The First of Three Things I Don’t Like About The Balanced Scorecard (It’s hard to cascade meaningfully)November 30, 2009 by Stacey Barr
We have to applaud the Balanced Scorecard for the evolution it triggered in organisational performance measurement and strategy execution. But no model is without its limitations.
Certainly, on account of the Balanced Scorecard, we’re now seeing the measurement of non-financial results rather than just the financial, and we’re seeing strategies laid out in logical and cause-effect linked plans designed for execution rather than shelving.
But a few challenges continue to baffle those that embrace the Balanced Scorecard way. One of the challenges is easy and quick to remedy within the current Balanced Scorecard theory. But the other two, I believe, require a more radical re-think.
In this first part of a three part series, we’ll look at one of those challenges that does indeed need a more radical re-think.
CHALLENGE 1: The Balanced Scorecard is hard to cascade meaningfully.
You might argue with me on this point, because part of the Balanced Scorecard’s claim to fame is it’s focus on strategy execution and cascading strategy to operational levels. But those famous four perspectives that were the revelation of this framework are also the limitation on meaningfully cascading strategy.
What Happens Is “Mini-me” Syndrome.
I call it the “Mini-me” syndrome (inspired by the Austin Powers movies), where what ends up being cascaded are localised scaled-down copies of the corporate scorecard. Each department or team has the same perspectives as the corporate scorecard, almost the same strategy map, but tailored to the scope of their work.
If injury reduction is in the corporate scorecard, then every department and team has injury reduction in their scorecard: even those departments where injury risk is infinitesimal. If cost reduction is in the corporate scorecard, then every department or team has cost reduction in their scorecard: even those departments (like Human Resources or Process Improvement, whose costs must increase in order for other areas’ costs to decrease.
That’s not true cause-effect thinking, and it leaves many managers and employees bemused and cynical about having to measure things that don’t really matter to them, and that don’t really focus on their specific and unique contribution to the corporate direction.
Additive Thinking Is Not Cause-Effect Thinking.
When the focus is on maintaining the four perspectives in everyone’s scorecard to link up to the corporate scorecard, the attention has moved away from where it needs to be: focusing on the performance results and process improvements that have the highest leverage to achieve the corporate strategy.
What happens instead is a collection of additive scorecards, where you can add up or combine the metrics from scorecards across the departmental tier, and end up with the values for the corporate scorecard. Likewise, you could add up the add up or combine the metrics from scorecards across teams within a department, and end up with the values for the departmental scorecard. This isn’t cause-effect thinking. It’s additive thinking.
Cascade True Cause-Effect, Not The Scorecard.
To apply true cause-effect thinking, we have to let go of structure. We have to openly explore and analyse how the performance of a part truly does impact on the performance of the whole. The four perspectives of the Balanced Scorecard don’t encourage that open exploration and analysis, and that’s why we have the Mini-me problem.
I haven’t found a sensible and easy way to help departments and teams cascade the Balanced Scorecard in a way that’s sensible for them and truly aligned to the corporate direction. Instead, we use a more open approach called Results Mapping, which encourages them to start with a conversation about the corporate direction (or scorecard) and explore the question “How and where do our results and our processes most impact on the corporate direction?”
Two More Challenges…
In parts two and three of this series, I’ll discuss two more things I don’t like about the Balanced Scorecard, and suggest some tips for compensating for these challenges also.
Where are you trying to cascade the Balanced Scorecard? Is it making sense to the teams it is cascading to? Is there anything in their scorecard that isn’t really that important, or anything missing that actually is important? What questions are you asking to guide the way that strategy is cascaded in your organisation or company?
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