Get a jump on the benefits and considerations the Balanced Scorecard holds.
Unlike financial or HR management, organizations frequently talk about organizational performance (and strategy) in a variety of ways. Thus, there are many different approaches to strategic management. The Balanced Scorecard is a logical, structured way to help the leaders of your organization ensure that all areas of the organization are covered in an easy-to-understand way. It helps keep your goals at the center, uses specific measurements to track progress, and follows initiatives to track actions—a structure those who use the BSC know and love.
A strategy map is designed to clearly communicate a strategic plan. It is a clean, simple visual aid used to align every department or division for the purpose of achieving high-level business goals. When implemented correctly, it:
When implemented correctly, all divisions and departments should align with a common strategy, and the Balanced Scorecard facilitates this process. With the BSC structure, you can link your critical objectives to the objectives of a parent company or enterprise. Additionally you can see how your measures may roll up to the enterprise-level measures, how projects link to enterprise-level projects, and more. The BSC also provides the structure needed when large projects are shared across multiple divisions.
Using The Strategy-Focused Organization framework, the BSC allows individuals to align their goals across the organization. For example, an employee setting regular performance goals for an annual personal review can link their goals to those of their division or department (and from the division up through the entire organization). Thus, the BSC allows all of your employees to connect what they’re doing to the betterment of the team and the company as a whole.
A lot of organizations build strategic plans and put them on a shelf, never to be seen again. The creation of the BSC is predicated on reviewing your strategy on a regular basis—and you can only do this if your strategy is organized. Regular strategy review meetings on a monthly or quarterly basis, combined with an annual strategy refresh, will ensure you reference your strategy regularly and keep it at the center of your management reporting process. Reviewing your strategy will bring it to life and make it part of the way you manage your organization. Furthermore, you will know where you are at all times in achieving your goals.
After five books and countless articles, the sheer amount of material on the Balanced Scorecard is a bit mind-boggling. In fact, it’s the largest topic on the Harvard Business Review website—and if you tried to read every single case study, you’d get bogged down quickly. Additionally, if you try to jump in with with Norton and Kaplan’s fifth book, you’re likely to get overwhelmed with how to move forward.
Following what you just read, your strategy and example strategies you’ve read about will be different. You’ll be tempted to copy an example map, but keep in mind your strategy is entirely unique to you. We highly suggest using templates to get ideas of what other organizations using the BSC have done, but then step away and build something that is unique to you.
You may be having trouble with your scorecard because new leadership isn’t convinced that BSC is a viable option—or your existing leadership simply may not like or understand the structure. It’s important to remember that the BSC requires a total overhaul to the way you manage; it is not a project with a defined end date. If you’re asked to build a scorecard and then return to business as usual, be warned that your scorecarding process isn’t likely to work.
Many organizations try to manage their scorecard in Excel or PowerPoint and end up throwing it away. We don’t blame them. Managing a BSC in Excel can lead to accuracy problems, version control issues, and various complexities and formatting troubles. Furthermore, while Excel is a free tool, there are a number of hidden costs (like the cost of a manual review process, or the cost associated with data entry errors). When these things happen, leaders are likely to see the Balanced Scorecard as the problem instead of the tool used to manage it.
Sometimes transitioning to a Balanced Scorecard process can cause confusion within an organization. Rather than taking time to adapt, some leaders quickly decide to quit the BSC and return to their old ways. If you find yourself in these shoes—for example, trying to use the exact perspective names that Norton and Kaplan use while people in your organization don’t respond to those terms—you may find the BSC structure more cumbersome than it is worthwhile. Or, if you’re married to your current strategy review schedule despite a shakeup in management or a major change in strategy, that’s a problem. Organizations that get stuck in a prescribed way of handling the BSC based on a book they’ve read or a certification they’ve obtained will likely run into these issues.
If you have exaggerated expectations of what your scorecarding process should look like, pause them. Start by simply building your strategy map. Then you can see if that map does a good job communicating your strategy throughout the organization. Many of the organizations we’ve worked with in the past profess seeing value in having a strategy map that accurately describes their organization. Finally, when you set your highest level goals, put them into the right perspectives and draw critical cause-and-effect linkages.
If you’re having issues getting buy-in, consider how your organization is different and the language you actually use and how that compares with the language of the Balanced Scorecard. Your issue may boil down to something that simple. Otherwise, talk to your CEO or executive director about why you believe the BSC may be the right strategic framework for your organization and hear them out on their concerns. (Some of those concerns may be answered in this article!)
If you’re having trouble keeping everyone on the same page, a software application may be the ticket. It’ll give everyone involved in the strategy one central reference with the most up-to-date strategic information. We may be biased on what software is best for most organizations, but there is no doubt that using a great software system can help you extract the value from your strategy and scorecard.
If you use different names for perspectives or initiatives than those prescribed in the Norton & Kaplan lingo, that’s just fine. In fact, if you need to change the names of your perspective or your strategy becomes irrelevant, you could change your entire strategy map and scorecard in the middle of the year to reflect the new realities of your business. Give yourself some leeway here.
If you already have a Balanced Scorecard and you’re not getting the value you want out of it, start thinking about the reasons why. They may or may not among the five problems listed above—but regardless, see if there are ways you can be more flexible with the framework to address the problem and move forward.
Additionally, if you’re looking at the Balanced Scorecard as the solution to all of your problems, be aware that organizations implement the BSC in different ways. Carefully take into consideration the way your leadership team operates to be certain you move into the BSC at an appropriate pace.