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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?


Counting Down to the Summit: Reason #9 to Attend

Posted November 8, 2012 10:44 AM by Angie Mareino

Without further ado, our countdown continues… 


Stroll the halls of the prestigious National Press Club during breaks.

The Mission-Driven Management Summit is held at The National Press Club, known as “the place where news happens.” You never know who you’ll bump into in the elevator, and you can “name that face” as you wander the hallways lined with photos of the Club’s famous and influential guests. We think that’s a lot more fun than studying the exposed ductwork of yet another look-alike, cavernous convention center.

Eventbrite - Mission-Driven Management Summit

STAY TUNED FOR REASON #8  … and learn more at www.missiondrivensummit.com

New Talking Points: Birds, Worms, Strategy

Posted November 7, 2012 10:46 AM by Angie Mareino

The election is (finally!) over, and we have just the thing to fill the void. (What’s that you say? You’re perfectly content with the sound of silence for the next month, at least?)


Each year, we host a conference* for strategy and performance managers across the social and public sector. We host a slew of presenters and keynote speakers that you’ll be pleased to meet, listen to, and learn from. Not to mention, ASMG will moderate and host workshops that serve to build your skills in alignment, visioning, goal setting and milestones, and more. It’s the kind of focused event that you’ll walk away from with news you can actually USE.

We’re pretty proud of our Summit, because we make sure our speakers know their stuff, practice what they preach, and present ideas that relate toward your mission-driven organization. In other words, at the Mission-Driven Management Summit, it's here’s to you.

That’s why I URGE YOU to check out our website with the full agenda and details, and sign up before November 16th–THAT’S 10 DAYS—to take advantage of can’t-beat, early bird pricing. And, with that in mind, over the next ten days I will count down with you, listing our top ten reasons the strategy Summit is the kind of event you’ll want to talk about (to your coworkers, your boss, your network….).


Meet fellow strategists and performance managers across the Mission-Driven sector (school districts, municipalities, nonprofits, federal government, and NGOs) and expand your network while learning how others manage strategy and performance.


Eventbrite - Mission-Driven Management Summit STAY TUNED FOR REASON #9 TOMORROW… and learn more at www.missiondrivensummit.com

* (and no, not one of those giant, tradeshow-style conferences, but a small, focused, two-day event that’s centered on content, not vendors)


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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America’s Pragmatic Caucus Steps Up

Posted November 1, 2011 8:56 AM by Ted Jackson

This weekend someone emailed me a copy of an article from Time magazine about how local communities are not letting the dysfunction of Washington, DC politics stop them from making progress. I live in Washington, DC, so sometimes it is hard to see beyond CSPAN and the news in the Washington Post. It seems like politics have brought the USA to a standstill, where a supermajority is now required for any basic vote in congress. I've been lucky enough over the past year to have two clients in the same region represent this "Pragmatic Caucus" that was described by Bruce Katz and Judith Rodin.

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Posted August 5, 2011 8:52 AM by Brandon Kline

Now that the lockout is officially over, the amount of conversations revolving around football has picked up significantly. Football is something that I enjoy very much and like talking about whenever I get the chance. As a consultant, I also enjoy conversations centered on strategic management and the excitement that comes with each client. Over the weekend, I was talking to a friend about my job and, as most conversations between two, twenty-four year old males do, the topic eventually turned to football. In some odd way, this got me thinking about the similarities between football and strategic management. I know, a weird comparison, but stick with me and I think you will see where these thoughts came from.

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Ascendant hosts Managing for Performance in Education event

Posted March 18, 2011 1:44 PM by Ted Jackson

On March 7, Ascendant, along with the DC Public Schools and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation, hosted an event titled Managing for Performance. The event has over 60 professionals representing over 20 schools coming together to talk about performance management in education.

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My Balanced Scorecard and the Theory of Constraints

Posted September 9, 2010 6:55 PM by Dylan Miyake

"The Goal" by Dr. Eliyahu Goldratt, is a best-seller in the management sphere and directly relates to an organization's understanding of its own Balanced Scorecard. One interesting thing about "The Goal" is that it's actually a novel – you might even call it a "business thriller." Although it explores in-depth academic theories, it does so via an engaging fictional story.In the book, the main character Alex Rogo is promoted to be a plant manager and quickly given an ultimatum: improve productivity in three months, or the plant will be shut down. As the book progresses, he goes through a dramatic process of reinventing the plant, rethinking his assumptions about how the plant's work is mapped and measured, and finds ways to align previously conflicting demands. He accomplishes all this by listing the many garbled metrics he is responsible for and then begins to analyze each one for opportunities. One of the important management principles explored in Eli Goldratt's book is his idea of the "Theory of Constraints." This theory holds that within any organization, there are several key constraints preventing that organization from achieving optimal performance. In the manufacturing world, throughput and quality are key. In service organizations, throughput is still key, but people are the focus and customer service is analogous to quality. In a service oriented business, you want to find the constraints that are preventing the organization from serving more customers with an ever higher level of satisfaction. Similar to Balanced Scorecard, the Theory of Constraints also uses the idea of "mapping" to create a visual representation of the organization's tactical objectives and develop a clear course from the "present reality" to the "future reality." The Theory of Constraints helps identify the "Core Conflict" at the heart of a problem (similar to the idea of root cause analysis), and helps leaders realize ways to adapt their policies, methods and metrics to achieve the desired changes in their organizations. Ultimately, by identifying the constraints, leaders can then restructure their organizations around the constraints. Constraints are not limitations, they are road signs, showing the directions that an organization can turn and adjust. One of the biggest challenges in changing an organization is overcoming resistance to change – even if top management want to make a change, the people directly involved might have other ideas. Sometimes people like the way a certain process is done – or they fear the possible implications for their jobs. Other times, there might be leaders or peers who have conflicting agendas or competing goals, which can result in resistance to change. By incorporating the Theory of Constraints to better understand the road blocks Balanced Scorecard, and organization is much more likely to succeed. Ascendant has decades of combined experience identifying and overcoming key constraints. If your organization would like more information or help on the subjects, please feel free to contact us!

Boston Community Gathers to Discuss Strategy Meeting Management

Posted May 21, 2009 12:53 PM by Ted Jackson

"Management meetings should be fun!" was the challenge from Dave Norton, originator of the Balanced Scorecard and first speaker at the networking breakfast last Thursday. With the Gauntlet thrown, the fun really began when our guest speakers from Catholic Charities and ACCION told us about the transformation their board meetings have taken since they started reporting their strategic measures on their Balanced Scorecard to the Board. When board members exclaim that they are thrilled, give standing ovations and actually take strategic action – you know you are onto something!

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