Boots on the Ground: Making a Difference in Kuwait

Boots on the Ground: Making a Difference in Kuwait

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.

Dear Abby-Gail: How Much is Too Much?

Dear Abby-Gail: How Much is Too Much?

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.

Dear Abby-Gail: 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.

Skinny Jeans and the New Math

Skinny Jeans and the New Math

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.

Balanced Scorecard Gone Bad – What’s that Funky Smell?

Balanced Scorecard Gone Bad – What’s that Funky Smell?

I had a distressing phone conversation earlier this week.  A former client called to say they were at a decision-point. They were trying to decide if they wanted to keep using their balanced scorecard system or not.  He went on to say, “to be quite honest, the scorecard really isn’t driving the organization.  It feels more like ‘busy work’…it leaves a bad taste in our mouths.” 

“In fact,” he continued, “our project management discipline is clearly what is strategically guiding the organization while the balanced scorecard feels like an anchor weighing us down.   It used to be what propelled us forward and kept everyone in alignment.  Maybe if we cascade the scorecard, this will help?”   I was perplexed.  While I’ve diagnosed the root cause and prescribed the solutions for a lot of “broken” scorecard systems, this was the first time I’d heard of project management being “more strategic” than the strategic management system that drives it.

The next day, I joined the client executive team on a web conference.  We walked through an overview of an integrated scorecard system – reviewing the 14 components of a fully integrated system.  As we talked, some of the team members began remembering back to when they built the original scorecard and recalled how the underlying strategic elements were built – how they brought in board members and stakeholders to inform and set strategic direction.  But most importantly, they began to remember when it was built.

This client is a healthcare organization and they built their original scorecard during the last presidential election cycle – at a time when there was political uncertainty.  The environment was so uncertain that one of their strategic themes was “Readiness for Public Policy Changes” which meant that their resultant strategic scorecard was designed to prepare them for whichever way the political winds eventually blew.  And that scorecard was appropriate for the times.

But their environment has since changed…significantly!  In the past year or so, the Affordable Care Act now drives all action and projects at this organization.  This massive shift in their strategic environment happened to coincide with the implementation of a robust project management system in which the portfolio is aligned to the tenants of Triple Aim.   That’s when the room went silent.  As I strained to hear across the phone line, I began to hear murmurs as one after another team member came to the same diagnosis.  Their environment had changed and they had shifted strategic directions without updating their strategy / strategic balanced scorecard.  Their strategic scorecard was outdated….expired!  Their sense that their old scorecard was anchoring them in the past and was at odds with the new implied direction of the organization was absolutely correct.

They had stumbled into the classic “Set It and Forget It” mistake.  Their project management discipline (which is critical to strategy execution) appeared to be “more strategic” because it was more aligned with their true strategy than was the rest of their strategic management system.  Due to some key team member turnover, they had forgotten their entire system needs to go through a regular strategic evaluation cycle!  Scorecards do not have indefinites shelf lives….they are dynamic systems designed to allow an organization to shift directions, as needed.  The team is now in the process of updating their entire strategic management system to reflect their current reality. And as part of this update process, they will ensure that their current strategic direction is chosen, not implied.   Only then can they be sure that their current portfolio of projects is truly aligned for maximum strategic impact.

Does your scorecard have a funky smell?  For more examples of Scorecard Challenges and Solutions, we invite you to read “The Institute Way: Simply Strategic Planning & Management with the Balanced Scorecard.”

We also invite you to join the conversation at our Linked In group: www.theInstitutePress.com/group

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