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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.

"Fight" of the Bumblebee

By: David Wilsey

Feb 14, 2014 18961 Views 0 Comments FacebookTwitterLinkedInGoogle Plus
Have you heard the common legend that scientists have proven that bumblebees, in terms  of aerodynamics, can’t fly?  This is a myth that came about because about eighty years ago an aerodynamicist made this statement based on an assumption that the bees’ wings were a smooth plane.  It was reported by the media before the aerodynamicist actually looked at the wing under a microscope and found that the assumption was incorrect.  While the scientist and the media issued retractions, the legend lives on.

Unfortunately, in the management world, decisions are made every day based on “legends” rather than on real evidence. At a manufacturing company I once worked for, it was a well-known “fact” that it was more profitable to discount prices to increase volume in a particular market.  Even after a team of business managers proved discounting was a money loser, certain sales managers continued to rigorously advocate for the discount strategy for years.  I like to refer to any ongoing argument like this as the "Fight" of the Bumblebee.  This fight is the most difficult when the bumblebee argument is emotionally compelling (they’re not supposed to be able to fly!) and the truth is difficult to convey (bumblebees’ wings encounter dynamic stall in every oscillation cycle, whatever that means). Everyone loves a discount and can see pallets of product going out the door.  Not everyone understands some of the indirect nuances that contribute to profit.

Winning the fight of the bumblebee is dependent on making sure that you are interpreting, visualizing, and reporting performance information in a meaningful way.  People have to be trained to appreciate the difference between gut instinct and data-driven decision making.  Once they see analysis done well a couple of times, they will start asking for it.

The key to interpreting a measurement is comparison. And the trick is to display the information in a way that effectively answers the question, Compared to what?  Visualizing performance over time identifies trends that show data direction and development and provide context for the underlying story relative to strategy. The simplest and most effective way I’ve seen for consistently visualizing data is with a Smart Chart (or XmR chart), a tool showing the natural variation in performance data.

Once you have a better idea of how to interpret your data, reporting the information in a way that is meaningful is important.  Reports should always be structured around strategy, so that people have the right context to understand what the data is about.  Reports should answer basic questions you need to know, such as what is our current level of performance?, why are we getting that result?, and what are we going to do next?

For more about how to interpret, visualize and report performance, see 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 a career spanning over 30 years of strategic planning and performance management consulting with corporate, nonprofit, and government organizations, she enjoys speaking, training, and writing, sharing her experience with others. She currently is the Chief Strategy Officer and VP Americas for Corporater.

Boots on the Ground: Making a Difference in Kuwait

By Gail Stout Perry

Nov 7, 2013 56669 Views 0 Comments FacebookTwitterLinkedInGoogle Plus

Dateline: CAMP ARIFJAN, Kuwait. First, let me acknowledge that for some inexplicable reason, my career has repeatedly veered into Department of Defense work and this little fact is extremely amusing to those who know that my idea of “roughing it” means staying in less than a four-star hotel and, even worse, having to eat with plastic utensils and use paper napkins.  Nonetheless, I and my high heels are frequently found traipsing across military bases.

I was recently on yet another military base and had the opportunity to visit with a former Institute student – a U.S. Army Colonel.  He had deployed to Kuwait just days after attending our Balanced Scorecard Boot Camp course in 2011.  Upon arrival he found that the Army Contracting Command for which he was to be responsible was faced with tremendous challenges – from dealing with perceptions of corruption in the local supply chain to managing the extreme complexities of contracting for all of the products and services needed by the Army in such a challenging location. 
 
This particular command needed a rapid transformation in order to achieve his vision of “being recognized by our customers as the best contracting office in the U.S. Army.”  -  a bold vision considering the challenges that he and his team were facing.

But before his tour of duty had ended, his contracting command had, indeed, received accolades and acknowledgement as being one of the best Army Contracting Commands anywhere in the world

How did he lead his Command to achieve this vision in such a short time period?  He applied his new knowledge and developed a strategic balanced scorecard.

