Are visions of strategy maps, balanced scorecards, and/or any other organizational performance management tool dancing in your head as you plan for a better business year in 2012? While adopting any combination of these tools will probably result in some improvements in operations and business results over the next year, you won’t achieve the transformational organizational shift that translates into sustained levels of exceptional business performance if implementing these tools alone is all that you do.
In fact, at the risk of sounding extremely Grinch-y as we close out 2011, you are actually better off not even starting down the strategy map-balanced scorecard adoption path if you aren’t prepared to go all the way with your commitment. That is, to achieve business success in 2012 and beyond, you need to implement the “new way to manage” - it's required if you want to unleash the full potential of all those business performance management tools we seem to grab onto in our quest to achieve the next level of business performance.
Let’s look at the key elements associated with this “new way" to manage.
Engage in Open Communication
Successful organizations are open and communicate their business strategy and objectives clearly, concisely, and completely with all of the internal and external stakeholders including employees at all levels of the organization, their customers, and their business partners. To do this, they get to know the communication preferences of each audience and use numerous communication vehicles to get their messages out. In addition, they focus on building mechanisms that encourage meaningful, two-way communication and dialogue, not one-sided messaging.
This level of communication doesn’t happen by accident – it takes planning, adequate support and resourcing, appropriate funding, and a dedication to focused execution and improvement. If communication in your organization is haphazard or sub-optimized, a new business performance management tool will most likely get lost in your organization. Few people will know it exists, limiting the impact it can have on the performance of your organization.
Change the Conversation
What do conversations look like in your organization? What do they focus on?
If you are like most, they revolve around operational matters and fighting today’s crisis. Discussion and decisions are likely top down in nature with senior management determining direction, strategies, and tactics with the expectation that employees will execute them as directed. When you take the time to look at business results, you might find that you and your colleagues debate the accuracy of data, argue about the interpretation of the results, and speculate on whether an unexpected result is a one time occurrence or a trend. If this sounds like your organization, you are not alone.
While successful organizations do deal with operational activities and decisions, and firefighting, they also make sure that they spend adequate time exploring and discussing strategic matters on an ongoing basis. They engage employees at all levels of the organization in an ongoing dialogue about what the organization should be, how it should get there, how it’s doing/performing, and what should be done to improve. They create multiple venues and opportunities for these conversations to take place including business results review sessions where the root cause drivers of performance results and the impact of current performance on the future success of the organization are discussed, and evidence-based corrective action plans are created and debated.
The introduction of a new business performance management tool such as the strategy map or the balanced scorecard offers an organization the opportunity to engage with new business information and stimulate new kinds of conversations across the company. Organizations that introduce these tools without changing the nature of their conversations never reap the full potential the tools were meant to deliver.
Set Clear Business Priorities
Success in business is as much about deciding what NOT to do as it is about deciding what to do. This is critical when defining direction and business strategy. And it is equally critical when making business decisions about relative work efforts, resource allocation, and dealing with day to day work demands. Successful organizations determine a small set of strategic priorities and then leverage their business performance management tools to communicate, test and validate, and revise their business priorities. They also use these tools to give employees at all levels of the organization the information they need to make day to day business decisions that align with organizational strategy and strategic priorities.
If your organization doesn't do a good job today at prioritizing work and decisions, and does not use the introduction of business performance management tools as an opportunity to develop this capability, you will find that implementing any tool puts an additional and unwelcome strain on the overall capacity of your organization. Rather than seeing your business performance management tools as a help, you run the risk that employees will become resentful of them because (1) the tools have added additional strategic considerations to the overall work of the organization; and (2) utilizing the new tools has created additional administrative work for them.
When introducing business performance management tools such as strategy maps and the balanced scorecard, be sure to also take the opportunity to use them to identify and communicate a focused set of business priorities for your organization. These tools were designed to help you do this – wise adopters take advantage of this opportunity to focus the work of their entire workforce and organization.
Build New Leadership Capabilities
Leveraging business performance management tools to get the most out of them and make the new way of managing “the way we work” at all levels of an organization is a new skill for many leaders, managers, supervisors, and employees. Managing in the new way often requires a complete change in behaviour from the previous operating and managing style and generally demands new levels of accountability from leaders and employees. Do not assume that simply introducing the strategy map or rolling out cascading balanced scorecards will automatically change the way managers lead and the types of discussions they have with their team members.
Successful organizations make their new expectations for manager and employee behaviour explicit and will then provide everyone with the education, training, and ongoing supports they need to live up to new expectations. In addition, they will offer everyone incentives to manage and work in the new way, including building behavioural and performance expectations into personal goal plans, and basing compensation on success in adopting these new skills and behaviours and building advanced levels of capability in this regard.
Don’t expect the introduction of new business performance management tools to magically transform the way your organization works. To achieve the changes outlined above and make them "the way we work", you must support tool implementation with a formalized programme that builds the appropriate skills and capabilities in every employee in your organization.
Many organizations implement strategy maps and the balanced scorecard in the hopes that these business performance management tools will provide them with the silver bullet they need to achieve improved business results over the long term. Unfortunately, the landscape is littered with stories about companies that abandoned their selected tool because it failed to perform to expectations and/or deliver the desired business results. In the majority of cases, when you dig deeper into the failure, you discover that the adopting organization simply rolled out the tool while managing in the same old way. Essentially, the sub-optimization of the tool was a result of failing to support it with the behavioural, cultural, and systemic changes required to receive the maximum benefits of business performance management tool utilization.
I think that there is one critical reason why organizations fail to go all the way when implementing a business performance management tool. While some just honestly don’t realize that the new way to manage is a key element of success, I believe that many organizations and business leaders are searching for a quick fix to their problems. Implementing a tool requires action, can be done relatively quickly, and the result is tangible – you can see a new strategy map or balanced scorecard when it is in place and it feels like progress. Culture, behaviour, and organizational systems are more intangible in nature. They can be difficult to change and often leaders are worried that it will take a long time to effect the change (particularly if they are unsure about how to do it). And when the change does happen, you often can’t see it easily (though there are some great assessment tools out there that can help you measure that the change is indeed happening).
Bottom line? Implementing a new business performance management tool is sexy while effecting the required cultural and behavioural change feels like work. However, without these fundamental changes, the business performance management tool you choose to implement will never live up to its potential for you and your organization.
Looking for better business performance in 2012?
Go ahead and adopt the business performance management tools that interest and inspire you the most - but also make a commitment to implement the new way to manage across your organization. The maximization of your return on your investment in business performance management and the achievement of sustained performance success in 2012 and beyond are dependent on it.