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How to have a Successful Year by Starting Simple & Staying Focused Using a Balanced Scorecard

by Kent Smack on December 12, 2023

All too often, senior leaders head into annual strategy discussions dreading the challenge. After all, coming up with over-arching strategic objectives for the year can be a difficult task. If you are one of the lucky people who participate in this annual effort, great! This blog post is for you.

I’ll open by making an observation. And this is by no means intended to be disrespectful or insulting. The fact is a lot of organizations take the easy way out by taking last year’s strategy, updating the date, and calling it this year’s strategy. Sure, you may drop or add an objective, but the end result is more of the same. Which might mean that you are on a tremendous growth path and there’s no need to disrupt what’s currently working. But more typically this means that objectives aren’t being met and the organization isn’t making progress. But, hey, there’s a strategy!

Even worse, some companies may choose to go forward with short-term operational goals and monthly targets alone (often heavily financially focused) with no true strategy to rally behind at all. As you might imagine, there are lots of negative impacts of being so operationally focused. But we’ll save that for another blog.

As we have witnessed over the past 30 years, these approaches are flawed and don’t actually produce a lot of positive results. So, let’s fix that!


Why Some Objectives Fail

Before we get into the deeper discussion, let’s first acknowledge that some of your objectives fail to become realized. So, why is that?

Common Causes for Failed Objectives Include:

  • Too many objectives – if you attempt to make everything a priority, then nothing is
  • Too complex – objectives that involve too many factors can confuse your employees
  • Unclear desired outcomes – objectives need to have measurable outcomes
  • Lack of leadership participation – without senior leadership actively engaged in reaching the objectives, it becomes difficult to keep everyone focused
  • Broken communication – big meetings once a year aren’t effective. True, effective communication is frequent (7 times, 7 ways), transparent, and collaborative

Any one of these issues can lead to failure. Keep these causes in mind while planning out next year’s strategy.


Start By Assessing Last Year’s Results

Look at each objective independently, one at a time. Review the initial intent and the stated desired results. Was the objective achieved? Were the goals met? This is important, so be honest with yourself and take a real look at each objective from the top-down.

getting started with BSC process blog CTADid you, the senior leadership team, clearly define what is to be accomplished and what needs to be measured to demonstrate this?

Was an initiative defined and implemented with the appropriate resources allocated (funding, staff and time) to achieve the objective?

Next, take a look at how the objective is represented on your scorecard.

Does the top-level scorecard properly connect and align with the scorecard used by next level down the org chart? Are the department leaders’ scorecards built to contribute to accomplishing your corporate objectives? Do they have KPIs and measures that roll up and contribute to yours? Do any of their SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound) objectives divert time, focus, and effort away from accomplishing the strategic objective you’ve defined?

Finally, does your organization have scorecards that permeate all levels and in all departments? Since the majority of the day-to-day efforts are tasked to the associate level employees, they too need specific metrics and goals that tie back to and roll up to your corporate scorecard.

Ultimately, what’s key to assess is whether last year was a success. Was it? Which objectives were met? Which were not? And for those objectives that were not met, at what time during the past year did the failed objectives begin having difficulties? Were there any external factors causing the missed objectives? Which were uncontrollable and which were within your and your team’s control? Will those same influences be present in the coming year?

So, heading into the next year, carefully review this year’s objectives, tweak as necessary and as you develop new objectives ensure that they are easily understood, realistically achievable, and that the appropriate resources are allocated in order to give them the best opportunity to succeed.


Moving Forward with Simplicity and Focus

To improve overall chances of accomplishing major objectives, dedication and focus are required throughout the year. To tip the balance in your favor, it is wise to follow the “less is more” adage. So, in the effort to keep things simple, limit your total number of objectives. Although there is no magic number, we recommend having no more than a dozen. If your organization is new at this approach, start with perhaps even fewer. You can always add more if you declare victory on them during the year.

In addition to setting a limit on the number of objectives, determine which of the existing objectives are legitimate and can be carried over from last year. Knowing that you have a cap on the total count, this may take some lively discussions and compromise. That’s not a bad thing! When faced with these self-imposed limitations it will force prioritization and leave you with only those objectives of greatest importance.

If you’re still unsure of which objectives to keep, do an analysis of each in the context of timing, hours required, resources needed, and budget necessary to realistically hit the goals. Weigh the effort against the impact and you’ll discover which objectives can be tabled for later.

Operationalize your Strategy to Maintain Enthusiasm and Focus

Many companies start by creating a scorecard-centric approach to strategy management and execution. Having clearly defined objectives, measures and initiatives from the top down with cascading scorecards at a departmental level can make the difference between success and failure. This alignment ensures everyone is striving to achieve the same goals while promoting a team-driven, performance-based culture.

To support this process, establish structured meetings at a pre-scheduled cadence (quarterly or maybe monthly depending on your organizational needs) to review ongoing performance. And follow a standardized meeting agenda with predefined expectations for all contributors for the process. This will help to simplify the effort to prepare for each meeting ensuring that team members are able to assemble timely and accurate data, performance analysis and recommendations needed to drive action-oriented, outcome-driven discussions. These meetings will emphasize transparency and are designed to share and discuss progress as well as shortcomings.

In the end, operationalizing your strategy will help the team execute, reflect on what’s working and what’s not, celebrate successes and course correct as necessary. A repeatable, transparent scorecard and recurring review process will help senior leadership make timely, data-backed adjustments to focus, scope, and resource allocations based on actual performance against agreed upon targets. This commitment to strategic performance and the results that are derived is well worth the effort.

Good luck!


Topics: Balanced Scorecards Business Strategy Strategic Planning organization alignment initiative prioritization

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