Our Blog

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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An Effective New Tool for Managing Employee Performance? We'll See ...

Posted January 17, 2013 3:14 PM by Mark Cutler

Some of you may have heard on Jan. 16 that Morgan Stanley announced a new way of distributing some of its highest-paid employees’ bonuses (see the front page of the Jan. 16 Wall Street Journal).  The bank’s plan—which would affect thousands of brokers and investment bankers, among others—would pay out 2012 bonuses greater than $50,000 in four installments over three years.

A result of the financial crisis, the deferred compensation plan is the latest idea developed to try to manage the performance of those who work on Wall Street.

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Reducing World Poverty Deserves a Serious Strategy

Posted December 5, 2012 4:16 PM by Angie Mareino

When Dr. Jim Kim was appointed as head of the World Bank in the summer of 2012 (only its 12th president in its almost 70-year history), he wanted to refocus the organization to its core mission: Help Reduce World Poverty

But what would that mean to the Latin American and Caribbean Region (LAC), one of the World Bank’s six main regions? In LAC, there certainly are some countries with extreme poverty, like Haiti and Honduras, but there are also many countries that are middle income or better, like Brazil, Mexico, and Colombia.

How would the mission to reduce poverty translate in these counties?

For the Latin America and Caribbean Region, the World Bank first had to agree to add “Increase Prosperity” to their focus. Countries typically do not strive to just be above the poverty line; they want to grow a healthy and productive middle class.


In 2012, the Latin American Region implemented the Balanced Scorecard to visualize its contribution to the overall mission of the World Bank. Not only have they helped to bring millions out of poverty, but they have also used innovative approaches to strengthen governance and improve resilience throughout the region. The use of new financial products along with advisory and convening services have made this region an innovation hub of the World Bank. Advances in areas of procurement reform and conditional cash transfers, among other things, now guides how the World Bank adopts these policies globally.

Getting a room of Ph.D. economists to agree on single measures of development effectiveness is not easy.

The Balanced Scorecard helps to create alignment across the various countries as well as allow for flexibility in defining and achieving development strategies in different regions. What works in the Caribbean may not work in Chile; the BSC framework provides for flexibility. At the same time, the Latin America and Caribbean Region as a whole at the World Bank needs to be able to respond with one voice to present its collective effectiveness. Across the LAC region, the strategy map has become the common language. 


Get the inside scoop on the World Bank’s approach to strategy at the Mission-Driven Management Summit in March 2013. Learn from Pedro Alba, the director of strategy and operations for the World Bank Latin America and Caribbean Region, who will discuss how it all works. As you might expect, getting a room of Ph.D. economists to agree on single measures of development effectiveness is no small task.

Linking activities to impact is also difficult, especially as global financial crises influence the economic development of the region. Yet the Latin American Region has been pushing hard for alignment, and the common language of the Balanced Scorecard has allowed for candid discussions about key challenges in the region. 


Register for the Summit today for unbeatable rates ($200 in savings) and discover how the World Bank has overcome many challenges of implementing the Balanced Scorecard. You will see how you can apply their techniques to your organization, so you too can stay true to your core mission.

Communicating Your Mission

Posted October 31, 2012 9:25 PM by Brandon Kline


On a recent trip home to see my family, I spent some time watching TV and hanging out with my 16 year old sister. I noticed that, like most people her age, she was texting friends like crazy on her phone. If you have kids or spend any time around people of that age, you probably know exactly what I’m talking about. Texting is their primary mode of communication.

With the texting phenomenon and sites like Twitter, the ability to get your point across in 160 characters or less has become increasingly important. This got me thinking about the way organizations communicate with their employees, volunteers, customers, and constituents. In the same way that it’s important for high school and college age individuals to communicate a highlight of their day or an upcoming party in a succinct and to the point manner, the same is true for an organization when communicating its mission.

Think for a minute about the organization you manage or work for. If a friend sent you a text and asked what your mission is, would you be able to clearly articulate the mission of your organization in just one or two text messages? Would that text message highlight your unique reason for existence and reflect the values and priorities of your strategy?

If the mission is communicated properly throughout your organization, everyone should be able to send back a text message answering that question. I tested this out by asking a friend at IBM what his mission was. He replied, “We’re working to build a smarter planet.” He immediately asked me the same question about Ascendant, to which I replied, “Our mission is to help social and public sector organizations increase their impact.”

I’d like to encourage everyone who reads this post to think about how they would respond to a text message that asks, “What is your mission?” If it takes some time to decide how you would respond, you might need to take a step back and think about the reason for this. Is there a lack of communication? Could the mission be poorly defined to begin with? If the answer pops right into your head, that’s great! Do you think everyone else in the organization would say something similar?

