Household brands bearing the “Made in America” tag were in big trouble in the mid-1980s. Shivers ran down the spines of Detroit automakers as efficient Japanese models filled the U.S. highways. Sony Walkmans, Nintendo and Atari video games were on everyone’s shopping list. America lost ownership of household brand names as well as bricks and mortar symbols of the USA, such as Rockefeller Center and Columbia Pictures of Hollywood.
The U.S. Department of Commerce’s solution was a renewed focus on supporting American brands in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. A new public-private partnership began with incentivizing American companies to ensure continuous product improvement before asking consumers to support American brands via their wallets.
When the cabinet leader that President Reagan had in mind to spearhead the re-branding of the USA’s output was fatally injured in a rodeo accident, the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program was named in his honour — envisioned as a standard of excellence to help U.S. organizations achieve world-class quality.
America’s only presidential award for performance excellence among both private and public companies goes annually to a maximum of 18 organizations within six sectors: small business, service, manufacturing, healthcare, education and nonprofit.
Groundbreaking in its day, the core competencies of the program are now widespread. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce, many U.S. states and 60 other countries have adopted the Baldrige Criteria to create similar programs at home. The European Quality Award is modeled on Baldrige Criteria, adding two additional layers for social and environmental community. 
How Can A Brand Improve Itself?
The Baldrige Performance Excellence Program criteria reflect an evolution from a focus on service and product to a broader, strategic focus on overall organizational quality, called performance excellence.
In other words, don’t just build a better mousetrap (product). Do so with a good roadmap (leadership, vision, planning) examining the means to reach the ends (training, education, management) and keep a happy workforce (engagement, performance) and customers (quality, profit).
The Baldrige Criteria guide a company through examination within seven areas of achievement and improvement.
- Leadership: How upper management leads the organization, and how the organization leads within the community.
- Strategic Planning: How the organization establishes and plans to implement strategic directions.
- Customer and Market Focus: How the organization builds and maintains strong, lasting relationships with customers.
- Measurement, Analysis, and Knowledge Management: How the organization uses data to support key processes and manage performance.
- Human Fesource Focus: How the organization empowers and involves its workforce.
- Process Management: How the organization designs, manages and improves key processes.
- Business/Organizational Performance Results: How the organization performs in terms of customer satisfaction, finances, human resources, supplier and partner performance, operations, governance and social responsibility, and how the organization compares to its competitors.
Companies applying for a Baldrige Award go through self-assessment as a first step. It’s a framework that empowers an organization to understand its own strengths and weaknesses, improve, reach goals, become more competitive. A good number of companies in the Baldrige circle indicate that this process — and the trained Examiner who leads them through it — is the most useful aspect of the program, award or no award.
Evaluate to Elevate
When you evaluate your organization from a branding perspective, you’ll compare your own performance with best practices across brand profiling, brand strategy, brand alignment, brand communication, brand execution, and additional markers. As a Baldrige Examiner would do for an applicant in that program, we can guide you through the brand audit process, make recommendations and work with you to elevate your brand.
These two companies won the Baldrige Award. Of the 23 small businesses to earn the quality prize since 1987, K&N Management did it in 2010. Ritz-Carlton is the only winner in lodging…and they achieved it twice.
K&N Management: The Love of Excellence
K&N Management is a small Austin-based operator of burger and BBQ restaurants in eight Texas locations.
What is the world “management” doing in the name of a burger, fries and shakes outfit? As one of only two restaurant companies to win the National Quality Award, K&N’s website tells the story of the family behind the grill.
It’s more than flipping burgers; they have a vision and brand values:
- Mission: “To Guarantee Every Guest is Delighted Because of Me”
- Vision: “To Become World Famous By Delighting One Guest at a Time”
- Core Values: “Excellence – Quality – Integrity – Relationships”
- Key Business Drivers: “Food Quality – Speed of Service – Cleanliness – Texas Hospitality℠ – Accuracy – Team Members – Value”
At K&N Management, they make leaders. Training courses are offered for each step up the career ladder, such as “How to Create Effective Internal Communications.” The career progression ladder — with salary expectations — is shared with employees (and the public). It looks like they’re doing the unimaginable: inspiring fast food workers, retaining staff, creating community, promoting from within.
