9 July 2009 • 7:00 am

Performance Advocates Lead Strategy Execution

Much has been written about the process of creating a balanced scorecard (BSC), and much more has been written about the overall process of strategy management that the BSC facilitates. Far less had been written about best practices for strategy review meetings in 2005 when my colleague Jay Weiser and I wrote an article on the topic that has been especially helpful in organizations getting started with BSC strategic management. In this and future posts, I’ll touch on some of our key points.

Strategy review meetings are the necessary venue in which leaders periodically evaluate the progress of the change program. They are typically held quarterly, and include a review of current data for performance measures that track progress toward established strategic objectives. In these meetings, leaders are also charged with identifying new initiatives, and managing the existing portfolio of initiatives. Leaders may establish new performance measures and discard those that aren’t revelatory. While this process is designed to implicitly test the hypotheses that comprise the strategy, at least once per year this meeting requires an explicit review of the entire strategy, with the expectation that modest changes will be made.

Clearly understood roles and responsibilities are vital to the success of these meetings, and should be explicitly stated, especially since they may be unfamiliar and not intuitive to those participating. The most important of these roles is that of Performance Advocate (PA).

The leadership team is typically comprised of the formal leader of the organization, along with his or her direct reports; but variants are possible, especially when the scope of the strategy being managed spans organizational or even enterprise boundaries. Leadership teams work best when they’re neither too small nor too large; most teams fall in the range of 8-12 persons. When teams are much larger than about 15 people, there is a substantially increased risk that the meeting becomes an arena in which politics and posturing take center stage. Smaller teams tend to be dominated by the formal leader of the organization, and have an increased risk of ‘groupthink.’

Each member of the leadership team, including the organization’s leader, take on the role of Performance Advocate. There is a named PA for each of the 15 to 25 (typically) objectives on the strategy map. Although I strongly recommend that there only be one PA for each objective, some organizations insist on sharing the responsibility for some or all objectives among two PAs. The result is often less productive since the division of labor is hard to manage.

Since there are almost always more strategic objectives than members of the leadership team, each team member will serve as PA for more than one objective. No member of the leadership team should be excused from the PA responsibility, and the allocation of these roles should be as even as possible. PAs usually volunteer or are appointed at the conclusion of the strategy map design process

The use of the term ‘Performance Advocate’ is deliberate – you should resist the inclination to say that each objective has an ‘owner,’ since the team as a whole is collectively responsible for the execution of the strategy. While an ‘Owner’ may be personally blamed for inadequate performance toward an objective, the PA helps the leadership team as a whole accept responsibility for strategic performance.

The primary responsibility of each PA is to ensure that the measurement and reporting data are complete before each strategy review meeting, and to lead focused discussions about their objective(s) at review meetings. Between meetings, PAs follow up on performance issues, drive the completion of action items, collaborate to resolve issues, and prepare for the next meeting.

In our article, Jay and I also identified supporting roles: Measure Coordinators who assist the PAs in preparing and analyzing measurement data; the Editor, who is responsible for pulling together and publishing the quarterly report that is the basis for the strategy review meeting; and an outside Facilitator, whose objectivity and expertise in the strategic management process is vital to keeping the meeting on-track and productive. Each of these roles, along with the evolution of the Strategy Review meeting in organizations new to BSC management, will be elaborated in future posts. 

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