International Quality Award Models: Innovation Enablers or Inhibitors?


  • Rick Edgeman Fort Hays State University
  • Jacob Eskildsen Aarhus University



breakthrough improvement, excellence models, incremental improvement, sustainable development goals


Historical development of models and criteria supporting major international quality awards is driven more by continuous or incremental improvement than by breakthrough improvement. This has been the case in particular relative the most enduring such awards - the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM) Business Excellence Award, America’s Baldrige National Quality Award for Performance Excellence (MBNQA), and the Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence. In possible contrast are initiatives such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) and the imputed urgency for improvement, innovation and change associated with these, due in large to the sheer scope and magnitude of change needed – especially with respect to societal or environmental challenges. While sufficiently rapid iteration across a large enough number of cycles has the potential of rivaling the magnitude of innovation attained through a focus on breakthrough improvement, such an approach is unlikely to precisely match the destination of innovation attained through breakthrough improvement approaches. One significant reason is that incremental improvements often target minor course corrections with well-defined trajectories, whereas breakthrough efforts target larger strides with more mystery between the point of origination and the targeted destination. Differences in these approaches impact products and services reaching the market in many ways, hence impacting their marketplace performance. Among differences of note are ones in the natures of the product or service brought to market, the timing of their market arrival, the levels of creativity and innovation required, design innovations introduced, consumer receptivity and perception of iteration vs. innovation, perceived impact, consumer perception of the company, and – not to be ignored – risk and reward elements. Questions explored herein are whether the models and criteria used by international quality award frameworks enable innovation and entre-intrapreneurship, inhibit these, or are innovation and entre-intrapreneurial neutral. Similarly, the impact of the UN SDGs in relation to innovation are discussed.

Author Biographies

Rick Edgeman, Fort Hays State University

Dr Rick Edgeman is professor & chair of management at Fort Hays State University, USA and professor of sustainability & enterprise performance at Aarhus University Denmark. He is an academician of the International Academy of Quality, an American Society for Quality, Japanese Union of Scientists and Engineers, and European Organisation for Quality “ hall of fame.

Jacob Eskildsen, Aarhus University

Dr Jacob Eskildsen is professor & head of management at Aarhus University, Denmark. He earned the PhD in quality management from Aarhus University in 2005. He is the editor of Total Quality Management & Business Excellence, published by Taylor & Francis. His main research areas are quality management, partial least squares models, and sustainability modelling.