Over the years, I have helped thousands of organizations across the world representing many different sectors to develop their Balanced Scorecards. In those years, I have figured out what works and what doesn’t in the process to develop and fully realize all the benefits of a Balanced Scorecard.
What is a Balanced Scorecard?
The Balanced Scorecard concept was initially introduced in a 1992 Harvard Business Review article by Robert Kaplan and David Norton. It’s a simple strategic performance framework that was voted one of the most influential business ideas of the past 75 years. The Balanced Scorecard helps organizations identify, manage and measure strategic objectives.
The Balanced Scorecard is made up of four perspectives:
- Financial: What financial objectives are there such as grow revenue and profit or achieve cost savings and efficiencies?
- Customer: Goals related to your customers and markets, such as growing market share in customer segment X, growing customer channel Y or improving overall brand awareness?
- Internal Processes: What processed do you need to excel at in order to deliver your customer and finance goals?
- Learning and Growth: This includes goals in relation to you human, information and organizational capital.
See here for more on the four BSC perspectives.
How do You Develop a Balanced Scorecard?
It’s one thing to know what a Balanced Scorecard is supposed to include, but how do you develop one in practice? The first tip to effectively develop a Balanced Scorecard is to engage people across the entire organization.
Some companies hire an outside firm to develop their Balanced Scorecard and then that firm develops it with little engagement and simply hands over the completed version at the end. In my experience, when this occurs, it’s very difficult to implement because your team doesn’t have ownership of it. It’s really important to gain insight from those on your team. In fact, most of what you need to know about your strategic goals already exists within your organization.
Interview Key Decision-Makers
In order to solicit unbiased feedback, when I work with an organization to develop a Balanced Scorecard I usually interview the top 10 to 20 key decision-makers. In those interviews, I ask them to explore questions such as what they believe are the strategic challenges and strategic focus of the organization, how they expect the company to make money in the future and what markets they want to get into. We consider the four perspectives of the Balanced Scorecard and talk about the different layers.
As a neutral party, I listen to everyone and make sure the entire organization is represented from finance to the CEO, marketing to HR to IT. This means people will have equally contributed to the process and therefore the buy-in to the Balanced Scorecard is typically much better.
The time interviewing is also helpful to be sure that there is alignment with strategic goals across the organization. I remember getting a call from the CEO of a well-known company who asked me to come in and develop a Balanced Scorecard with them. The CEO felt they were very much on the same page and only needed help to build out their strategy map. I encouraged the CEO to follow my process and convinced him that it would be more effective and efficient if I interviewed the team first before we set up meetings. The CEO agreed. What I found during my interviews was that there were actually three very different strategies and the team wasn’t in alignment as the CEO believed.
Sometimes people ask if we should get even more input such as from customer surveys and all employees to really understand our business challenges. When I worked with DHL to help create their Balanced Scorecard, that’s what we did. After I interviewed the key 20 decision-makers as outlined in my process, what I learned was that there wasn’t really anything new that came out of extra steps to solicit input from a customer survey and all employees. This experience made me believe that interviewing 10 to 20 key decision-makers who represent every business division of an organization is the process to get all the ideas and buy-in you need.
I have also found that when working with government or public sectors such as police forces, it is important to ask key partners and external stakeholders to participate to make your strategy process more effective.
Draft, Discuss and Fine-Tune the Strategy Map
After I complete the interviews, I draft a strategy map based on what I learned from the interviews. Then I facilitate a session where we discuss and fine-tune the strategy map to get group buy-in. If multiple strategies emerged from the interviews, during this session we will determine which to focus on. After the interviews and this fine-tuning session, the result is that everyone felt involved and you get a strategy that’s owned by the entire leadership team.
Communicate the Draft Strategy Map to the Larger Management Group
Once a draft strategy map is developed, it’s time to share it with the next level of management in the organization and ask, “What do you think? Does this make sense to you? What bits would you change?”
This is an opportunity to have a really powerful discussion and get the next layer of the organization involved to give input and get their buy-in as well. You not only communicate the focus but refine the strategic goals with this level’s input to create an even better version.
Define Action Plan and KPIs
The next step is to define an action plan as well as owners/owning departments for each of the goals within the next level of the organization. Then they would develop an action plan to share with the leadership team.
In parallel, you would develop key performance indicators (KPIs) that will help you track progress against your goals. Here, I also involve the key departments. For example, if you are developing customer KPIs, it is important to involve the marketing and sales teams to see what they would really like to track, where the gaps are, and what information they already have and find useful.
Some organizations choose to facilitate this process with internal personnel such as a chief strategy officer, but what I have found is that it sometimes doesn’t work as well as engaging a neutral facilitator. When I work with companies, the sessions I facilitate allow employees to be really honest, almost like counselling sessions where they can share what they truly believe works well and what isn’t working well. Sometimes bias can be introduced when this process is led by an internal team.
Developed effectively, the Balanced Scorecard is an extremely powerful management tool that will help companies focus on what really matters and then manage and monitor progress towards those goals.
Where to go from here
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