A Consultant's Experience as a Baldrige-based Award Examiner

By Jim Neuburger

Jim is a Fuel expert in management, strategic planning and organizational improvement, and guiding businesses through their own self-assessments. Fuel received a letter from SPQA this fall recognizing Jim for his service.

Earlier this year, I was invited to be an examiner for the U.S. Senate Productivity and Quality Award for Virginia (SPQA). This was my eleventh year as an SPQA examiner. Other consultants and businesses in Northern Virginia can benefit from my experience.

What it is: The SPQA is the Commonwealth of Virginia's version of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Just about any organization headquartered in Virginia or D.C. can apply — business (manufacturing, service, etc.), government (federal, state, local), health care, education, non-profit, etc. The applicant submits a 50-page application that addresses questions contained in the award criteria (the SPQA uses the Baldrige Excellence Framework criteria). A team of examiners reviews the application and creates a feedback report for the applicant. Based on the feedback report, a panel of judges makes the determination if the applicant will receive an award; there are three award levels. But winning the award is only a part of the benefit; the feedback report is really a roadmap for improving an organization's performance and achieving greater outcomes and results.

The real strength of these awards is in the criteria. The criteria are divided into seven categories that provide a systems approach with a focus on improvement and results (see diagrams below). It's not only applicable to the award; you can use it for self-assessment of any organization.




What I did: To perform the duties of examiner, I attended one day of award criteria training and three days of examiner training. Examiners review and evaluate an award application, participate in discussions and consensus with a team of fellow examiners, develop written feedback, and possibly participate in a site visit of the applicant. For the past several years, I've acted as a mentor for the newer examiners and also as an editor for the feedback reports.

Bottom Line: Considering I've been involved in five different Baldrige-based awards since 1995, I thinks it's obvious I'm a believer. If you're interested but have never been exposed to the Baldrige world, I would highly recommend attending the one-day criteria training. You may even get the bug and volunteer to be an examiner. It's a great experience: You'll learn a lot and work with a great team of folks.

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