and Pearl River school districts will chill many school administrators’ hearts.


Each application covers about 50 printed pages of small type—more than 35,000 words. Although not as dense as many quality management reports, the school district’s applications are full of sentences like this one: “Lag indicators represent long-term results and lead indicators are either short-term or line-of-sight predictors for our lag indicators.”

The U.S. Commerce Department booklet explaining the application, “Education Criteria for Performance Excellence,” is 66 pages long, again with small type and almost no pretty pictures. But the application calendar allows plenty of time to read it and convince stakeholders—that’s everybody who has anything to do with the school or district—that it would be worth their time and energy.

Finding out whether you are eligible to apply will cost $150. The actual application fees are $500 for nonprofit educational organizations, with extra costs for site visits and supplemental sections. A for-profit organization pays much more.

The necessary application forms for the 2003 award won’t be available until January and are due in April and May. The first cut of applications is scheduled to be finished in September, and then site visits for the finalists take place in October and November.

The Baldrige program managers urge organizations to start the process even if they are not sure they want to complete it. “You can perform a self-assessment as an internal improvement effort,” their booklet says. They recommend filling out their simple questionnaire, “Are We Making Progress?” (www.quality.nist.gov/Progress.htm).<I>

And even if you don’t win, every applicant gets a detailed feedback report “based on an independent, external assessment conducted by a panel of specially trained and recognized experts.”

Complete details of the Baldrige award program are available from 301-975-2036, nqp@nist.gov or www.quality.nist.gov.