In 2010, NestlÃ© Purina PetCare was one of seven organizations that earned the prestigious Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. Named after a US Department of Commerce secretary who served under President Ronald Reagan, the award is given annually to organizations that prove they meet stringent criteria for excellence and continuous improvement in seven areas: leadership, strategic planning, customer focus, measurement, analysis and knowledge management, workforce focus, process management and results.
The National Institute of Standards and Technology, part of the Commerce Department, administers the Baldrige program and issues the annual awards to organizations in categories that include manufacturing, service, small business, healthcare, education and nonprofit.
Applying for the award is by itself quite a rigorous process, starting with a 50-page application. The judges—called examiners, all of whom are volunteers—undergo hours of training. The judging process even includes an on-site visit (for each applicant that makes it that far) so the examiners can verify the organization “walks the talk” of its application.
The entire point of the program—and some organizations use it without even submitting an award application—is to continuously improve and deliver better results to the organization's stakeholders: owners, investors, customers, employees and relevant communities. Many states have similar award programs that often feed into the national program.
NestlÃ© Purina PetCare Co. won the award in the manufacturing category. The Baldrige examiners specifically cited the company for its revenue and market share financial results, brand awareness, strategic planning process, employee programs and community service. Highlights include:
- In unaided brand awareness—the percentage of dog and cat owners who were able to spontaneously mention NestlÃ© Purina as a petfood company—it scored more than two times as high as its nearest competitor, 66% to 31% in 2009. Also in 2009, the company was rated the most trusted petfood manufacturer, 54% vs. 44% for its nearest competitor;
- The St. Louis Business Journal named NestlÃ© Purina a best place to work in St. Louis in both 2009 and 2010; in fact, the company’s aggregate measure from 2008-2010 set the benchmark for the city; and
- The company’s community service projects encompassed donations of US$10 million to various animal shelters, US$6 million to the American Kennel Club’s Canine Health Foundation, US$50,000 and 85,000 pounds of petfood to 2008 Midwest flood relief efforts and 80,000 pounds of petfood and 48 pallets of litter to hurricane victims.
In an early February 2011 interview with Petfood Industry, Terry Block, president of NestlÃ© Purina PetCare North America, talked about the company’s Baldrige application process.
Petfood Industry (PI): What prompted NestlÃ© Purina PetCare to pursue applying for the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award? Can you please explain the reasons and briefly describe your company’s journey toward earning the award?
Terry Block (TB): Actually, we didn’t set out to earn the award. We applied for the Malcolm Baldrige Award because I was made aware that, for a reasonable fee, and if you were willing to really do the work to fill out the form, which is rather intense, you would be able to get great feedback on your business practices. Once you document your business practices and results, you're able to receive objective and professional feedback from the Baldrige examiners through your application. We felt such feedback would enable us to benchmark ourselves against other high-performing companies. And it’s that feedback about how we would improve our business practices that most interested us.
PI: So this was the first time you’d ever applied?
TB: Yes. It’s the first time we applied, and again, we did it because we were interested in learning how we could improve our business practices. The examiners are a very professional group who provide a detailed assessment of your submission for further action.
PI: Yes, I have a fair amount of familiarity with the Baldrige process from a previous job, so I know it’s quite a rigorous process, and many companies use it just as a part of their continuous improvement efforts and don’t even come close to receiving an award. The fact that you earned the award the first time you applied is quite an achievement.
TB: Right.We set out because we wanted the continuous improvement effort. And obviously, it moved beyond that. We had the site visit from about eight to 10 examiners here for a complete week of one-on-one interviews. They visited our plants as part of a final process. Then we got a call the week of Thanksgiving that we were one of the recipients, which is quite rewarding to all of our associates.
PI: What did you learn in particular? Were there any surprises in what you learned?
TB: Well, I would say we were really more interested in the journey over the last 15 to 17 years of working on our business practices, trying to benchmark ourselves against what we perceived as other high-performing companies and just striving to get better. And what I realized through it is that it really is a journey, as opposed to one big effort to receive a Baldrige. I think it’s probably best to build a continuous improvement mindset into the DNA of the company, as opposed to having a bunch of experts on Baldrige correcting what you need to do to earn an award. And we believe it's this mindset that's going to allow us to always compete in an effective manner and outperform.
PI: Can you give any specific examples in how that’s shown in the results for your company?
TB : We’re very pleased with the results we’ve had over the past decade, and our market share has been improving. We improved every one of our segments for the past several years.
PI: It sounds like you’ve been on this journey for a long time, so most of the feedback probably is just helping you improve even more, but I was just wondering if there was something that leaped out at you that you hadn’t considered before, any surprises?
TB: No! The surprise is that we received the award. Certainly we were very pleased, but I would say there were no real surprises. Given we’d been on this journey for 17 years, we thought we had designed very good practices and capabilities across the board and certainly across the measurements that Baldrige measures. We benchmarked these against other companies that may have received the Baldrige Award as we worked to build a continuous improvement mindset into the fabric of the company.