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David Wilsey David Wilsey

David Wilsey is the Chief Operating Officer with the Balanced Scorecard Institute and co-author of The Institute Way: Simplify Strategic Planning and Management with the Balanced Scorecard.

How to Keep Lettuce Crunchy and Other Strategy Execution Lessons

By: David Wilsey

Nov 22, 2016 4041 Views
I learned two lessons in college that I still think about – one in the kitchen and one as a strategy execution consultant. My professor claimed during a cell biology lesson that if you leave iceberg lettuce in water for about 20 minutes its cells expand as they soak up the water. He said that many chefs knew that soaking lettuce in cold water made it seem fresher and crunchier but few understood that it was because the cells were packed to the bursting point.

I went home for the holidays eager to share this new lesson with my mother. This is where I learned the consulting lesson. 

My mother had been taught that in order to keep salad crisp, you should throw a slice of bread into the salad as you are making it and then pull the bread out just before serving. The thinking was that the bread soaked up the excess moisture that would otherwise lead to wilting.

When I shared my professor’s theory with her, I assumed that we would immediately begin saving a nickel per month due to all that saved bread. Instead I was surprised to find that my mother was not about to change the way she made salad because of something her son’s biology professor said, not even after I showed her that the lettuce didn’t wilt.

Strategy execution is about transformation. It is about the systematic implementation of the changes needed to move an organization forward. Unfortunately, as you try to convince people to change the way they do things, many of them react exactly like my mother did.

The change management field is built around several general principles in how to manage people through change: thoroughly communicate how/why/what change is happening, look for the “what’s-in-it-for-me” for employees, communicate using two-way dialog, remove barriers to change, celebrate success, describe a “burning platform”, etc. Strategy execution specialists bring a few more key approaches to these basic doctrines. 

Engage Around the Big Picture. A simple business case (e.g. this initiative will help us improve process efficiency and lower operating costs) often isn’t enough. To embrace change it helps to understand how a particular initiative is aligned with the overall strategy of the organization (e.g. we want to bring low cost healthcare solutions to those suffering from an ailment. If we can improve this process, the solution could be better, more consistent, and cheaper than anyone else in the market). Employees will be far more motivated to change if they believe in the strategy. Strategy professionals typically have the skills needed to articulate and communicate that story.

Make Strategy Everyone’s Job. Strategy is a team sport. Too many strategy professionals think that because they are good at it they should do all of the work themselves. But good strategy execution relies on others to implement. I can tell my mother that this is a better way or (if she were an employee) order her to follow a new process, but as long as she can dismiss the idea as an outsider’s, change will be painful. Good strategy execution professionals understand that their job is to facilitate a consensus around a shared vision rather than simply dream up a vision in a vacuum.

Pick Your Battles. Strategy is about focus and strategic thinkers should be good at prioritizing. The worst thing you can do is overwhelm employees with dozens of major changes at the same time and then when things go badly decide that it’s not worth the trouble. Better is to pick the most important changes and implement them at a pace that the organization can handle. Then think through and communicate the timeline, action steps, and resource changes that will happen as the change is rolled out.

Facilitate a Sense of Inevitability. The weakest client outcomes in my career happened when there was uncertainty about whether or not the senior-most executives were on board. A well-meaning strategic planning director that isn’t visibly supported by the executive team will struggle to move an organization forward even if they do everything else right. On the other hand, if the executive team has thoroughly and repeatedly communicated that this change is going to happen with or without you, the inertia of inevitability will convince people to jump on the bandwagon even if other change management mistakes are made.

David Wilsey David Wilsey

David Wilsey is the Chief Operating Officer with the Balanced Scorecard Institute and co-author of The Institute Way: Simplify Strategic Planning and Management with the Balanced Scorecard.

Identify Strategic Thinking with One Simple Question

By David Wilsey

Jul 29, 2014 17714 Views
I used to work on a research team for a company that produced an operational risk software product. I always found it interesting how different members of the same team answered an important question: what do you do?

Here is the way Person A and Person B responded:

Person A: We do research on the internet and enter data points into an operational risk database.

Person B: We help banks understand operational risk and how much related capital they were required to reserve by providing an analytical software solution that models operational risk in the global market.

Technically both answers were correct. For the data model to be statistically significant, the product needed a certain number of data points, and our research team’s job was to research and categorize examples of operational loss in order to populate the database and make the model work. And yet, somehow Person A’s answer was always unsatisfying for some people.

It might be tempting to say that Person B was simply exaggerating the importance of their work by describing it in terms of the mission of the product line, but I think that misses an important point about the value of thinking strategically no matter what your position with the organization is. Person A was simply describing our job. Person B was describing how we created value. Different ways of describing our work was actually a window into the strategic thinking style of the team members.

