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Strategy Review Meetings - Review by Theme

Posted May 27, 2011 10:08 AM by Ted Jackson

I have been asked about strategy review meetings on a more frequent basis. The most recent one was "Tell me about the best strategy review meeting you have seen. Why was it so good?" It got me thinking that there are multiple ways to conduct a strategy review meeting: Review objectives that are off track, review everything, review by theme, and review just one objective. In this blog, I'll focus on reviewing by theme.

Well, to talk best about reviewing by theme, I guess we all need to be on the same page with regards to what a theme is. Let's keep it simple--a theme is a subset of a strategy that has a group of similar goals. In a Balanced Scorecard, a theme tends to cut across perspectives. Common perspectives are Customer or Constituent, Internal Process, Financial, Learning and Growth, and sometimes you even see a Mission or Stakeholder perspective in the nonprofit/government world. A theme contains goals or objectives that cut across these perspectives. In a theme, you could have process objectives that link to constituent outcomes and ultimately link to mission results. Common themes would be around operational excellence, program management, fundraising, constituent relations and advocacy. There can be many more.

Lets make it even simpler. A theme is a way to break down your strategy into 3-5 key areas. So conducting a strategy review by theme means that you review one key area at a time.

The Challenge

Some organizations get confused about themes. They already have perspectives, objectives, and a strategy map. Introducing a theme is another piece of terminology that makes the Balanced Scorecard more complicated. This is especially true in organizations that have 10 objectives or less. Other organizations feel like a theme review doesn't allow you to spot the connections in the strategy that go across themes. You may miss the ability to talk about key HR processes or how a process change in one theme would affect a process in another theme. At other times, people feel like it puts a fair amount of time between reviewing key parts of the strategy. This last one is probably more easily addressed by looking at one a good theme review process looks like.

Keys to Success

Organizations that are managing by theme have clear Theme Owners. These are individuals on the leadership team that are responsible for thinking about the entire set of objectives in a theme, rather than just one objective. Theme owners should be thinking about the skills needed, processes improved, and constituent outcomes across the theme.

Each owner should create a Theme Summary. The summary is a way of looking across the theme and determining what they key issues are and what the implications are to the organization. A theme summary should get the leadership team to look forward and move to taking actions in executing strategy. This can be extremely helpful in keeping your leadership team outside of the details of how each measure is calculated and prevent them from questioning the data for each measure. Theme summaries put the conversation at the right level.

With themes-based management, you need to create a good reporting calendar. The leadership team should review a different theme each month and then do a full scorecard review once a quarter or sometimes three times a year. If you are reviewing only one theme per month, it reduces the monthly workload and it allows the leadership team adequate time to focus on the key issues of that particular theme.

Using themes can be a great way to create alignment throughout the organization. Themes can become a common language to use from the enterprise through divisions and down to departments. The reporting can be down well, but also it allows for an easy way to summarize information across a complex organization.

I would be very interested to hear about your experience with theme-based reporting.

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