A few “secrets” to the success of his scorecard implementation should sound familiar to students of The Institute Way:

  • Leadership Engagement: Command & staff meetings utilized statistics on a dashboard tool to provide a snapshot status of where the organization was in accomplishing the strategic plan objectives.
  • Incorporating the “Voice of the Customer”: The team regularly conducted customer satisfaction surveys to obtain feedback in order to sustain or improve the contracting processes within the command.
  • Alignment: The command’s managers embraced the strategic scorecard and used it for employee counseling and to track personnel contributions.

Army Public Affairs subsequently featured the command’s accomplishments – to learn more:  http://www.army.mil/article/71433

To learn more about how to achieve transformational results for your organization or to read more stories of break-through success, we invite you to explore 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 a career spanning over 30 years of strategic planning and performance management consulting with corporate, nonprofit, and government organizations, she enjoys speaking, training, and writing, sharing her experience with others. She currently is the Chief Strategy Officer and VP Americas for Corporater.

Dear Abby-Gail: How Much is Too Much?

By Gail Stout Perry

Oct 29, 2013 10405 Views 0 Comments FacebookTwitterLinkedInGoogle Plus

There has been a lot of interest in my recent blog post:  “Balanced Scorecard Gone Bad: What’s that Funky Smell?”  Several people have posted comments and questions in various forums, but one in particular deserves special attention.
  
From Gary: I believe a key point in your message is that a strategy is never static due to external changes (e.g., competitor moves, new technologies), so it will require continuous adjusting.  But this raises a different question. Since as strategic objectives change or the emphasis of what to accomplish within strategic objectives change, this means some KPIs may be dropped and others added (or their weightings may need to be tweaked). As a result, how much change in KPIs can an organization tolerate?

Dear Gary: This is an excellent question.  When strategy changes, then KPIs will have to change. Organizational tolerance to change is affected by several things. 

(1) Is the scorecard system engrained in the organizational culture such that management trusts the system and uses it to make decisions?  If so, they will have relatively high tolerance for change in the KPIs because they understand that the change is necessary if they are to continue to rely upon the system to make strategically relevant decisions. 

(2) Given that you know you need to adjust the KPI, how quickly can you achieve 7 data points on the new or adjusted KPI?  In other words, is there baseline information available that will help you quickly establish an XmR chart?  If not, can you achieve frequent enough reporting points to have useful trend analysis within 6 months?  If you were using an excellent KPI in the past and then switch to one in which it will be a year (or more) before you have enough data for management to have the 7 data points needed to make statistically sound decisions, this will cause frustration and lower the tolerance for the necessary change.

(3) Can your software system handle these changes without losing your historical performance on the objective (assuming the objective does not change)?  Knowing that you won’t be throwing away historical information increases tolerance for change.

(4) What about rewards tied to KPIs?  How do your Human Resources processes link individual or group performance and incentives to KPI performance?  What will be the result of changing a KPI right now?  If it can’t be changed due to a covenant with employees, can it be removed from the calculation so that you don’t keep working towards an “expired strategy”?

I invite feedback from others.  What else has impacted your organization’s tolerance for needed change in its KPIs?  And does anyone want to share their tips for overcoming resistance to this sort of change?

For more challenges and solutions, we invite you to explore The Institute Way: Simply Strategic Planning & Management with the Balanced Scorecard.

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.

The Strategic Planning Wheel of Doom

By David Wilsey

Oct 25, 2013 12426 Views 0 Comments FacebookTwitterLinkedInGoogle Plus

Hamster wheelI talked to a student from one of our classes over a year after the class to see how things were going, and she told me a long story about how they were still debating the exact wording of objective number 9.  I asked her if they had reached their targets on any key measures and she said that they were still tweaking the measurement data definition.  So a year after the class, they were still just thinking about how to get started!