From Daniel Pink to Simon Sinek and others, much has been said and written about how people are more motivated and productive when they understand the larger context for their work. Understanding why they are doing the work is profoundly important for creative professionals to feel a sense of engagement. Helping employees transition from narrowly thinking about what they do to more broadly thinking about what they are trying to accomplish can improve organizational performance in a number of ways.

The good news is that strategic thinking is a teachable skill. In our BSC Certification courses, we begin by teaching the basic semantics of strategy. At first, students mechanically append or replace the “task” language that most are comfortable with (we need to develop a new service by milestone x) with language that reflects a higher level objective (we want to improve the customer experience; the development of a new services is one option for accomplishing that). Over time, mechanical semantics evolve into an instinct for intuitively thinking about the strategic context. As students change the way they think about strategy and action, critical thinking skills improve as well (e.g. if we are trying to improve the customer experience, is a new service really the best way to do it?). The transition for many teams from always focusing on tactics and actions to always starting with the big picture and working down can be quite profound.

For more about how to improve strategic thinking in your organization, see our Balanced Scorecard Certification Program or The Institute Way: Simplify Strategic Planning and Management with the Balanced Scorecard.
Gail Stout Perry Gail 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.

Don’t Be THAT Guy!

By Gail Stout Perry

May 15, 2014 8680 Views
A very distraught woman (we’ll refer to her as Vera) recently called the Balanced Scorecard Institute office in panic.

Vera:  “Hello?  I need those flags.  Can you please overnight the flags to me?  It’s urgent!”  

Us:  “Excuse me?  I think you may have the wrong number?”

Vera:  “Isn’t this the Balanced Scorecard Institute?”

Us:  “Yes, ma’am.  But we don’t sell flags.”

Vera:  “Yes, you do.  My boss said so.”

Us: “Ummmmm….could you elaborate?”

Vera (in an exasperated tone):  “Listen!  My boss just announced that we are going to improve performance using a Balanced Scorecard.  He sent us a memo that said each store is responsible for showing performance by using red, yellow and green flags.  I’m a store manager and I am being held RESPONSIBLE!  I called the other store managers and nobody has the flags.  We all need to order those flags NOW!  You ARE the Balanced Scorecard Institute, are you not?!?”

I really am not sure we ever adequately explained to her that the “flags” are a term meaning a visual representation of the level of performance around a target value for a strategic objective or measure, with green generally indicating good performance, yellow generally indicating satisfactory performance, or red indicating poor performance.  And I’m pretty sure she thinks we are idiots for giving a complex response to a simple request to order some flags that she can wave.

For the record, I am not making fun of the caller herself.  She was an intelligent woman and obviously a dedicated worker.  But she was dreadfully misinformed and the source of the misinformation is the point of this blog.

My point is that her boss created angst and confusion in his organization by making an announcement with no explanation and no context.  HE knows his strategy, HE knows how he wants to measure performance on it, HE created a balanced scorecard to do so (without teaching anyone what that means), and HE announced it to the world and then said “YOU are responsible!”  

Don’t be that guy.  

Many bosses / executives / leaders are really smart.  They have a well-thought out strategy in their heads and they can make the leap from planning to execution…in their head.  But they are better at internal conversation (in their own head) than they are at communicating with others.   If this sounds familiar, let us help you bridge the gap between what you say and what your employees hear.  
I’ve written another blog about this topic (
Are Strategic Leaps of Logic Leaving You Dazed and Confused?), because this problem comes up over and over again.  

Please contact us and let us help. 

Or to learn more about how to translate your strategy into something that is clear to communicate in a way that employees can understand and effectively contribute to, we invite you to explor
e The Institute Way:  Simplify Strategic Planning & Management with the Balanced Scorecard.
Dan Montgomery Dan Montgomery

Dan is Senior Associate for the Balanced Scorecard Institute. An accomplished facilitator and trainer, Dan has a 30 year background as a manager, management consultant and executive coach. His previous professional consulting experience includes work with Accenture and Ernst & Young.

What’s the Value in Having Values?

By: Dan Montgomery

Dec 13, 2013 7848 Views

“It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.” – Roy E. Disney

Values can sometimes seem like the stepchild of strategic planning.  The guts of a strategic plan can include a results-oriented vision translated into specific objectives, measures and initiatives that will support it.

Values, on the other hand, can feel a bit fuzzy. Often, people think of values as a “do-gooder” thing. The exercise of defining values may feel like an exercise in identifying lofty sentiments rather than guiding day-to-day behavior.

