At some point in their strategy creation and execution/Balanced Scorecard journey, almost all organizations and business leaders come to the realization that, to experience the benefits of their investment in, and commitment to, strategy management they would be wise to leverage the power of technology.
Let me be clear that I am still saying that strategy management (in general) and the Balanced Scorecard (in particular) is NOT a technology project – far from it. However, today, more than ever, organizations can, and should, leverage technology to enable their strategy management processes, activities, conversations, and interactions.
With all the technology advancements and options available to us, this is absolutely the best possible time for organizations to finally slay the strategy execution dragon. Though it’s not the complete answer, technology goes a long way to removing past barriers to strategy execution success.
While this post is not meant to be a primer on technology selection criteria (I wrote a comprehensive blog on that topic a few years ago), I think that now is a good time to take a closer look at one capability that most performance management platforms tout and that many organizations look for in an application: automated data upload. The automation of data upload refers to the ability of a performance management application to extract data from internal source files and import that data into the application itself - most commercial applications available today make it pretty easy for this activity to happen.
From an organization’s perspective, automated data upload is very seductive. It suggests a reduction in the work needed to get results data into the performance management application and the hands-off factor offers some assurance of data quality. Yes – automated data sounds like a “must have” capability that will make the implementation of strategy management much easier and more efficient.
However, before you can automate data uploads into your performance management system, your data must be available in a compatible electronic format. This can be problematic for many organizations. You see, in my experience, results data is often located on local desktops and in a variety of different formats. In some cases, results exist in paper files or on daily data capture sheets, though as we get further into the technology age, this situation occurs far less often than it used to.
It isn’t unusual for the results data you want to include in your performance management application to exist in a combination of electronic and manual formats. When this is the case, the dream of fully automated data upload can’t happen without some level of effort.
As for ensuring data quality, automated data uploads will not magically fix an existing bad data problem – data gets uploaded in “as is” condition. Yes – removing manual data entry from the picture eliminates data transposition errors (for example), however, unless you complete data quality checks somewhere in your pre-upload data handling process, data quality can still a problem in an automated data upload world.
The truth is that, for most organizations, automated data upload still requires hands-on manual work. So why wouldn’t organizations just consider opting for the manual data input approach? It sounds ridiculous in an era of advanced technology but hear me out because it actually turns out that manual data entry has some unexpected benefits you may not have thought of before.
When you go the manual data entry route your first step, after determining where the data is coming from, is to assign people to data entry (“owner”) roles. The key here is to select people who normally touch the targeted results data as part of their regular work. Rather than asking them to submit their data to a data warehouse (in preparation for data upload), why not have them enter their data straight into the performance management application? In my experience, a distributed network of data entry owners results in each data entry person entering only a small number of data points into the application. This keeps the per person data entry burden minimal PLUS it has the benefit of giving individuals who are familiar with the data the opportunity to inspect results as they go into the application. When something doesn’t look quite right, knowledgeable and empowered data owners can investigate and resolve data issues before results are added into your performance management application.
When you look closely you see that manual data entry doesn’t really increase the administrative work associated with assembling results data for most organizations, AND it performs a necessary data quality assurance function.
However, there is another, more important benefit to manual data entry that business leaders shouldn’t overlook. Manual data entry within a distributed data owner network gives more people across your organization a role in, and an opportunity to interact with, your organization’s business strategy. In fact, in my experience, data owners develop significant feelings of ownership for both “their” data and the organization’s strategy as a result of their accountability and role. In addition, data ownership allows more people to physically connect with your strategy and see their contribution (and that of their team) to the achievement of strategy.
Why is creating a culture of strategy ownership important? Because this employee ownership is a critical factor in strategy execution success and employee engagement with your strategy is a key enabler of a strategy ownership culture.
One argument that I hear against manual data entry is the risk of data/results manipulation. While this is a concern worth thinking about, I will say that the risk is actually low when your strategy governance model includes indicator commentary owners and the review of performance management results data in an open forum. Having results data open to inspection and questioning by others has the effect of minimizing acts of results manipulation. Essentially, an open approach to strategy management plays a preliminary auditing role, resulting in a fairly high degree of quality assurance and data integrity.
Realistically, most organizations end up taking a hybrid approach to getting data into their performance management application – some results will be automated but more will require manual data entry than expected. It turns out that manual data entry isn’t as much of an administrative and organizational burden as business leaders may expect - when you look closely, automated data upload isn’t really a “hands-off” process after all. More importantly, the use of data entry owners* has some unexpected and powerful benefits that support enhanced strategy execution success and, ultimately, the achievement of desired business performance results and outcomes.
Organizations that are able to automate the upload of their performance results data may still wish to consider assigning data owners, however, the role will be primarily focused on data quality review. Asking specific employees to inspect the quality and accuracy of uploaded performance results data allows your organization and employees to experience the benefits of data ownership while still leveraging the data upload automation capabilities in your selected performance management application.
What is your organization’s experience with manual or automated data upload into your performance management application? How has your data entry approach helped or hindered your organization’s strategy execution and management efforts?