In our recent webinar, we named this as one of our Top Eight Strategic Management Horrors, dubbing it the Wheel of Doom.  This horror is where the strategic management team begins the strategy formulation and planning process and is never heard from again.  They wordsmith the mission and vision statements for weeks.  They argue for months about the SWOT analysis.  They change strategic themes four times.  They refine the strategy map for months and months, and so on, without ever moving on.

So what is the solution?  How do you get the hamster off that wheel?

My first recommendation is to set a deadline.  In other words, if you start your strategic planning effort on September 1, set a deadline of, say, October 31.  On that date, everyone should agree that we will no longer wordsmith strategy but will instead discuss our performance results.  We won’t have to have the entire system done, but we will have at least a couple of important measures in place so that we can discuss how we are performing versus our strategic objectives.

The second thing that is critical to always remember the old saying that perfect is the enemy of good. None of this is written in stone.  Strategic planning is an iterative process and so implementing an 80% solution quickly is better than drawing out the process trying to create the perfect system.  It’s easier to maintain momentum if you can maintain high energy and move on quickly.

The third recommendation is to keep it simple.  Remember you can’t do everything for everyone.  Be a brutal minimalist at each step of the way to keep the number of objectives and measures down.  Then when you start executing strategy, focus on just a few key focus areas to start. Focus on improving 1-3 key processes that will drive the highest priority gaps in performance.

Finally, it seems like common sense for people that are good with action items, but some folks are intimidated by long term projects and so they never get going.  They literally don’t know where to start. For those of you that struggle with that, the first step is to take those long-term, complex initiatives and break them down into shorter-term tasks.  Then get started on the first task.

For more on how to improve strategic planning and move on to strategy execution, see The Institute Way: Simplify Strategic Planning and Management with the Balanced Scorecard.

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.

Garth Brooks and the Music Industry’s Performance Measurement Problem

By David Wilsey

Oct 11, 2013 24482 Views 0 Comments FacebookTwitterLinkedInGoogle Plus

guitarThe rock music industry in 1991 was in transition. The glam-rock and new wave music of the eighties was out and the industry had not yet settled on alternative rock and grunge as the iconic sound of the decade. And most shockingly, after almost forty years of fans preferring rock music to country music by a reliably constant percentage, sales figures were indicating that preferences were shifting from rock to country. 

The industry made what seemed like a very logical assumption: the shift was obviously caused by the incredible crossover appeal of Country superstar Garth Brooks, who had recently taken the music industry by storm. They also took very predictable actions in response: several promising rock bands were dumped while resources were shifted to other country acts.

In the short run, these actions seemed to reinforce the trend, with even more country music sales. But then something very strange happened: the sales numbers slowly drifted back to the exact pre-Garth Brooks percentages, with rock being preferred by the same percentage it had for decades. Industry analysts were left scratching their head. What just happened?

What they found after some analysis was surprising. In March 1991, the industry began counting record sales using the Nielsen SoundScan system. Before that, sales were counted by calling stores across the U.S. to collect sales data – an incredibly ineffective collection method. Unfortunately, not all record stores were able to implement the SoundScan system immediately and continued using the old method for months or even years. On the other hand, one behemoth was online immediately: Wal-Mart. In the early days of SoundScan, every single time a Wal-Mart sales associate scanned a CD, it was counted by SoundScan and reordered, whereas record store sales (and reorders) were hit-and-miss. 

Here’s the thing that nobody had thought about before: in 1991, country music fans primarily bought their music from Wal-Mart and rock music fans primarily bought their music from record stores.  Once all of the record stores were online, it became clear that the appearance of a shift in preference was nothing more than a measurement data collection problem.