Edgar Schein, who has made a career of studying organizational culture and values, makes a distinction between “espoused values” – the things we say we believe in - and “shared tacit assumptions” – the often unspoken assumptions about “the way things are” that actually shape our behavior. All organizations have values, whether these are explicit or not.

This last point is important. For example, Enron had a list of four values that sounded very convincing: respect, integrity, communication and excellence. There also were a number of other values, such as “consistent profits quarter over quarter no matter what,” that weren’t stated, yet were the primary drivers of management behaviors – hidden from public view until it was too late.

These kinds of values – stating things that sound nice but don’t really guide our behavior – are what we call “lobbyware.” They look good on a plaque but don’t really say anything about how we make decisions.

There’s nothing wrong with having a value based on profit—this is how businesses grow and sustain over time. I was working with the executive team of a privately-held company, defining values as part of Step 1 of the Institute’s Nine Step process, and the CEO proposed a value of “profit.” Some of his executives were mildly horrified, to say the least.  They were coming from the paradigm that all values have to be “nice,” and felt that somehow focusing on profit just wouldn’t be very motivating to most employees.  The CEO’s response was telling – “If we don’t make a profit, we’re out of business. And we’re all out of a job.”  Similarly, in the non-profit world, we hear the slogan “No margin, no mission.”

And, all values aren’t necessarily “humanistic” attributes like teamwork, respect, or public service. Values create both an ethical and a practical compass that influences actions and decision in every-day situations. In a “lean” company like Toyota, for example, values include “Go to where the work is done and find the facts,” “Encourage Consistency,” and “Reduce Waste” – all part of a rigorous emphasis on continuous, measureable process improvement.

Ultimately, values reflect the personality of the organization, and are an important component of the organization’s culture – part of the foundational perspective we refer to as “Organizational Capacity.” As part of this, well-articulated values can be a powerful way to attract and screen new employees who are compatible with the culture of your organization.

Finally, the assessment of an organization’s strengths and weaknesses may show that the current values of the leadership or workforce are incompatible with what is needed to move forward, seize opportunities, or adapt to change.  In that case, a strategic theme addressing cultural transformation may be called for.  This cultural transformation may be essential to achieve other goals of the organization.

Read more about Values in The Institute Way: Simplify Strategic Planning and Management with the Balanced Scorecard.

Gail Stout Perry Gail 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.

Are Strategic “Leaps of Logic” Leaving You Dazed and Confused?

By: Gail Stout Perry

Nov 22, 2013 11950 Views

Have you ever known someone whose brain works faster than they can talk or write?  They often appear to be making leaps of logic when actually, their brain is working through logical steps but they are only communicating their first and last thought in the flow...not the thoughts in the middle.  I have found that many CEO’s suffer from a similar “problem.”  Often, they have a strategy in their heads yet it appears to others that they have made a giant leap from vision to KPIs or initiatives.   So while the CEO usually understands how the pieces fit together, most employees are not mind-readers and cannot follow the “leaps of logic”.

This point was vividly illustrated to me in a phone call I had last week.  A CEO called to say he wanted to use a balanced scorecard – he had seen a competitor company achieve outstanding performance which they attributed to their use of balanced scorecard.   Furthermore, he had already figured out the five most important KPIs for his own company...and he asked if we could help him get the managers and employees in his 36 locations to understand and get motivated to take action in alignment with these 5 KPIs. SIGH....I knew it would be a long conversation but he was so sincere and motivated that I dove in and began to try and pull the “middle part” out of his head by asking him questions.

He had a very clear picture of the future state of his company and his descriptions were compelling and detailed.  As we talked, I began to loosely translate his word images to strategic objectives...I could almost create a strategy map from his stories.  And that’s ONE point:  A strategy map tells a story, it paints the picture of the organization’s future state and how it plans to get there.  He seemingly skipped this and other important steps when he leaped from vision to KPI’s and, therefore, he was missing the logical linkages.

Furthermore as I helped him cross-walk his 5 KPIs to the potential objectives,  I was able to show him that his KPIs were all in the results perspective(financial and customer)...he hadn’t fully considered the  driver KPIs that would be needed until I asked enough questions to start teasing the driver strategic objectives out of his head.  In other words, he was asking his employees to focus on end results without articulating a strategy to achieve those results.

After about an hour he said, “I get it.  I skipped the middle part and that’s the MOST important part. I was told that there is a LOT of work to get to meaningful and strategic KPIs but I didn’t understand the middle part.  It is truly important.”   Eureka!

