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Strategy Maps--A Common Language

Posted July 30, 2013 12:36 PM by Ted Jackson

At Ascendant, we have helped a lot of mission-driven organizations.  I've had the good fortune to help many in my hometown (home region?) of Coastal Alabama.  In a small or medium city, or even a big one with a tight knit community, good ideas catch on fast.  What was interesting to me was that all of the organizations we have worked with were dealing with similar issues.  The issues are around transparency and alignment.  The boards and leadership teams were not aligned around the mission because they all had different ideas of how to interpret the mission. The strategy map helped get them all on the same page.

It started when a friend recommended me to a nonprofit that focused on Workforce Development.  The business executives involved all had great ideas and a real concern about increasing their organization's effectiveness.  They tended to agree with each other in meetings, but they kept talking about different things across different parts of the meeting.  It was as if they were good at expressing their ideas, but they didn't see how the ideas connected across the priorities, so they were getting frustrated.  We introduced the Balanced Scorecard and the Strategy Map, and the executives had a framework for understanding and organizing the issues when they spoke of them.  This allowed the organization to stay focused and start achieving some of their priorities.  

In the Workforce Development group was an individual who was involved in an organization focused on Economic Development.  The economic development executive thought that the map was so helpful, he wanted a Strategy Map for that organization.  This organization had many members of local Chambers of Commerce.  It also had an environmental advocate on its team.  The map really helped them realize that they had common goals across the different communities and if they entire region grew, then it helped each one of them.

The leader of the Environmental organization that participated in the Economic development group was also struggling with organizaing its board around its mission in a clear way.  So they quickly embarked on a Strategy Map.  With the development of that map, nonprofits and government organizations related to this environmental group were able to prioritize and focus on its regional planning efforts.  Of course several of the agencies involved with this organization started considering strategy maps as well.

Then the original Workforce Development group started working with its partners to develop strategy maps.  We helped to develop a map for an industrial alliance, and the Executive Director who sat on a healthcare board developed a map for that board on her own.  Of course both groups said how much easier it made their executive team meetings and their prioritization, discussions, and decision making.

After the BP Oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, a council was formed to help determine the regional priorities.  Of course these priorities ranged from environmental to economic to workforce development.  What did they choose to help them stay focused and prioritized?  You guessed it by now, a Strategy Map.    

I started working for David Norton, one of the creators of the Balanced Scorecard and strategy map, in the 1990s.  He said back then, (and I'm sure he is still saying it): "There is no common framework or way to talk about strategy."  While I agreed with him, I didn't see a need for a common framework when working with for-profit organizations.  There is no regulatory body for strategy, and so who cared if one company managed one way and a second company managed a different way.  

But in a community with active nonprofits and government organizations, there is a strong need for a common framework and a common language.  It is very fulfilling to watch workforce development, economic development, environmental, and healthcare organizations all being able to talk to each other and use a similar language to set priorities and communicate their relationships and their contribution to making Coastal Alabama a better place to live.  All of these organizations have a similar mission that relates to increasing the quality of life in the region.  Now, with a similar framework, they can see how each of the organizations contributes to the common mission, even as they are in different "businesses."  Think about your community...are all of your government and noprofit organizations working together?


Three Hints for Creating a Unified Organizational Strategy

Posted July 12, 2013 10:10 AM by Mark Cutler

There is a great article by Adam Bryant in the July 12, 2013, New York Times that builds off Microsoft’s recent reorganization announcement to share some successful CEOs' words of wisdom on creating a unified organizational strategy.

Acknowledging that this is very difficult to do, especially within large organizations, Bryant cites three CEOs he has interviewed who shared their keys to success.  I think any organization, regardless of size, can learn a thing or two from these leaders.

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