The lesson to this story is that it is critical to resist the urge for a knee-jerk reaction to data such as dumping promising rock bands! There is a process discipline to performance analysis and improvement and the steps are simple. First, a Smart Chart should be used to make sure you are correctly interpreting the data. Then, a root-cause analysis is in order to understand why you are getting the results you are getting. This root cause analysis would have likely revealed the issue with the data in SoundScan being dominated by Wal-Mart sales. Finally, an improvement action plan is implemented and the results are monitored over time. 

To learn more about how to interpret, report and react to your performance data, see the KPI Professional Certification course, or see The Institute Way: Simplify Strategic Planning and Management Using the Balanced Scorecard.

Gail Stout Perry Gail Stout Perry

Gail is co-author of The Institute Way. With a career spanning over 30 years of strategic planning and performance management consulting with corporate, nonprofit, and government organizations, she enjoys speaking, training, and writing, sharing her experience with others. She currently is the Chief Strategy Officer and VP Americas for Corporater.

Skinny Jeans and the New Math

By Gail Stout Perry

Oct 9, 2013 18014 Views 0 Comments FacebookTwitterLinkedInGoogle Plus

I am an engineer by training and a math geek at heart.  So articles about girls and math catch my eye.  Did you know that researchers agree that one’s ability to excel at math and science is as much about attitude as it is about “natural gifts” or gender?  This affirms my own less-than-scientific research findings.  I have a daughter and from her earliest years, I showed her how to apply math to everyday activities (baking was our favorite hands-on lesson, of course).  And anytime friends of hers would complain about how hard math was, I’d make them all stand up and shout, “Girls ROCK at math!!!”   It’s all about the attitude.   Of course, I had a good role model for this. My father showed me how fun math was when I was a child as we built motors together and played around with electronics...scribbling equations and schematics as we went.  I never feared math and science...they were FUN!  

In my work life, I’ve discovered that dread of math, especially statistics, is widespread in the business community.   So let’s tackle something fun:  the concept of correlation.

When developing performance measures in business, we sometimes face a stumbling block in that the thing we desire most to measure is, unfortunately, impossible to measure directly.  So, we have to look for a “proxy” measure that is correlated.

Let me illustrate with an example from daily life.  Let’s say I want to know if I am maintaining my ideal weight versus gaining weight.  It’s easy to measure that directly - hop on the bathroom scale.  But, unfortunately, I can’t.  I travel constantly so I do not have a bathroom scale with me most days. 

So I have a correlate that I measure.  I always carry the same pair of skinny jeans with me.  As long as the jeans will button, I am fairly certain of what the bathroom scale might say, if I had one.  The fit of my jeans is correlated to my weight.   Now, a statistician will remind us that “correlation does not equal causation.”  This simply means is that I need to consider that other things may be causing my jeans not to fit – for example, maybe they shrunk in the wash.  But understanding this, I am reasonably certain that they are a good proxy measure while on the road.

See how easy it was to master two important concepts for measuring performance in business - Direct Measure and Correlated Measure?  It’s all about the attitude!!

To learn much, much more about how to develop meaningful performance measures, we invite you to explore The Institute Way or join us at an upcoming training course.

Dan Montgomery Dan Montgomery

Dan is co-author of The Institute Way. 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.

How the Mighty Have Fallen

By Dan Montgomery

Oct 7, 2013 7613 Views 0 Comments FacebookTwitterLinkedInGoogle Plus

A few months ago, we got a call from a company asking for help with their balanced scorecard – something that happens every day.  What was surprising was that the company was one that was a former winner of the Balanced Scorecard Hall of Fame, and one that I had worked with years before.

A lot had happened in eleven years. All the original architects of the balanced scorecard had left for other organizations.  It was no longer used as a way to evaluate or update strategy.  Having been cascaded down to an individual employee level years before, what they now called “the balanced scorecard” was simply a way to set targets for employees, based on set objectives and measures.  It was run out of the HR department, where the caller was a mid-level manager. These objectives and measures had become decoupled from strategy, and had not been reviewed or evaluated in years.  What had once been a tool for individual employee alignment with corporate goals was now only a way to set annual targets for individuals. And without ongoing alignment, it was perceived that it was Corporate’s way to get the employees to jump higher every year.  HR’s complaint was that only 5% of the employees had responded to the most recent request for their annual targets.

