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You can design a strategy map for different purposes.  You can draw a ‘strategy map’ in a variety of ways.  However, only some help you develop the strategy and the subsequent scorecard underneath.  The others act more as communication tools.  This article explores different types of strategy map.

I recently spoke at a conference on the balanced scorecard and where another balanced scorecard consultant was speaking. When he did an explanation of strategy maps he asked the audience to do an exercise to produce a strategy map.  In fact, the audience came up with three, very different, types of strategy map.

Strategy map with genuine cause and effect models

One version was the true cause and effect version where their is a clear cause and effect logic between the perspectives of the balanced scorecard. So money is driven by customers needs being met. Their needs are satisfied by what you do well which is driven by your skills knowledge, capability, culture etc (Learning & Growth).

The criticism of this was that they often contained too many objectives and arrows.  This is more about the design and clarity of the cause and effect model than a criticism of strategy maps per se.  It really depends on the strategy and how clearly the strategy map has been drawn.  I have seen some truly awful examples and some very clear and elegant ones.

Symbolic strategy maps

The second version the audience produced were much more symbolic.  They were more pictures that showed the essence of the strategy, still had perspectives, but only perhaps six or nine boxes. No arrows. They were dramatically simplified strategy maps.  These were promoted as being useful to explain the strategy better.  However they also mask the detail of the strategy.  This can be a shame, or can be useful.

  • External reporting: I came across a symbolic strategy map in British Gas’s annual report one year.
  • Case studies: Many balanced scorecard case studies that reach the public have sanitised or symbolic strategy maps.  The Kaplan & Norton books have many of these.  Unfortunately it tends to suggest to people that these are more typical.  When we did the case study got the Diana memorial fund we created a more symbolic strategy map that hid detail.  They might be useful to show the major themes.  They don’t show what is really going on.
  • An introduction:  These are often useful as a introduction to the major themes in communication, before you dive into the detail.  They also act as a reminder.  They are a route in.

Strategy map as a metaphor

The third type were almost metaphors. They were pictures in onto which the elements of the strategy were attached. For instance, dealing with an airline, the picture of the plane have the finances on the front, the two themes of the strategy as the wings, customers as passengers (naturally) and the learning and growth messages as the tail planes and fin.

As these were being presented it was obvious there was some value in all three. In fact all three are equally valid for different purposes and audiences.

The symbolic picture (Not really a strategy map) is good to get the message across in a friendly manner where people make the connection through the picture to the strategy. Clearly it is not the whole strategy. I know one client who used cartoon aircraft with their management moving from the pilot’s seats to the wings to symbolise how managements role was to keep the plane airborne whilst others set the direction.

Strategy map versions for different audiences

The simplified version of a strategy map is great for board members, and annual statements to shareholders. Here is a simplified picture of the shape of our strategy. Nothing too complicated. Including pictures to remind you of the important elements. Often useful to communicate the essence of the strategy to the staff.

The detailed strategy map is what the board and management team use. It has the richness and detail that they need and they know as the true complexity and complications of the organisation. It is also the one that gets cascaded through the organisation. Because it is more meaty (and has detail beneath it) it is easier to cascade to the various departments or divisions so they can develop their strategy map that explicitly supports the corporate version.

Strategy maps for different purposes

So it is not a case of either/or for these types of strategy map. It is a case of horses for courses.  Asking , “What is the purpose of my strategy map?” I know of plenty of situations where compressing and forcing the richness of a detailed strategy map into a small number of objectives effectively lost the meaning and created a whole set of nominalisation that people could say “yes” to, but not know what specifically to do as a consequence.

So horses for courses, but please design the detailed one first with the structure in mind, so that you can move to the others easier.

For more advice on developing strategy maps, that work for you and your organisation, just contact me

Phil Jones