Send a text to any of us here at Ascendant. We’ll tell you that our mission is to help social and public sector organizations increase their impact.

What is your mission?


HELP - I’m Lost!

Posted September 30, 2012 9:36 PM by Brandon Kline

As I’m sure you have heard, the iPhone’s new mapping software is a complete mess. The phone was highly anticipated and many spent hours waiting in line or up at 3 o’clock in the morning attempting to be one of the first owners of a shiny new iPhone 5.  However, instead of the glowing reviews Apple is accustomed to receiving, a majority of the feedback has been focused on the poorly functioning “Apple Maps.” After reading another negative article this weekend, I found myself thinking of how frustrated I become when I get lost. 

Yes, getting lost when driving to a friend’s house is a pain. You arrive at your destination, knock on the door, and someone you’ve never seen answers (if you’re wondering, this has happened to me before). Now, imagine trying to run an organization and feeling the same way.  You think you’re headed in one direction, only to find out your vision was derailed somewhere along the way and you never even noticed. 

How do you get back on track? Well, the answer is simple – define (or in some cases, redefine) your mission. What’s the first thing you do when navigating from your phone or GPS? You set your destination.  Defining the mission is like setting your destination. It expresses the reason why your organization exists. A clearly defined mission prevents organizational drift, or simply put – “getting lost.” 

What does it take to develop an effective mission statement? First, it must be agreed upon and fully adopted by the leaders within the organization. Once developed, it needs to be effectively communicated at all levels of the organization. Having a clear vision at the top will motivate and guide all others involved, creating buy-in collectively and individually. 

An effective mission statement becomes the focal point for aligning resources and operations at all levels. It should apply to the daily tasks of frontline employees or volunteers, all the way to the highest levels of decision makers within the organization. This will help guarantee that everyone stays aligned to the ultimate mission and is working together for a common purpose. 

Don’t wait until you knock on the wrong door. Take the time to properly set your destination as an organization and align your resources to get you there.

Implementing the Balanced Scorecard – Getting Staff Involved and Owning It

Posted August 3, 2012 1:39 PM by Mark Cutler

Almost always when we begin working with client leadership teams to implement the Balanced Scorecard in their organizations, the question is asked about when and how to get staff involved. I am not sure if this is an issue specific to mission-driven organizations whose leadership teams are often wary of the top-down, "forcing" of a strategy upon their staff. Regardless, this can be one of the more difficult aspects of strategy implementation for leaders of consensus-driven organizations.

From the beginning of an engagement with a pretty big client that has several layers of management, the leadership team has been asking how they get their staff involved early so they buy in to the Balanced Scorecard strategy management framework. While there is no one right answer to this question, our experience tells us there are several ways to get staff engaged.

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Is Your Staff Resistant to Change?

Posted July 31, 2012 10:41 PM by Ted Jackson

Is your organization facing a strategic need for change but your team is unready to navigate change? Citi Performing Arts Center is a great case study of how an organization used the Balanced Scorecard to unfreeze, redirect and build a new culture to achieve breakthrough strategic results.

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On Employee Performance Reviews

Posted July 8, 2012 11:58 AM by Dylan Miyake

Employee evaluations have always been a pet peeve of mine. I hate giving them, I hate getting them (part of the reason I started Ascendant was so that I would no longer have to get an annual review), and I find them to have little to no value. They're either used to document behavior that's well understood or to create a paper trail to eventually terminate someone. And everyone is above average. So what's the point?

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Making Strategy Execution Personal for Staff

Posted May 21, 2012 11:06 PM by Mark Cutler

At Ascendant, when we work with the executives and managers of mission-driven organizations to help them develop and implement their Balanced Scorecards (BSC), we are often asked the question: "How do we get staff engaged?"

While sometimes this question comes up when developing the strategy map, measures, and initiatives, it also arises once these pieces of the BSC are complete and leaders want to know what's next.

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Guest Blog from Dan Pink: Why progress matters: 6 questions for Harvard’s Teresa Amabile

Posted February 22, 2012 10:09 AM by Ted Jackson

What follows it a blog posted on Dan Pink's website and reposted here with permission. Dan is speaking at our upcoming Mission Driven Summit. Here is a link to the original post. Here's a tip for rounding out your summer reading. Pick up a copy of The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work. The book, which pubs today, is one of the best business books I've read in many years. (Buy it at Amazon, BN, or 8CR).

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