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18 September 2009 • 7:00 am

Leading Questions

At the center of the balanced scorecard concept is the observation that measures of organizational performance have traditionally been lagging indicators; measurement of actual performance after the fact. Management accounting is focused on describing performance during a time period that has ended – last quarter, last year, year-to-date, etc. And while there is nothing inherently wrong with lagging measures, they are of limited use to an organization’s leaders. All they do is tell what has already happened.

The ‘balance’ in balanced scorecard refers to the ideal of providing leaders with a balanced portfolio of lagging and leading performance indicators. Leading indicators are valuable because they help managers form an expectation of what will happen, and enable testing of the cause-and-effect hypotheses that are at the core of the strategic planning process. But identifying candidate leading indicators and selecting from among them requires careful consideration and a healthy skepticism of apparently easy answers.

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12 June 2009 • 12:21 pm

Vertical and Horizontal Dimensions of Strategy – Part II

In my earlier post on strategy map design, we examined the basic structure of strategy maps as originally described by Bob Kaplan and Dave Norton in their early work on balanced scorecard. While their four-perspective model has been effective in designing strategy maps in for-profit organizations, there has been much variation in the perspective (vertical) dimension of strategy maps in government and non-profit organizations. At the same time, there have been a number of approaches to organizing the thematic (horizontal) dimension of strategy maps, with no one approach having emerged as consistently effective. Today, I propose a generalized structural approach for both the vertical and horizontal dimensions of the strategy map.

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9 June 2009 • 1:00 pm

Vertical and Horizontal Dimensions of Strategy – Part I

In their early work describing and promoting the balanced scorecard as a tool for strategic management, authors (and my former bosses) Bob Kaplan and Dave Norton presented their four perspectives (Financial, Customer, Internal Business Process, Learning and Growth) from which to measure business performance and motivate behavior in an organization. While the four perspectives were presented as a framework for selecting performance measures, there was little said about the physical presentation of these perspectives, the strategy map.

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2 June 2009 • 8:25 pm

Cause and Effect: The Building Blocks of Strategy

Those familiar with strategy maps know that when properly designed, they convey the cause and effect hypotheses of an organization’s strategy. No leader, no matter how gifted, is able to discern the future. But to describe strategy is to describe how leaders believe that value will be created in the future. While some organizations’ leaders may be content to simply say “our strategy is to become the number one producer of widgets in North America,” there is nothing in such a weak statement to help middle managers and front-line employees understand how the organization will become so good at producing widgets. And therein lies the critical need for conveying the hypotheses of cause and effect.

Let’s consider a simple example. In this purely hypothetical example, my wife is judging my performance in our organization (our family) by two measures: the number of calories I eat each day, and the number of days each week I exercise for at least thirty minutes. She’s even established targets for my performance; no more than 2,000 calories in a day, and at least three exercise periods a week. On the basis of those two measures, we can infer that she wants me to eat smart and to exercise. But why is my performance being measured this way? (If you have a good punchline, please leave it in the comments below.)

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