Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Looking for a few good small businesses

Tom Mauro is looking for a few good small businesses that want to make themselves better.

Mauro, a retired banker, is CEO of Colorado Performance Excellence, a largely volunteer organization celebrating it's 10th anniversary this year, an anniversary marking a decade-long effort to improve other Colorado business organizations.

Make them better.

The tool CPEx uses for improving both nonprofit and for-profit business organizations is the criteria for winning a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award, which for me has always been a mouthful.

After 10 years, the award remains a mouthful, but for two Colorado business organizations, the award is a mark of national recognition and source of pride.

Poudre Valley Health Systems in Fort Collins won the national award for health in 2008 and the Monfort College of Business at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley won the award for education in 2004.

The Monfort school, with a staff of about 50 people when it won, was the smallest organization to ever win the award from Colorado, Mauro said, but he is looking for small businesses to hook up with his program so he can improve on that record.

"Job growth is going to come from small businesses," Mauro said, "and if we're going to be a service to the State of Colorado, we really need to focus on figuring out how to get them involved" in Colorado Performance Excellence.

But Mauro knows getting involved in a Baldrige application, either for a state or a national award, or, more simply, merely for the feedback on your organization's performance, requires a small-business owner's significant investment of time and money, and that the prospect of making that investment is a disincentive to the owner.

"It's more or less: 'We just don't have the resources to take the time to do this,'" Mauro said, describing the typical small-business owner's response to the CPEx pitch. "I mean, they may not say that to us directly," he said, "but we know that's why they don't get involved."

Yet Mauro will also willingly tell you how to get a free copy of the Baldrige criteria from either his own CPEx website or the Baldrige award site,

"As a small-business owner, you're the one that has to think about all these things, and when you're trying to meet the payroll and do whatever it is that you do, either run a small fast-food organization or a small manufacturing firm doing biotech, you have to think about all these things. One of the best uses of this criteria is for small business to use it as a business plan."

The criteria, for example, ask you a series of questions about how you engage your customers with your product or service: "How do you identify and innovate product offerings to meet the requirements and exceed the expectations of your customer groups and market segments?" By answering the question, a business owner gains a perspective on how well his or her organization is performing, and at the same time, automatically compares the organization with national standards because the question is derived from Baldrige national standards of performance.

It takes a lot of work and a lot of time to prepare truthful answers to such rigorous self-examination. But if you sign up for Mauro's program (fees for a small business can range from about $1,000 to $3,000), a batch of volunteer examiners will go over the answers and visit your business to provide "feedback" on how to make your business better.

Mauro admits that CPEx and the national Baldrige awards have a reputation for serving large businesses with the resources to spend on such self-improvement, even when an award can provide an almost immeasurable amount of prestige as a return on an applicant's investment.

But an economic recession can bother even national "quality" programs, and Mauro's statewide board recently agreed that the group had to figure out how to deliver its products to small businesses in order to keep its own operations sustainable.

If you are interested, call or e-mail him at 303-893-2739 or

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