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May 2011


What Is Meaningful Use?

Many of you from the health care sector may think at first glance that this column deals with meaningful use of electronic health records. That is not the case. This month I am exploring the concept of meaningful use in regard to the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence. My thoughts on this topic were triggered by two recent experiences. The first was musing about the 2.5 million Web page views of the Baldrige Criteria in the last 12 months and thinking about what constitutes a brief visit versus a meaningful use of the Criteria booklet. The second experience was a recent conversation I had with someone who was feeling guilty about doing “stealth Baldrige.” What he meant was that he was implementing the Baldrige Criteria as a guide for his own performance as a senior leader. I responded that his application of the Criteria to his performance was great, and, if he is getting value from this use, it is not at all stealthy in my mind. The upshot of these two experiences was some further thinking on my part about how many different ways an organization or one of its leaders might make “meaningful use” of the Baldrige Criteria booklet.

So, based on my recent insights, I offer ten ways you might consider using the Baldrige Criteria booklet. While complexity increases generally as you move down the list, some of the uses could be undertaken in parallel, and there is no requirement to complete one level of use before advancing to a more in-depth use of the Criteria.

  1. Read the Criteria booklet, and use it as a general resource on organizational performance improvement. Different sections of the booklet may give you ideas about improving your organization or thinking in a different way, giving you a fresh frame of reference.

  2. Study the 11 Criteria core values and concepts. They are a set of beliefs and behaviors that are embedded in the Baldrige Criteria and found in high-performing organizations. Consider how your organization measures up in relation to these core values. Are there any improvements you should be making?

  3. Use the Organizational Profile. This section is a preface to the Criteria and asks some basic questions about your operating environment, key relationships, and strategic and competitive environments. There are two ways to use this section: first, see if you can answer these basic questions about your business or organization; second, actually answer the questions to the best of the ability of your leadership team. For many organizations, this second approach serves as a first Baldrige self-assessment. Fully answering the questions to your own satisfaction may take a year or more of self-examination, improvement, and clarification of who you are as an organization. Once you have a completed Organizational Profile, share it with your entire staff. It’s a great communication vehicle. Also consider it in new-employee orientation. What a great way to help new employees understand their workplace “family”!

  4. Is there a particular area in which you could use some guidance or process rigor? You might use one category of the Criteria to guide that effort. Do you lack a process for strategic planning and need a way to begin? See category 2, Strategic Planning. Are you looking for a more holistic approach to building customer relationships? See category 3, Customer Focus. Are you looking only at financial performance at the leadership level and need a balanced approach to reviewing all important results? See category 7, Results. You also can do a self-assessment against one category (see point 8 below).

  5. Are you looking to use a simple outline of a holistic performance management system? You can accomplish this at several levels with the Baldrige Criteria. For starters, you can look at category and item titles and see if you are considering all of these dimensions in establishing your leadership system and in measuring performance. Going a little deeper, you can look at the two additional levels of information in the Criteria by looking at titles for the next two subdivisions: the areas to address and the titled paragraphs below each area to address. At any time, if more explanation is desired, you can peruse the detailed questions in those paragraphs.

  6. As a leader, you can use the full set of Criteria questions as a personal guide to help you consider everything that is important in leading your enterprise. Are there blind spots that you have not considered? Are there areas where you should be placing additional emphasis? Are you trying to accomplish a change but want to make sure it isn’t done in a siloed (compartmentalized) way that would negatively impact another important organizational consideration? Consult the Criteria booklet’s Glossary of Key Terms to enhance your understanding of Criteria meanings.

  7. Review the scoring guidelines. They are a great guide to help you assess your organizational maturity, especially when used in conjunction with the figures on “Steps Toward Mature Processes” and “An Analogy for Learning: From Fighting Fires to Innovation.”

  8. Do a self-assessment of a category in which you know you need improvement. Develop responses to the individual questions in the category. Refer to the item notes and the item descriptions to guide your thoughts. Your responses can be developed with your leadership team at a retreat and can be recorded on flip charts or in written prose similar to what might be in a Baldrige Award application. Then assess your strengths and opportunities for improvement, and develop action plans. Remember to build on your strengths as well as tackle your improvement opportunities. Be aware that this kind of focused assessment does not allow you to learn about key linkages between your chosen category and the other Criteria items. Frequently these linked improvements yield the most significant results. The seven Criteria categories are highly integrated to give a systems perspective that could be suboptimized by a focus on only one category.

  9. Do a full self-assessment against all the Criteria. Use the guidance given in point 8.

  10. Submit an award application to your state or local Baldrige-based program or to the national Baldrige Performance Excellence Program. Use the feedback report you get as a way to prioritize opportunities for building on strengths and addressing improvement needs. Use the feedback in your strategic planning process.

While this Insights column provides a discrete set of ten options, I am sure other uses of the Criteria booklet are possible. You may also find opportunities to combine pieces of these ten approaches and tailor them to your needs. Whatever you do, make it “meaningful,” and stop to gauge your progress. And celebrate your successes along the journey!

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Dr. Harry Hertz, Director
Baldrige Performance Excellence Program

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