Image via www.knmanagement.com
Visit the website to see more about the employee volunteerism being fostered by K&N Management, including Gold Recognition for Community Impact. The recognition that comes with that certificate held high for the camera is accompanied by peer support, kudos from management, family and company pride in addition to the important volunteer work itself.
Image via www.knmanagement.com
“Our guests can expect Texas Hospitality℠ at each of our restaurants: Rudy’s Austin and Mighty Fine Burgers, Fries & Shakes,” is the statement of pride from the same folks who can claim “Awarded the Highest Presidential Honor.”
Ritz-Carlton Hotels: Lasting Success
Ritz-Carlton operates 89 luxury properties in 29 countries with 35,000 employees.
Founded in 1983, within three years, Ritz-Carlton was named best hotel group with only five hotels. In the fall of 1992, with 23 hotels under management, Ritz-Carlton became the first hotel company to win a Baldrige Award. “We realized the award criteria could serve as a road map for quality improvement,” said Patrick Mene of Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company.
America’s Ivy League Cornell University School of Hotel Administration built a case study around the Ritz-Carlton’s 1992 success, only to witness the company, now with 36 hotels, collecting the service category Baldrige Award from the president of the United States for an unprecedented second win in 1999.
Image via www.ritzcarlton.com
Did the lessons learned from the process of self-assessment and improvement stick? In July 2015, J.D. Powers and Associates released the results of their 19th annual satisfaction survey of 62,000 North American hotel guests. Number one in luxury hotels: Ritz-Carlton.
How are the lessons learned from the process being shared across brands? The Ritz-Carlton Leadership Centre is now the place where executives from other companies worldwide in many disciplines come to learn The Ritz-Carlton principles of service.
Clearly, even in a five-star hotel, not everyone’s job is a glamorous one, yet every member of staff must be proud of the brand. The Ritz-Carlton brand motto rings in the ears of many hoteliers: “We are Ladies and Gentlemen Serving Ladies and Gentlemen.”
Former founding President and COO of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company L.L.C., Horst Schutze, explained, “’Ladies and Gentleman’ has two values to us. Of course, the first is the expression of our expectations of our employees, from the president to the vice president to the last housekeeper or dishwasher. It expresses to them an expectation of how to behave, look and so on. At the same time it expresses a promise to the same group that they all are important to this organization. Their jobs may be different, but they’re equal. They are in service but aren’t servants.”
Remembering that Total Quality Management intrinsically promotes brand, and likewise to brand, it is an integrated philosophy embodied by everyone with whom it engages. Here are a few takeaways from the case study of the original Ritz-Carlton win:
- Commit to Quality: This requires support throughout the organization and must be actively led from the top.
- Focus on Customer Satisfaction: Customers know what quality looks like to them, and the company must meet and exceed expectations.
- Assess Organizational Structure: A good, long, honest look inside the company must focus on its culture and identify any places where organizational structure could impede the drive for performance excellence.
- Empower Employees and Teams: Adequate training is required so that empowered staff and teams can implement best practice from the bottom-up.
- Measure Quality Efforts: It is critical to gauge efforts toward superior employee performance, streamlined decision-making, supplier responsiveness and improved customer satisfaction.
Learning, improvement and quality are integral to any successful brand, particularly one that goes after a competitive award that’s a good fit for the brand. The Malcolm Baldrige Award is estimated to have an ROI of 820-to-1. Can you identify a suitable crowning achievement that your brand might also pursue?
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So what do you think?
• Can you identify a suitable crowning achievement that your brand might go after?
• Are there any community, local, regional brand awards that you’d like to earn? Go for it!
• Have you crafted a mission statementand a vision for the future of your brand through your brand profiling?
• Do you perform an annual brand audit and SWAT analysis for your business?
• How does your organization create exceptional brand experiences and recognize outstanding customer-facing performance?
• How does your organization recognize and reward exceptional employee performance ‘behind-the-scenes’ so that peers are aware too?
Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments, we’d love to hear from you.
 American Society for Quality