The upcoming blog series will include step by step suggestions for BSC development, implementation, and execution taken from the whitepaper, “The Balanced Scorecard Refresh – Lessons from 25+ Years in the Field,” authored by Mario Bognanno, Ryan Englund, and Randy Russell. This blog series will culminate in the release of the whitepaper and live webinar: What I Wish I knew Before I Started My Balanced Scorecard Program.
The Balanced Scorecard should be used to gain maximum benefit. Best practices about the strategy review meeting and the stage of strategy execution known as reporting and analysis are reviewed. To set the stage for the discussion of the strategy review meeting, it is differentiated from two other meetings that are used to review performance: the unit or department strategy review meeting and the strategy refresh meeting.
Popular folklore suggests that strategic plans, once written, tend to collect dust on the shelf. Best practices for successful strategy execution require the discipline of having periodic review sessions where the strategy—based on the use of the Balanced Scorecard—is reviewed in a leadership meeting that is interactive, problem-focused, and data driven. These are the characteristics of a successful strategy-review process:
1. The enterprise level strategy review meetings should be held quarterly by the leadership team and should be facilitated by the strategy management officer (SMO). As a prelude to this quarterly review, the cascaded units (and/or departments) should review their scorecards or department-level objectives monthly. This sequencing allows input to the organizational-level scorecard and provides an early warning system identifying problems or trends that cannot wait until the next quarterly strategy review meeting. This assumes the cascading process identifies and manages the drivers of the organization level objectives.
2. The strategy review meeting must become the equivalent of the traditional leadership meeting. These leaders own the meeting and the action items that come out of it. This means that the discussion, the assigning of accountability for follow up and, ultimately, the results are theirs. Ownership is not delegated to the meeting facilitator or any other functional leader. The unit leaders own the strategy and are both individually and collectively responsible for strategy execution.
3. Stewardship for monitoring, reporting and recommending changes to the strategy can be delegated to individual members of the leadership team. These leaders can be made responsible for keeping the rest of the leadership team apprised of the progress of the implementation efforts. These people are responsible for monitoring objectives, measures, and initiatives within their designated areas of stewardship. However, the authority to change or modify the strategy rests with the enterprise leader and the leadership team.
4. Facilitation of the strategy review meeting, however, may be provided by a functional officer. Facilitation begins at the preparation stage: identifying hot topics, framing priority issues for discussion, ensuring that appropriate analysis is prepared and provided by subject matter experts, and helping unit leaders bring the discussion to a decision. This is an important role to play but it is not a substitute for the leader’s visible ownership of the meeting.
5. When the strategy has been cascaded, as described in the previous section, strategy review meetings are also held by teams managing subordinate units and/or departments. The management teams of these units review what they have done and what they need to do differently to support the enterprise strategy. This review becomes more focused by zeroing in on their own performance in the context of their unit’s strategic lead measures.
Successful strategy review meetings provide answers to important questions such as:
- Did we execute the plan?
- What happened?
- Why do we think that happened?
- What alternatives are there?
- What do we think would happen?
- Which is the best choice?
One of the main outputs of the strategy review meeting should be an action log. The action log contains the actions agreed upon during meetings, the milestones for those actions, and accountability for future progress and results. Strategy review meetings will enable organizations to achieve higher levels of performance management, to evaluate their own results, and to make decisions that will improve their strategies at least quarterly rather than only once per year.
Social technology, applied internally, can improve the effectiveness of strategy review meetings (see the Telefonica Online Strategy Meeting sidebar). By starting a strategy meeting online in advance, the meeting itself can be much more fruitful. After the meeting, output and next steps can be posted in the forums for easy reference and collaboration.
Unit/department strategy review meetings are normally held monthly and review recent divisional, functional, and financial performance of an organization. The strategic focus of these review meetings is on diagnosing recent operational results as they effect the drivers of the strategy. And, to identify and recommend changes required to the leadership team. The main topics covered during such meetings are:
- Review of current department/unit performance
- Review strategic initiatives for which they participate
- Identify Unit issues that will impact the strategy
Next, focus turns to the type of reporting and analysis that can be performed using the Balanced Scorecard.
When planning any meeting that will leverage the Balanced Scorecard it is important to ensure that all relevant and available data is analyzed in advance of the meeting. In the early months of using the Balanced Scorecard not all desired measurement data are likely to be available.
Nevertheless, the reporting of accurate and timely data is critical to success and proper analysis and reporting of all available data will be helpful in establishing the integrity of the process. However, having access to good data on a timely basis is a necessary but not sufficient condition to achieve the full promise of any strategy.
The real value in the reporting process is using the data (evidence) to provide analysis and recommendations that keeps the strategy relevant and focused on the future. Two best practices should be kept in mind concerning this stage of execution:
Delegate and distribute scorecard reporting to those who are most knowledgeable and closest to the activity being measured. They will likely be at the operations level in the organization. This is where day-to-day operational activities take place and the ability to leverage their knowledge and insights may become a strategy execution differentiator.
The ability of the leadership team to get the data, to conduct analysis, and generate recommendations from those who know best is the secret sauce for achieving performance breakthroughs when using the Balanced Scorecard. Analysis and recommendations are part of the reporting process that allows the leadership team to learn and adapt.
The strategic learning process has enabled organizations to maintain their competitive advantage in an ever-changing world by adapting faster than their competitors. Drs. Kaplan and Norton describe these strategic benefits as the execution premium.
These meetings occur, typically, once per year and are used to validate the strategy itself. They are commonly held in preparation for the annual update to the strategic plan. They may take place more frequently when the organization is in the midst of a rapidly changing, highly dynamic environment. Or, they may be spread out over longer times when relative stability is occurring.
The above recommendations are offered because organizations often spend a considerable amount of time and effort developing the strategy and then translating it into a Balanced Scorecard without taking it to the next step of assigning and accepting responsibility for strategy execution. Members of the leadership team may all participate in the effort. However, some undermine their own efforts when it comes to monitoring and implementation of the scorecard effort by re-creating or clinging to functional silos. They need to take it one step further by recognizing and taking accountability for achieving strategic results. As Dave Norton has said many times “Strategy is a team sport!” It’s important to appreciate this and avoid the tendency to create or re-create silos in strategy implementation.
Social technology, applied internally, can improve the effectiveness of strategy refresh meetings. By starting a strategy refresh meeting online in advance, the meeting itself can be much more fruitful. After the meeting, output and next steps can be posted in the forums for easy reference and collaboration.