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The Quarterly Balanced Scorecard Meeting

Posted June 27, 2012 11:22 AM by Ted Jackson

Well, it is the last week of June, and that means for most organizations, they are looking at the end of the quarter or even the end of the fiscal year. If you are in a for-profit organization, that means you are pushing for sales, invoices, and collections. In nonprofits, fundraising is extremely busy as is the quest to spend budget (if you are a use it or lose it organization). So, what is so special about this week, and why is it so crazy?

What Gets Measured Gets Done

This is an oft quoted statement in performance management: "If you measure it, people will pay attention to it." This makes sense, and for the most part is a good thing. If you know the right strategic measures for your organization, you can communicate them to your staff and even link compensation where appropriate. The organization will focus on the measures and improve performance. For the most part, this is good and logical. Yes, Dan Pink may disagree about the effectiveness of measuring performance on complex tasks, but I would say that using measures to communicate what is important to the organization is not a bad thing. The bad thing to me is when all of the behavior is pushed to the end of the quarter or the end of the year.

It is well known that there are more traffic police out giving speeding tickets at the end of each quarter. They are trying to meet their revenue targets for the quarter, and even if it means that there will be overtime, there are a lot more traffic police during the last week of June. Is that the message that the police department wants to send? Please drive more safely during the last week of the quarter because we will be out in force then. I think the idea is that if there is traffic enforcement throughout the year, we will have safer roads.

The same thing happens in for-profit organizations. This is a great week to purchase a car. You will find good discounts and easier negotiation during the last week of the quarter. Is that what is best for the dealership? More lines, longer hours, and lower margins during this week are not great. A dealer would prefer to spread out the car buying and thus the car inventory (and workload) over the course of the year.

So what is this phenomenon? It is a symptom of the problem of performance management that only happens once a quarter.

Manage Performance Throughout the Year

The most ideal way that measures should be managed is not quarterly, but throughout the year. It should not come down to a promotion at the end of the quarter or overtime and lots of speeding tickets at the end of the month or quarter, but measures should be looked at throughout the year. I've seen a few conditions that make this work well.

Accurate Financials – If you can get accurate financial information out of your systems, then you can tell where you are throughout the year, and thus never get so far behind that you need an end of quarter rush. I'm working with an organization now that has very tight budget controls until the last month of the year, and then they realize they are under budget and they spend a lot so they don't lose their budget at the end of the year. This has been happening for over five years, and it could be corrected if accurate data was available to everyone each month or even more frequently.

Monthly Reviews – Most organizations only review strategy each quarter, which is generally OK. But if the quarterly review is driving some of the behavior I spoke about above, then it will behoove you to look at some of the information on a monthly basis and see if it is a leading indicator of your quarterly or year-end performance. You may be able to take preventive actions before the last week of the quarter or year.

Cross Functional Teams – It is worthwhile to spend some time looking at your end-to-end processes related to some of the year-end measures that cause the big push. You may find that getting everyone in the same room could quickly cause some bottlenecks to become apparent, and you could take action earlier in the year to solve them. Getting marketing, sales (fundraising), operations and delivery, and human resources in a room together could solve some issues that no one department is responsible for. You may have a problem with equipment maintenance that is related to having a common maintenance cycle that is unrelated to the "business cycle" and more than the staff in maintenance can handle. While at other times of the year, you seem to have too many maintenance staff.

Looking at these three areas will certainly start you down the road of managing strategy throughout the year, rather than just in the last week of the quarter or fiscal year. If you only have one take-away from this post, it is that you should drive carefully on Friday and Saturday as there will be a lot of holiday traffic and many police on the roads giving tickets to meet their quarterly targets.