The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award (MBNQA) aims to improve quality management — along with overall business efficiency and performance — across all industries in the United States. This blog will break down everything you need to know about the MBNQA, including how small and medium-sized manufacturers can prepare, apply, and maximize their chances of winning.

What is the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award (MBNQA)?

To raise awareness about the importance of quality management, the MBNQA — now known as the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program — recognizes companies in the U.S. that successfully implement quality management systems. Named after Malcolm Baldrige, U.S. Secretary of Commerce during the Reagan administration, the MBNQA is awarded exclusively to companies in the U.S. but is recognized internationally.

History of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award

The MBNQA was initially passed in Congress under President Reagan’s administration to minimize further loss of American manufacturing opportunities to Japan post-World War II. 

Malcolm Baldrige strongly advocated for keeping America’s manufacturing industry competitive internationally. Realizing that quality was critical to achieving excellence in the global marketplace, the Baldrige Award recognized its first category as “manufacturing.”

The Baldrige Award is now named the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program. The shift emphasizes the tenets of continuous improvement in areas such as profitability, customer satisfaction, employee retention, and overall product or service quality.

The program gives out three MBNQA awards in each of the six categories below for a total of 18 awards:

  1. Manufacturing
  2. Service organizations
  3. Small businesses
  4. Education
  5. Healthcare
  6. Non-profit

The MBNQA program encourages excellence in all manufacturing businesses, which make up nearly 25% of the companies that apply each year.

What is the Purpose of the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award?

The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award’s purpose is to improve organization-specific business goals. Rather than strictly imposing external metrics, it recognizes organizations that meet or exceed their desired outcomes based on metrics defined by their leadership.

The MBNQA is a program that recognizes an organization’s excellence on a level playing field. Organizations are not competing against each other for an award but are developing processes to improve quality outcomes and achieve results that reflect their expertise.

The MBNQA also aims to:

  • Emphasize the role of performance in driving desired business outcomes
  • Recognize companies that pursue and achieve excellence 
  • Help other organizations achieve growth based on learnings from awardees
  • Improve quality standards across companies in the U.S.
  • Drive the growth and expansion of the U.S. economy

As a fair and innovative program, the MBNQA helps U.S. companies achieve the performance necessary to compete with other global organizations in the international marketplace.

MBNQA Benefits and Business Impact

Applying to the MBNQA helps improve your quality management and drives performance to ensure you meet customer needs in the best ways possible. The Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award benefits include comprehensive audits and national-level business recognition.

Comprehensive Business Audits

When organizations apply to the MBNQA, knowledgeable examiners will conduct objective assessments based on a set of MBNQA criteria (see below) and provide honest feedback to help the organizations optimize their business operations. The feedback provided by MBNQA examiners sets organizations on a path of continuous improvement and empowers them to make adjustments that will guarantee short-term and long-term business success.

The continuous improvement cycle then drives the optimization of business practices, ultimately increasing sales, improving customer satisfaction, and facilitating business expansion.

Business Recognition

The MBNQA recognizes excellence in business practice and showcases awardees at the national level. 

The judging process is spearheaded by the Board of Examiners, which consists of leaders from well-respected institutions across different industries. Bolstered by expert recognition, MBNQA winners are immediately considered national leaders in their industries and receive exposure to new opportunities like relationships with investors and business partners.

Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award Requirements

The MBNQA requirements measure performance, quality, and risk management processes. When organizations apply for the MBNQA, they are assessed by unbiased examiners who score assessments and provide feedback. Organizations can apply to the MBNQA every year until they earn the award, and they will receive unique feedback with each round of applications.

There are seven areas of the Baldrige Criteria for Performance Excellence assessment:

  • Leadership: Evaluation of management’s organizational and community oversight
  • Strategy: Assessment of processes informing strategic decisions and implementation
  • Customers: Examination of relationship-building with clients and customers 
  • Performance management: Assessment of data analytics in managing performance and supporting essential processes
  • Workforce: Evaluation of workforce empowerment processes
  • Operations: Assessment of critical process optimization
  • Results: Evaluation of key performance indicators in critical business areas, including human resources, customer satisfaction, governance, and social responsibility

The MBNQA assessment criteria ensure that applicants’ business practices are holistically and fairly assessed.

Applying for the California Awards for Performance Excellence (CAPE) Baldrige-Based Awards

For California manufacturers interested in the MBNQA (especially first-time applicants), applying first to the state-level awards can help develop the rigor required for MBNQA assessments at the national level. The California Council for Excellence (CCE) administers the CAPE program and prepares applicants at several levels, which we discuss in the next section.

The state-level awards help California manufacturers refine their business practices before competing nationwide with other high-performance manufacturers. 

Applying at the California State-Level 

The CCE’s premier offerings are shorter versions of the Baldrige Award, intended to minimize barriers to entry. Applicants can utilize shorter-form reporting to gauge readiness at higher levels, up to and including the full-scope Eureka award that assesses all MBNQA criteria.

The CAPE program prepares applicants at several levels and stages of maturity, including:

  • California Team Excellence Award (CTEA): Organizations who want to test the waters of the Baldrige criteria can assess individual project teams against them.
  • Organizational Profile: For organizations earlier in their performance excellence journey, assessment at this level provides useful insights into MBNQA readiness. 
  • Explorer Recognition: Organizations a step closer to the Eureka or MBNQA application can undergo an abbreviated assessment of a single MBNQA category (~10-page report).
  • Prospector Recognition: Organizations seeking a fuller application experience before MBNQA can submit the shortened but full-scope Prospector (~25-page report).
  • Eureka Award for Performance Excellence: For organizations furthest along on their journey to MBNQA application, Eureka offers a full-scope assessment covering all of the MBNQA criteria (~50-page report), assessed over a full week by 5-10 examiners.

The Eureka Award’s longer application and assessment process is the only way to be fully audited and receive the most valuable feedback on how to optimize their business practices. There are separate entry pools for organizations with ≤ or ≥ 150 employees (and another for K-12 Public Educators), and there are three distinct award levels for each: Bronze, Silver, and Gold.

Gold-Level Eureka winners are eligible to compete for the MBNQA award nationally.

Support for SMMs Applying for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award

There are several resources available to help small and medium-sized manufacturers in California prepare for, apply to and eventually win the MBNQA:

  • The CCE: Several Performance Excellence Resources are available at all levels of the CAPE program. Standouts include the Baldrige Excellence Builder and whitepapers on organizational performance management and sustainable strategy execution.
  • The American Society for Quality (ASQ): The ASQ provides opportunities to network with and learn from its members, many of whom are Baldrige examiners, and can provide feedback and related resources to help with the MBNQA application.

Beyond the above resources, working with a consulting firm such as CMTC can help California manufacturers prepare strong applications and maximize their chances of winning the MBNQA.

CMTC’s Support for Manufacturing Excellence

CMTC helps California manufacturers with all elements of their operations beyond applications for awards like the MBNQA. Our full range of consulting services can transform your business practices by driving innovation, performance, cost-effectiveness, and market-driven solutions.

With the help of CMTC, you will be better positioned to increase revenue, reduce costs, and improve employee performance. Contact us today to learn more.

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About the Author

Gregg Profozich

Gregg Profozich is a manufacturing, operations and technology executive who believes that manufacturing is the key creator of wealth in the economy and that a strong manufacturing sector is critical to our nation’s prosperity and security now, and for future generations. Across his 20-year plus career in manufacturing, operations and technology consulting, Mr. Profozich helped manufacturing companies from the Fortune 500 to the small, independents significantly improve their productivity and competitiveness.

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