No wonder!

When I asked the person I was talking with about whether there was a possibility of talking with their strategy function, she was surprised -  “Balanced Scorecard is an HR tool – I didn’t think it had anything to do with strategy!”

Sustaining a balanced scorecard takes ongoing leadership engagement, and needs to be the basis for ongoing strategic management conversations NOT a once year report card. Not only management, but all employees benefit from being involved in discussing strategy, identifying objectives, measures, targets and strategic initiatives at the level that they impact, and that impacts them.

For more on aligning individual objectives with strategy visit here.

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.

The Post-Retreat Strategic Planning Letdown

By David Wilsey

Oct 2, 2013 28920 Views 0 Comments FacebookTwitterLinkedInGoogle Plus

On the radio the other day there was mountain climber that shared her experience standing atop Mount Everest. She said that while standing on that summit she was surprised to find that rather than revel in her achievement and enjoy the view that so relatively few people have seen, her thoughts were dominated by an unexpectedly unsettling realization: now, I have to get back down. Besides the fact that getting back down was in some ways physically harder than climbing up, the bigger problem was that her primary motivation – to reach the summit – had been achieved. Reaching that summit had been an inspirational goal driving her through each step of the journey; from the mundane strength training years earlier to those final few steps. Her simple primary motivating factor now would take a very different form: survival.

This type of letdown is common to any major achievement or milestone in life. So it’s not unexpected that a similar phenomenon occurs in the strategic management world. Most commonly, this letdown occurs as soon as the big planning retreat event is over and the resulting documentation has been put together. Once the strategy team has formulated strategy, developed a strategy map, identified performance measures, prioritized initiatives, and rolled everything out to the entire organization, the team stands at the top of that mountain of work and thinks we did it, now what?

Unfortunately, this is the point that too many organizations realize that the real work was not in writing the plan but in the execution of all of those grand ideas. They let the process run out of steam and begin getting too distracted by day-to-day problems and operational concerns to follow through.

So how do you avoid the post-retreat strategic planning letdown?  Here are a few tips:

  • Don’t think of strategy as an event: Many people still think that the only time you should talk about strategy is after playing golf during a big retreat.  Strategy management is about making strategy a part of day-to-day management. Try to institutionalize the strategic thinking process that was used to develop the plan. Make strategy everybody’s job instead of just the management team. Incorporate strategy into the day-to-day agenda.
  • Prioritize & keep things simple: No organization can do everything for everyone. Select 3-4 high level goals to focus on to start and a few high-priority initiatives to support each goal. Manage your initiative list down to get to the select few.
  • Focus on process improvement instead of judging people: ownership and accountability are needed, but if you want to develop a continuous improvement culture, employees cannot worry about getting punished every time they report bad news. Underperformance is more often than not the result of a process failure and so that’s where the focus should be.
  • Use technology for analysis and information sharing: Some organizations fail to fully analyze the data they are collecting or short-circuit their strategy execution success by choosing to use spreadsheets for performance analysis.  Remember that it isn’t helpful for a single analyst to fully understand how the organization is performing. Information sharing and dialog are critical in helping turn information into knowledge and understanding so that leaders can make better strategic decisions.

For more suggestions on how to avoid this letdown, see the Sustaining and Managing with the Balanced Scorecard chapter of 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 a career spanning over 30 years of strategic planning and performance management consulting with corporate, nonprofit, and government organizations, she enjoys speaking, training, and writing, sharing her experience with others. She currently is the Chief Strategy Officer and VP Americas for Corporater.

