I frequently get asked for examples of really effective balanced scorecard reports. It seems that many people are unsatisfied with their initial attempts at balanced scorecard reporting. The usual complaints I hear about BSC reports include: “it doesn’t help us focus on what’s important”; “there’s still too much information in the report”; “it’s not easy to read and/or understand”; “it doesn’t include the “right” information”; and “it’s just plain ugly to look at”.
While there are lots of other areas of dissatisfaction, these are the main ones.
The key to creating a better BSC report is to rethink the idea of a results report all together. It is essential to start with the purpose of a BSC report first and then, with this in mind, create a new “style” of report that fits optimally with that purpose.
The biggest mistake I think people make when designing their BSC report is to assume that the format of the typical financial or MIS report will work for BSC results reporting. In almost all cases, if you think about the objective of the typical financial report versus a BSC report, you will not come up with the same answer. This should tell you something about the need to design a better BSC report.
So let’s take a closer look at the various purposes of the balanced scorecard and talk about the elements of a BSC report that align with/support them.
Measure and assess strategic objective health in “real time” – supporting BSC report elements: a color-coded strategy map; access to strategic objective definitions and “owner” names (i.e. accountability information); color-coded results data; results data versus performance targets (i.e. graphs, tables, trend charts, etc.); results commentary; and historical performance results data
Actively manage and improve the execution of your strategic objectives – supporting BSC report elements: a color-coded strategy map; results commentary including root cause analysis and corrective action plans; active links to root cause operational information; active links to critical business documents such as project charters and progress reports and process management information; active links to accountability information (i.e. who in your organization has accountability for various aligned strategic and operational elements of the business); and active links to internal discussion forums (including information on and ideas for improvement)
Evaluate and manage the progress and effectiveness of your business strategy – supporting BSC report elements: a color-coded strategy map; results data versus performance targets; results commentary; active links to internal discussion forums; active links to key internal information and external environment/market/industry and customer/stakeholder information and feedback, and information sites
A catalyst for discovery, learning, problem solving, and the refinement of both operations and strategy on an ongoing basis/adjust and refine your business strategy as required – supporting BSC report elements: a color-coded strategy map; results commentary including root cause analysis and corrective action plans; active links to root cause operational information; and active links to discussion forums and relevant documents
A communication vehicle – What are key the elements of great communications? They are focused on the information needs of the audience so they give the audience the information they need, when they need it, in the format they need/want it in. They feature clear and focused messages. And, they are easy to understand. A great BSC report keeps all of these elements in mind by being uncluttered and easy to read/navigate and understand, and by presenting information to unique users in a way that works for them.
So – a great BSC report contains certain information elements presented in a logical order that is designed to help focus the viewer on layers of information that progress from the high level to greater amounts of detail. This approach helps viewers focus their attention more easily. However, a great BSC report must also be flexible to individual user preferences.
Here are some of the “must have” elements for a BSC report to be GREAT in my mind:
A “color-coded”* strategy map – I feel strongly that your BSC report should start here. Your balanced scorecard is all about your business strategy and measuring and managing strategic objective health - a color-coded strategy map gives you an overview of how each strategic objective is doing based on the performance of the associated balanced scorecard indicators. Further review of balanced scorecard results should proceed from there.
Some companies like to guide viewers from their strategy map and have them progress to the next level of detail/information following certain criteria. For example, they might look at all strategic objectives performing in the red and/or yellow zones; or they might look at all priority strategic objectives performing in the red and/or yellow zones; etc. Whatever criteria your organization chooses to use, your BSC report should guide your viewer to the next level of information and detail in a focused way.
* just a reminder – a certain percentage of your viewer population is color blind. Rather than color-code performance results (strategic objectives and BSC indicators), consider using icons instead of colors to give viewers a quick way of assessing whether performance is under, at, or above target.
BSC indicators and their strategic objective – When your viewer looks at a BSC indicator, they should always be able to see the context for that indicator or where it fits in relation to the business strategy. Including strategic objectives in your balanced scorecard hierarchy keeps that relationship front and center.
Strategic objective and BSC indicator definitions – It is easier for viewers to make sense of what they are looking at, as well as the implications of certain performance results, when they can access strategic objective and indicator definitions. Make them easily accessible to your viewer.
Color-coded BSC indicator results – Before your viewer even sees results data, let them see color (or a performance icon). Color gives your viewer important information quickly and allows them to decide whether they want to go to the next level of detail of indicator performance results to investigate further.
BSC indicator performance data – Performance results should always include an actual result and a comparator. If you are using multiple comparators, your BSC report should allow viewers to see actual results versus their preferred comparator with just a click. Performance results should be available either by measurement period or in a year to date format – viewers should be able to toggle between views. Last but not least, results data should be available in your viewer’s preferred display style – for example, graphs, trend charts, table, etc. Graphical presentation should always be your starting point because it’s just easier for your viewer to assess performance quickly when there’s a picture involved. More detail oriented viewers can switch to a table presentation, for example, if they prefer.
Embed results commentary and other relevant information with indicator results data – Your BSC is meant to convey strategic information. “Information” is a combination of data, analysis and commentary, and other relevant documents. It is critical for learning and improvement that your BSC report present your viewers with a combination of data, commentary, and other relevant information, where available, for each indicator.
Other – A great BSC report is dynamic, is easily customizable to viewer preferences and needs, and “remembers” a viewer’s unique preferences from report to report.
By now, I’m sure that you are wondering how the typical BSC report can do this. The answer is that, in my opinion, it can’t.
The way we traditionally think of a “report” just isn’t conducive to great balanced scorecard reporting primarily because it’s static. And while you might be able include some of the elements outlined above in a traditional BSC report, you will never be able to give your viewer the ability to interact with the traditional BSC report in a way that is customized and meaningful to them (not without a great deal of time and effort that is). This is a critical limitation because having this ability is critical for really engaging your viewers/employees and stakeholders with your business strategy.
In fact, a great BSC “report” isn’t a report at all! A great BSC report is a dynamic interface on, for example, a computer, tablet, or mobile device that provides viewers with access to a defined suite of important strategic information that is presented in a way that helps the viewer navigate from high level information to detailed information while ALSO allowing them to have a customized experience with that strategic information.
However, your balanced scorecard report isn’t just a tool for displaying business performance results – it’s ultimately a vehicle for engaging your viewers/employees and stakeholders with your business strategy and getting them involved in the strategic conversation. Most importantly, a great BSC report facilitates the best use of the balanced scorecard within your organization and allows you take full advantage of the power of the balanced scorecard.
Organization’s that are truly committed to getting the most out of their balanced scorecard must rethink their approach to balanced scorecard reporting and make the transition to a dynamic type of “report” (like the ones provided by BSC software applications). To make the most impact, this new type of report must be accessible by all users and give individual viewers the option to quickly and easily customize their view of strategic information so that they can interact with it on their own terms and then participate in the process of shaping and executing your business strategy, on an ongoing basis.