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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Blue Apples & Other Special Projects

By: Gail Stout Perry

How do you deal with an initiative (project) that is a forceful executive’s favorite idea, or, even worse, is something that your organization has spent years to develop BUT is not aligned to your strategy?  Yikes!

I was teaching a class in Atlanta last week and one of the student teams approached me with a question.  They were looking for actions which they could implement to move the needle on a “product variety” objective on a grocer case study.  One of the ideas was an R&D product to produce “blue apples” which led to a discussion of “Special Projects” at their own organizations.

This reminded me of a REAL client who had invested heavily in a special R&D project.

The client, a Fortune 500, had spent several years investing in this super-secret project which they would not reveal even to us, their trusted consultants.  They simply referred to it as “Project X.”

We had been working with this client to develop their Tier 1 scorecard and were onsite for the final executive team session to prioritize strategic initiatives.  Of course, “Project X” was on the list.  We used a 2x2 matrix as our prioritization schema (in which initiatives are placed into one of four quadrants depending on how strategic and how resource consuming they are).  When we finished the calculations, “Project X” was dangling by its fingernails off of the chart - from the furthest corner of the least desirable quadrant.

It was clear that  “Project X” was an expensive and resource-intensive effort yet it was going to provide little to no strategic impact.

As I nervously shared the bad news about “Project X”, the VP in charge of this initiative nodded her head and said, “I saw this coming as we were developing this strategic balanced scorecard.  We have actually already started on a sunset plan.”  I had feared uproar and this quiet affirmation blew me away.

This speaks to the power of inclusion in developing a strategic balanced scorecard.  This team, which had invested millions in “Project X”, had already realized via their participation in strategy formulation that the investment needed to be redirected.  There were no tears, cursing, or arguing.

Which brings me back to Atlanta.  I tried an experiment and tried to bully my student teams into choosing the “blue apple” initiative the next day.  I was shot down...unanimously...by all the teams.  In this case, the logic of a disciplined framework (to align and prioritize initiatives) trumped my argument by vigorous assertion.  Hands down.  The Institute Way works....for many reasons.  To learn more, visit www.balancedscorecard.org/tiw


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Tags: leadership employee engagement Prioritization

Gail Stout Perry

Gail Stout PerryGail Stout Perry

Gail is co-author of The Institute Way with over 20 years of strategic planning and performance management consulting experience with corporate, nonprofit, and government organizations.

Other posts by Gail Stout Perry

Contact author Full biography

Full biography

Gail is co-author of The Institute Way with over 20 years of strategic planning and performance management consulting experience with corporate, nonprofit, and government organizations. She served as a Senior Associate with BSI from 2008 until 2016.

Gail became interested in operations, efficiency and patterns as a toddler struggling to participate in her mother’s kitchen.

“I tried to explain to my mother how to better organize her kitchen. She was wasting motion plus the kitchen wasn’t user friendly to me, its newest user who could not reach the things I needed to be self-sufficient—so, she had to help me. Mom could have saved herself work if she’d accepted my recommendations.”

During her career in aerospace and defense, Gail developed deep experience in operations, finance/accounting, information technology, human resources, purchasing/inventory management, manufacturing, engineering design, and sales and marketing. Today she consults with Fortune 500 companies, large military commands, government agencies and nonprofits.

“My diverse experience helps me be a better consultant by bringing new ideas and solutions to my clients when I see a connection or pattern to something I’ve experienced or observed in another industry/sector. There are common denominators, operations and issues across organizations. Just last month, I heard the same operational issue from a Fortune 150 and a city municipality—two organizations that couldn’t be more different.”

With clients in diverse sectors all over the globe, Gail’s adept at quickly understanding business models and cultural norms, and creating a positive impact. Prior to joining the Institute, Gail owned and operated Perry Consulting LLC, a North Texas firm focused on providing performance improvement consulting services to the nonprofit sector. It was in this role that she first realized the transformational power of an integrated strategic balanced scorecard while working with her client, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, to improve its strategic planning, performance management, budgeting, and employee alignment processes.

“I’ve learned how to quickly absorb information and get my head around an organization, what it does, how it does it, its key processes and challenges, and learn its unique culture and language. And I have a way of explaining things that makes the seemingly complex simple.”

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