And one final point that I made ....and which he definitely understood:  no matter how smart and fast-thinking he is, if he doesn’t involve his team in the creation of strategy and the strategic balanced scorecard, they will be unlikely to buy-into or actively engage in improving the company’s performance.  He knows that he must SLOW DOWN and let other not only catch up, but have a SAY in strategy and KPIs. 

Are you a fast-thinking CEO who “skips the middle” or do you work for someone who does?  You may enjoy other real stories and examples in the The Institute Way:  Simplify Strategic Planning & Management with the Balanced Scorecard.

Gail Stout Perry Gail 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.

Translation Please

By: Gail Stout Perry

Oct 31, 2013 12635 Views

I am absolutely addicted to the television show, “Big Bang Theory.”  Have you seen it?  I catch myself laughing out loud at it...even when watching it on planes (yes, that’s a little embarrassing). People who are fluent in the language of math and science are actually bilingual.  And that’s what I love about the quirky characters on Big Bang Theory. They not only understand how to string words and punctuation together to form sentences and paragraphs that communicate meaning, but they also know how to string numbers and symbols together to form equations that communicate meaning.  And when someone is fluent in both, sometimes they slip back and forth between the two languages and things get comical.
  
I’ve already admitted that I am a geek, so let me give you an example from my own life. When I was in college, I had to go over to the business building to take a class.  As I sat down and prepared for class to start, I noticed something carved into the top of the desk.  It was a calculus equation.  When read aloud using the literal “word” meaning versus the “math” meaning, the equation said:  “The limit (e.g., cannot go any further) of an Engineering Student when his calculus GPA approaches Zero is a transfer to the College of Business”. I laughed out loud.  Several of my friends had recently transferred out of engineering and into business. I can only imagine which one scrawled this equation on the desk.  Or how many students had looked at it and not understood that it was a funny message. 

Understanding that math is actually a language is a very important concept for developing meaningful performance measures for your organization.  Some people are fluent in the language of business. Others are fluent in the language of math and statistics.  Few, it seems, are fluent in both. 
 
We’ve found that whenever an organization is struggling to develop KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), it is most often due to a “language barrier” in translating from the strategic intent of the business (words and sentences) to meaningful measures of performance (numbers and equations).
 
And there is actually a very simple solution. In the Institute's Nine-Step-To-Success™ framework, we use something called “intended results”. These brief written statements are the “Rosetta stone” for translating the “in plain English” strategic intent of an objective into a meaningful measure that can be used for strategic performance analysis.  

To learn more, check out Chapter 10 of The Institute Way or join us for an upcoming training course. We’ll show you how to crack the code and move fluidly between both languages.

Gail Stout Perry Gail 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.

The Ultimate Fantasy

By Gail Stout Perry

Oct 14, 2013 5666 Views

CheerleadersHigh School Football, College Football and Pro Football still don’t scratch the itch.  Are you familiar with Fantasy Football? Football Season in Texas is well underway yet even with  football everywhere you turn, there are a lot of people who are just as excited about Fantasy Football.  If you are not familiar with the concept, fantasy football is a game in which team “owners” draft  pro players to assemble their ultimate fantasy team.  Then as actual pro football games are played each week, the resultant statistics  from the games are used to calculate how the owner’s fantasy team would have performed. In other words, if the Cowboys’ quarterback had been playing with the Redskins’ running back and Denver’s wide receiver, how would they have performed as a team? 

I never really understood the attraction of Fantasy Football....until today.  I have recently observed a couple of organizations that are similar size / similar business models, yet their team performance is radically different.  In one organization, people are enthusiastic and innovative – they have a wonderful team spirit -  and in the other, the team has to be prodded along.  And as I mulled this over, I remembered Daniel Pink’s book, “Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”.  Pink has found that autonomy over “your team”...in other words, being able to choose your own team...is a primary motivator and he backs this up with research as well as examples from companies such as Whole Foods and Facebook that are successfully allowing employees to select their teammates.

 

And it hit me, the difference between the high performing company and the struggling company had to do with team performance.  And there was a difference in how the teams were created. One had forced staff to “play nicely together” while the other has allowed its staff more autonomy to choose their teams. And isn’t that the ultimate fantasy? To be able to choose a winning team rather than plodding along with whatever team you happen to have landed in?

I get it now.  This is also what makes Fantasy Football so fun - the ability to choose a team and feel pride in the team’s performance results. I plan to participate next season – that way, if the Cowboys have a bad week, I’ll still have a chance to celebrate via my fantasy team’s results!

  

To learn more about organizational change management and how to achieve transformational results for your organization, we invite you to explore The Institute Way:  Simplify Strategic Planning & Management with the Balanced Scorecard.  And to learn more about Fantasy Football, check out the popular sitcom, The League.