The Motor Neurone Disease (MND) Association is a charity that funds and promotes global research into MND and provides support to people affected by MND in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The MND Associate has 9,000 members, over 7,000 active volunteers and around 170 paid staff, all dedicated to improving the lives of people affected by MND, now and in the future.
It is critical that the MND Association is focused on achieving outcomes for people with MND. The Association's Board of Trustees and Chief Executive recognised that delivering outcomes required everyone to be focused on organisational performance. To achieve this a sound system was needed for assessing, managing and monitoring performance against the Association's strategic goals and objectives.
The MND Association hired me to help them design and implement a strategic performance management to enable systematic review of performance to inform management decision-making and action across the Association and to enhance organisational accountability - to allow the Board of Trustees and external stakeholders to monitor progress against strategic goals.
Deciding to Map the Strategy
Clarification of the strategy is an essential prerequisite for successful performance management. Strategic maps clarify the strategic objectives by depicting the priorities of an organisation on a single page also outlining the cause-and-effect relationship between them. Strategy maps therefore help to visualize how inputs and outputs lead to desired outcomes. The senior management team decided to create a strategic map to link the outcomes it is seeking to achieve with the core activities and the inputs or resources required to deliver them.
Reaching Strategic Agreement
A number of facilitated workshops with the senior management team were used to draft and agree the strategic map. After some good debates the senior management team agreed on the strategic priorities which I then mapped into a one-page strategy map (see below)
As you can see, the map has the vision and mission at the top, underpinned by the things the organisation has to be really good at (which it called core organisational competencies) and the underpinning resources.
Validating the Strategic Map
The strategic map was validated through discussions with staff and has become an important communication tool. Managers and staff have found achieving strategic clarity through the design of the strategic map a stimulating and enlightening challenge.
Collecting Meaningful Performance Indicators
The senior management team was clear that it wanted to create a system that informed management decision-making, leading to learning and performance improvement. Previously the team made the mistake of designing performance indicators before being clear about the Association's information requirements.
This error engendered disinterest in performance measurement. Through the facilitation, the team learned that performance indicators should simply help to measure the things that matter most.
This meant tightly and directly linking the Association's indicators to their strategic goals and objectives. In addition, it was recognised that performance indicators need to capture meaningful information to enable managers track progress and gain relevant insights leading to improved performance. The team went 'back to the drawing board' and worked with staff to clearly identify what it needs to know. For that purpose, it decided to clearly articulate the questions it needed to have an answer to for each of the strategic objectives on the strategic map. It created so-called Key Performance Questions (KPQs).
Key Performance Questions
The objective was to identify between one and three KPQs for each strategic objective, which was tackled at the senior management team Away Day. Working as a group released a great deal of energy and the team quickly started coming forward with ideas. As the team wrote these on flip chart sheets they were able to see patterns and linkages emerging. You can see a list of some initial draft KPQs below.
Selecting Key Performance Indicators
The aim of the performance indicators was to provide staff with relevant performance insights to help them make better informed decisions. It was made clear from the beginning that the objective was not to 'just measure what is easy to measure' or 'measure for the sake of it'.
The focus was on the generation of meaningful and relevant insights. Indicators could therefore take the form of qualitative or quantitative information, collected through existing as well as new collection routes. Taking this mixed approach was helping to reduce bias and increase reliability. This process was described by managers and staff as energizing, empowering, exciting, and productive. Critically, it has provided a platform for managers to question assumptions about prioritization and targeting of resources.
It was recognized that in order to be meaningful every performance indicator needs a target or benchmark so that performance levels can be put into context. The Association is using a traffic light system to benchmark performance thresholds that identify the desired level of performance in a specified time frame. Stretching but achievable targets are being set through a mixture of absolute targets and proportional or percentage targets. However, because target setting relies on good information there are a number of areas in which assessments are currently based on trend analysis. Traffic lighting illustrates levels of performance, and is supported by written comments to clarify level of confidence and explain limitations of the indicators.
Coding is based on four options: green, no action required; yellow, watching brief and incremental action; amber, medium priority for action; and red is highest priority, action required.
Improved Performance Reporting
The senior management team now produce regular updates on the development of the map and the KPQs and produce board papers in strategic map form. This has transformed the nature of Board papers from reporting on activity to reporting on outcomes and impacts. Likewise, the Association is gaining experience and confidence in impact reporting through its annual return to the Charity Commission. This return now reports progress in terms of what the Association set out to achieve, and what was actually achieved. It focuses on outputs and increasingly on outcomes thereby demonstrating progress to stakeholders.
Aligning Performance Reviews
In addition to improved reporting, the Board of Trustee agendas and management meeting agendas are now shaped by the strategic map. Performance is not dealt with as a single issue agenda item any more. The intention is to ensure discussion of performance takes place in the context of key performance questions, assessment of what the level of performance means and whether action is required to make progress towards targets. The key benefit is that more Board time is now focused on strategic development and impacts and less on monitoring outputs.
Creating the Right Culture
The Association has been able to avoid a bureaucratic approach overly focused on data collection, which is often a key barrier to effective performance management. Rather, the Association's senior management team is seeking to create a culture of learning and performance improvement. In order to support this aim, the vast majority of information collected through the performance management system is available to the entire Association. The aim is to create a culture in which performance data is discussed openly and honestly, and used by everybody to take decisions that improve future performance.
Ideas and insights you can steal
The MND Association has successfully translated their strategy into a simple one-page strategy map that now articulates the key outcomes as we as the things that will drive it. It has developed meaningful KPIs by first developing KPQs and made sure the map, questions and indicators are used to improve the performance reporting and performance review processes. All of this has given the MND Association a more focused strategic plan, great indicators, and excellent performance monitoring processes, which every charity, not-for-profit, or indeed any business, would be wise to replicate.
Bernard Marr is a bestselling author, keynote speaker, and advisor to companies and governments. He has worked with and advised many of the world's best-known organisations. LinkedIn has recently ranked Bernard as one of the top 10 Business Influencers in the world (in fact, No 5 - just behind Bill Gates and Richard Branson). He writes on the topics of intelligent business performance for various publications including Forbes, HuffPost, and LinkedIn Pulse. His blogs and SlideShare presentation have millions of readers.