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Confession: Before last week, if you’d have asked me what the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award (MBNQA) is, I’d have a pretty weak response. I knew that it was really hard to get one. That’s about it.

For those of you out there who are like I was, here is a brief synopsis. The MBNQA is for rock stars only; all others need not apply. It recognizes organizations for performance excellence. Excellence isn’t a term used lightly. In fact, only two restaurant organizations have ever received the MBQNA – Pal’s and K&N Management (Rudy’s BBQ & Mighty Fine Burgers). It is awarded by the President of The United States and administered by the Baldrige Performance Excellence Program.

The MBNQA is pretty intense. As Gini Quiroz and Danielle Robinson of K&N Management described in their session at Summer Brand Camp, they had to restructure and tighten up processes across the board. When they began this journey, the end goal wasn’t necessarily to win the award, but they wanted to utilize the program to close the gap between where they were and that standard of excellence. This meant changing standards on what was deemed acceptable. I love that their attitude wasn’t, “We need to do this so we can win an award.” It was, “We want to strive for excellence always, and this is the tool we are going to use as a benchmark.”

K&N systematically assessed each of their processes to identify how they could be improved. The Baldrige Program has a great framework that, as Gini described it, is really all about knowledge – knowing where you are and where you want to go.

  • Leadership – Know who you are
  • Strategy – Know where you are going
  • Customers – Know what they are saying
  • Measurement – Know how you’re performing
  • Workforce – Know who defines the brand
  • Operations – Know what needs to be done

The strategy and leadership demonstrated by this team is really incredible. So many of us can use excuses for lowering our standards. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought, “This way would be better, but I don’t have the time to set that up.” K&N has a zero tolerance policy on keeping their standards of excellence high. This didn’t happen overnight. It took several years of implementing small changes, reinforcing those standards, then implementing a few more small changes. In order to ensure these standards stay high, everything (and I mean, EVERYTHING) gets measured.

This session was so tactically informative and strategically inspiring. Excellence is in reach, and there are resources out there to give you a framework for improvement if you’re willing to put in the work to achieve it. Hopefully soon we can add a few more restaurant companies to the list of MBNQA recipients.