Cleaning services don’t vary that much from one company to another, but what does differentiate building service contractors is their level of service quality. That’s why BSCs on the cutting edge have turned to programs such as ISO 9000, an international service quality

standard that requires a hefty financial and operational commitment, but pays off in its service improvement and general prestige. Yet, ISO certification isn’t the only well-regarded program contractors may want to consider to help them stand out against the competition.

Initiated in 1987 by the United State’s Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology, the Malcolm Baldrige Award is a public/private partnership that has been called the Nobel Prize of business, because it recognizes overall organizational excellence.

Only 41 companies, large and small, have received the award to date. Applicants for this award are judged in seven categories including leadership, strategic planning, customer and market focus, information and analysis, human resources focus, process management and business results.

The award came about when economic conditions in the United States were faltering, and it was felt that a national award could be created to encourage quality and to recognize overall organizational excellence, explains Harry Hertz, director of the program. The program was created in law as a public-private partnership, and there is a government office that administers the award, but all the reviewers of the award applications are volunteers. The U.S. Secretary of Commerce appoints these board members for three-year terms, and they come from business, industry, health and education backgrounds.

The award is considered a benchmark for organizations across the country, and Hertz says it takes a major dedication to quality to even apply for the award.

Between 40 and 50 companies apply for the National Baldrige Award each year, but many more apply for similar, state-run awards.

Organizations interested in applying for a Baldrige have a formidable challenge, Hertz says. Applicants receive a booklet called, Criteria for Performance Excellence which provides detailed standards for judging companies in the competition. There also is an application fee that could cost up to $5,000.

The first step in applying includes filling out a 50-page written application, which covers everything from business plans and employee training methods to customer and supplier partnership strategies. After the committee reviews all of the applications, about half the companies make the cut into the next round. The second round is a consensus review, where examiners conduct a conference call and decide which companies, about one-third of those included in the consensus review, will become finalists. All finalists are subjected to an in-depth, on-site review that can take up to a week.

Puttin’ on the Ritz
One such company that has stood out even among the elite group that has won the award, is the Ritz -Carlton Hotel Co., an Atlanta-based chain of high-end hotels and resorts.

The only two-time winner of this award, the Ritz-Carlton, has taken the standards from this prestigious award and transformed them into a level of quality that filters down to every aspect of the Ritz-Carlton’s operation —including basic maintenance and cleaning jobs, says John McGaunn, executive assistant manager of rooms at the company’s Boston location.

"Our excellence program starts with the selection process because we hire people who care about other people. I can teach you how to make a bed but I can’t teach you how to smile and be nice and that is our philosophy," says McGaunn. "We do daily line ups with the ladies and gentlemen who work for us and talk about our philosophy every day."

Sometimes it’s the simple management techniques that work the best and that’s what has helped Ritz-Carlton. It’s also possible, says Timmerman for any company no matter how big or small to set high standards and go for a Baldrige.

One of Timmerman’s greatest tips for quality management — no matter what kind of business is involved — is to make every opportunity to bring employees into the decision making process. Also, all employee expectations should be clear.

An intensive, two-day orientation is mandatory for a new employees, adds John Timmerman, corporate director of quality improvement for Ritz-Carlton. The orientation helps set the tone for expectations and incorporates the same winning quality that helped the company garner two Baldrige awards.

Also, yearly training and an awards program that offers incentives also works to keep quality at a high level, McGaunn says.

While the actual Baldrige award is a crystal statue from Steuben glass, award recipients know the symbolism of the award stretches far beyond a decorative piece.

"The greatest benefit comes from self assessment and from learning about the organization," says Hertz. "The feedback report prepared by the people reviewing [the application] also is very helpful, and the third benefit from the award is the recognition the award does bring your business in the community."

For more information regarding the award and past recipients, visit the Baldrige National Quality Program web site or call (301) 975-2036.

Kris Radish is a business writer based in Oconomowoc, Wis.