PS: Our Balanced Scorecard Saved The U.S. Army $26 Million

By Gail Stout Perry

Sep 30, 2013 14257 Views 0 Comments FacebookTwitterLinkedInGoogle Plus

I was working with an Army command at Ft. Sam Houston this week and had invited a special guest - Scott Hencshel - to address the group regarding the organizational challenges of implementing a balanced scorecard system within Army.  (Scott’s command is also stationed at Ft. Sam Houston -  Army Medical Department Center & School (AMEDDC&S), an Institute “Award for Excellence” winner.)  

As Scott was wrapping up, someone asked a final question, “What was the biggest benefit that AMEDDC&S realized after implementing its strategic balanced scorecard?”  Scott talked about alignment, focus, and data-driven decision making.  Then as he was making his way to the door he turned back and said, “Oh yeah, we immediately saved the Army $26 million.” 

Say what?!?!

AMEDDC&S is where the U.S. Army educates and trains all of its medical personnel – over 27,000 soldiers. One of the strategic measures on AMEDD’s balanced scorecard is “attrition rates.”  Before the scorecard was implemented, it was commonly believed that discipline issues were the primary reason for soldiers not completing their training programs – because resolution of these discipline issues were what consumed everyone’s time.  Once the scorecard was implemented, attrition was measured more thoroughly and two discoveries were made:

  1. Attrition was MUCH higher than originally thought.  The traditional calculation was flawed and attrition was actually over 34%.  That means 1/3 of those entering the medical training programs would “drop-out” thereby wasting the Army’s investment in their training.
  2. Academic performance, not discipline, was discovered to be the primary reason for attrition.

So as the scorecard team delved further, they looked for root causes of poor academic performance resulting in attrition incidents.  They discovered that a major cause was a lack of communication between the Brigade leadership and the AMEDDC&S faculty.  Students in the medical training program were being assigned Brigade duties that prevented them from having proper opportunities to study and prepare for classes and exams.   A prime example was students falling asleep during final exams due to having served Brigade guard duty the night before. 

Once the communications issues were corrected, overall attrition rapidly dropped from 34% to below 20%...thereby saving the U.S. Army $26 million.

PS:  Did I mention that I have the best job in the world?!?  It is extremely rewarding to hear about results like this.

For more examples of break-through performance, we invite you to read “The Institute Way: Simply Strategic Planning & Management with the Balanced Scorecard. 



Dan Montgomery Dan Montgomery

Dan is co-author of The Institute Way. 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.

Bringing Innovation Down to Earth

By Dan Montgomery

Sep 27, 2013 13342 Views 0 Comments FacebookTwitterLinkedInGoogle Plus

Years ago, I worked for a Big 5 consulting firm and did a lot of strategic planning projects. In one case I remember we facilitated four three-day workshops with the top 25 executives in a government-owned power generation company in Canada. We went through a pretty typical strategy formulation process, talking about strengths and weakness, opportunities and threats, mission, vision, values, on down the line until we developed key performance indicators and an action plan.

A big theme in both the vision and the values was Innovation.  We wordsmithed those statements, and moved on.  Everything was going along like clockwork until 3 pm on the very last day of the very last workshop, when one manager raised his hand and said, “You know, after all this talk about vision and values and innovation, I don’t see that we’ve ever really defined what we mean by innovation or talked about how to put it into practice.”

And he was right. The way we did strategic planning back then, there was no connecting the dots. Which indicators would tell us if they had become more innovative?  What projects would foster innovation? That was never discussed. The indicators were all operational measures, and the projects were all concerned with improving power generation processes – nothing about innovation.

I went back to the office feeling like something was wrong with this picture.  Imagine my delight a few weeks later when I shared this dilemma – with another client – and he told me about balanced scorecard.  I’ve been working with it ever since. With the balanced scorecard, Innovation can be treated as a theme and integrated – top to bottom  - in a way that is measureable and actionable.  To read more about how the balanced scorecard can foster Innovation, see How to Build Innovation Into Your Strategy.

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