24 August 2009 • 7:00 am

The Case of the Undermined Change Program – Part I

Current events in the U.S. have reminded me of a rather challenging client I had several years ago. Although all of the names and some of the details here have been changed to protect the identity of the client organization and individuals involved, it is very much a real experience, and sadly, not all that unusual in the annals of balanced scorecard programs.

Our firm was approached by Karen, the energetic and charismatic head of strategy for WorldCo, a major division of a large U.S. corporation whose name would be instantly recognizable to anyone reading this case. Her mission was to implement balanced scorecard in WorldCo as the basis for a strategic management system, and as a tool to drive an overarching strategic change program. She had proposed the idea and earned the blessing of the division head Reggie, an executive who appeared every so often in favorable interviews about leadership in business periodicals.

I visited the organization’s lavish headquarters, where I met Karen and her deputy, Linda. Karen, Linda, and I had good conversations about the intent of the program, and we agreed to the approach we would use, which was based on our standard methodology. I met Reggie, briefly, and was promised an in-depth conversation with him once we were underway. From our conversations, I developed a project plan and then the proposal itself for the work.

Six weeks later, and after several iterations of modifying the project plan with Linda and awaiting approvals from Karen and Reggie, we were finally ready to get started. The delays mostly had to do with the fact that Karen and Reggie traveled a great deal, and the difficulty in getting them to take the time to review our response to their requested changes. Their requests were couched by their contention that “things are different” at WorldCo, and mostly had to do with minimizing the time demands on Reggie and his eight direct reports. None of the requested changes were unreasonable, but the detail with which we had to develop the project plan was a bit more than most of our clients generally expected.

Linda was assigned by Karen as WorldCo’s full-time project manager for the effort, which was expected to take about six months. During that time, we would work with Reggie’s leadership team (his eight direct reports) to identify and capture WorldCo’s strategy in a balanced scorecard strategy map, develop performance measures, implement a reporting process for those measures, facilitate the first meeting to review those measures, and launch a strategy communication program inside WorldCo.

One of the requested changes in our approach was to combine the project kick-off meeting with the workshop in which we would actually develop the strategy map. The rationale for combining these meetings was around scheduling; because Reggie’s direct reports had very full travel schedules, it would take weeks to arrange for all of them to be in one place, and that window was most important for developing the strategy map.

In a standard approach, kick-off meetings are held primarily to ensure the support and participation of each member of the leadership team, and to provide all of them with an overview of the objectives and structure of balanced scorecard and the change program. I agreed to defer the kick-off meeting, but not without expressing some reservations. In response, I was assured that we would get the full day needed for the combined kick-off and strategy map meeting, and that Reggie would personally introduce and support our effort with each member of his team before we got started.

The most important step in developing a strategy map is to interview each member of the leadership team, separately, in order to develop an objective basis for a draft strategy map. I normally like to meet twice with the head of an organization; once briefly before the round of interviews to capture his or her vocabulary for change, and then afterwards in more depth to share the thrust of interview findings and test the hypotheses developed during the interviews. But unfortunately, because of a scheduling conflict, Reggie had to cancel our first meeting at the last minute.

Next: Interviews, and our meeting with Reggie

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