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Are You Lost Without a Map?

Posted November 7, 2008 12:39 PM by Dylan Miyake

For years, management frameworks from the business sector have been foisted upon unsuspecting social sector organizations. Not surprisingly, many of them have proven wholly inappropriate for organizations that are not driven purely by financial motives. So why has the Balanced Scorecard been such a success in the social sector?

Put quite simply, the Balanced Scorecard is successful because it works. The Balanced Scorecard helps organizations focus on their mission – so that they can ensure their measurement system, their projects, and their people all align to their mission. For those of you who are unfamiliar with some of the recent Balanced Scorecard success stories, here are two highlights:

  • Canadian Blood Services, responsible for the majority of Canada's blood supply and bone marrow, was able to use the Balanced Scorecard to recover from a massive crisis of confidence.
  • Fulton County Schools in Georgia was able to dramatically increase student test results for underprivileged students, while increasing both teacher satisfaction and parent involvement.

A good Balanced Scorecard starts with a good purpose statement. The purpose statement is a clear and concise statement of your organization's goals in a way that everyone can understand. It's your destination. But, to get to your destination (especially if it's a long way from where you are today), you need a map. A map shows you how to get from here to there, provides alternatives if you run into roadblocks, and points out interesting things along the way.

So, to get to your strategic destination, you need a strategy map. Just like the purpose statement, the strategy map should be easy for everyone – from your clients to your family to your board members – to understand. Notice a trend here? Strategy has an awful reputation as a waste of time because so little time is spent on thinking about how to effectively – and simply – communicate it.

A good strategy map is divided up into five areas. These areas (called "perspectives" by the BSC cognoscenti) are typically labeled mission, client, programs, financial, and people. Perspectives are used (forgive the pun) to give perspective to your map, and to help ensure that you're not just looking at one part of your strategy and ignoring everything else.

The perspectives work in a cause and effect fashion, as follows:

  • Mission: The "true north" of your map. It tells the world why you exist. The mission perspective is typically on the top of the page and represents the success of your organization.
  • Client: You achieve your mission by delivering services to clients (and you need to figure out who these clients are, even if you're in the environmental sector!)
  • Programs: You serve your clients through programs. What programs do you have in place (and are they the right ones) to effectively achieve your mission?
  • Financial: Program can't happen unless you have the financial resources to provide them. Where are your funds coming from? How are you managing costs?
  • People: At the end of the day, it all comes down to people. Do you have the right people? Are they doing the right things? Do they have the right skills?

Working together, the five perspectives help you "tell the story of your strategy." Think about your organization – can you describe in a simple cause and effect manner how you will achieve your strategy? If not, review the questions above by perspective. They may help you begin to think more expansively about your strategy. They may also help you – as they have for recent people we've worked with – better articulate what makes you unique to potential funders.

In a later article, we'll discuss how you can add more detail to your map by defining high level goals (or, as those of us with the "curse of knowledge" like to call them, strategic objectives. If you have a strategy map that you've created that you'd like to share with us, please send it along. We're always looking for more great examples to decorate our office with (and, if you'd like, we'll share your success story in a future article.)

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