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The 10th principle of Effective Balanced Scorecard is about Learning.

The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.” Arie de Geus

Does your organisation really learn?

Whilst chatting with a manager of a largish organisation I suggested it was useful to think about organisations and how they learn, in the same way we think about people and how they learn. She said she would think about that and went off to her next meeting. Two weeks later we bumped into each other again and she said, “I thought about your idea. I came to the conclusion it was silly, as this organisation does not learn.” So I asked, in that case if you met a person with such an inability to learn, how would you classify their learning disability? At that point she replied, “Oh err – highly autistic”. The penny had dropped.

I use this analogy a lot, though most organisations would not have such a high degree of learning disability. Some organisations plough on regardless of what the outside world is telling them. Some organisations do not listen to the inner voices of their people. Some appear to have split personalities depending upon which department or manager you are talking with. Some have invested so much time in their strategy that they believe it must be right.

A strategy is just an hypothesis, that needs testing and learning from

Yet their strategy is “Just an hypothesis”. It is not provable. It’s an idea. It’s a set of beliefs about what the environment is like, what the customers want, what the organisation is capable of delivering and how it can change. You can’t guarantee it will work like a law of nature. It may be based upon research and experience, but its still a belief, and hopefully more than hope and magic.

So, like every hypothesis, making it happen is a test. A test of whether it really is true that implementing that system, changing that product, serving those customers, cutting those costs, will succeed.

So the quicker you get feedback on your hypothesis the better. This is because the sooner you get feedback, listen to it, evaluate it, make mode decisions, the sooner you will be able to refined, develop and update the strategy. You would not set sail across the Atlantic on the basis on the weather forecast at the time you left. You know the weather will change in that time and you may even come across a few storms. If you assume the wind is always in the same direction you are likely to end up way of course (if not sunk) by the end.

Likewise, strategy is a hypothesis. The sooner you test it and refine it the better.  That is why it is really important to build into the management team meetings and performance management processes, the mechanisms to refine and update the strategy maps and scorecards as the strategy is executed.

The 10th principle of good balanced scorecard design:

Principle 10: Strategy evolves, you learn from its execution: Management is about testing and learning from its execution. Performance management needs to reflect this.

Your balanced scorecard will evolve as you learn

You have probably already started to think about your strategy, scorecards, measures and targets. As you have realised they are just the same. They too start off with an initial design (and usually a lot of effort, energy and time goes into that stage). Yet with time those measures and targets, those strategy map objectives, will become wrong. Yet so many performance management systems start off with an initial scorecard and leave it in place. You find the same set of measures 1-2 years later. Ironically what often happens is that the use of the scorecard drops away as the managers realise it no longer serves their purpose. In reality the strategy has evolved and the scorecard has not evolved with it.

You are creating a tool for the management team to discuss and learn from

But bear in mind who’s job, who’s responsibility it is to maintain this. It is not the role of planners and performance managers. It’s the role of the management team. So the degree of ownership, understanding and usefulness they have is directly related to their ability to use it and maintain it. Which in turn is related to the life expectancy of the performance management approach.

Any performance management project is a change project

You have probably realised that introducing performance management is a change management project. You have to be clear who needs to change, how that change is to be brought about and explicitly what you need to be doing to make that change happen. As you would expect, the skills of managing change have a massive effect.

In our next series of newsletters, we will explore how to make strategy happen, quicker. We’ll also explore how the other practices, processes and systems in an organisation can undermine your performance management ambitions and what you can do about them.

In the meantime look critically at your own performance management approach, where it is used, how it is used and what it is used for. Ask around your management team to see if they believe in the strategy map and scorecard. Ask them are they using it, do they talk about it, do they expect their teams to use it and manage with it? Is it giving them useful information? If you aren’t getting the right sort of vibes, then you know what kind of experience you need to help you, don’t you?

More soon

Phil Jones