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Measuring what matters

Posted June 10, 2014 8:41 PM by Melanie Burton

So, I did it. I ran my half marathon. I’m not sharing my time, because yes, it was that unimpressive and well honestly, quite underwhelming to you regular runners BUT I did it. I finished the race and I’m proud because one year ago, I’d barely/rarely run more than a mile. For me, it wasn’t about beating the other 25,000 runners… it was about finishing – it was setting a stretch goal to help get me to a point of accomplishment that I’d never gotten to.

I know I know, you’re all wondering how I did it. How does someone go from a couch potato to a (half) marathon runner in a mere few months? It was more than just setting a stretch goal (see my previous blog on the importance and power of setting stretch goals here). Progress was about measuring the RIGHT thing. Had I spent every training day focusing on mastering an 8 minute mile, I would have ended my training as a 4 mile runner. Instead, I focused on measuring distance, because for me that’s what mattered. I didn’t want to be the fastest runner, I wanted to be one of the runners. I wanted to finish the race.

Measurement is important – what gets measured gets done. Choosing the right thing to measure drives performance and provides direction, but how do we determine what to measure? There are two key things I think about.

  1. Have several indicators – to paint a picture and allow you to understand the relationships and determine what is actually affecting the outcome you want to achieve. There may be assumptions at the table that something drives progress, when in fact it’s something else entirely.
  2. Have a mix of output and outcome indicators – output indicators give you something to manage to. They help you look at what you’re doing on a day to day basis. You have to look at where you are and be able to predict where you’re going in addition to where you’ve been. Outcome indicators show you where you’ve been – what your past actions resulted in. Outcome indicators are drivers – they give you direction and help you figure out what it is you actually want to accomplish and if you are accomplishing it.

Take my half marathon training for example. Along the way, I measured how often I run, how different factors affected my running – what I ate, what I listened to, what I did the day before, etc. but everything I did, every decision I made, was with the goal of running 13.1 miles in mind. Without the focus of that outcome, I could have gone on the same number of runs but end up prepped to run a one mile sprint instead of a 13 mile jog.

So, since what gets measured gets done, measure what matters and if you can’t manage to, find some indicators you can and measure them all. 

It's Cinco de Mayo ... Stay Thirsty My Friends!

Posted May 1, 2014 10:11 AM by Mark Cutler

With Cinco de Mayo just a few days away, I couldn’t help but think of the terrific Dos Equis television commercials with “The Most Interesting Man in the World” (MIMW) and his tag line: “Stay Thirsty My Friends!”

I think that line embodies a great attitude or value for an organization to adopt with respect to its performance management system—“stay thirsty,” or said another way, “never be satisfied.”  When measuring and managing your organization’s performance, you should never be satisfied because when you are satisfied and rest on your laurels, that is when your performance begins to suffer and others start to outperform you.

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Don’t Get Ahead of Yourself, Develop Measures Before Initiatives

Posted October 27, 2013 2:15 PM by Mark Cutler

In working with lots of mission-driven organizations to help build and implement their Balanced Scorecards, I’ve noticed a certain over-eagerness to invert the BSC development process by moving from development of strategic objectives to developing and implementing the set of strategic initiatives before settling on a set of strategic measures and then moving to initiatives.

After witnessing this desire to gloss over measures and dive right into initiatives a number times, I think I’ve figured out why organizations tend to do this and I want to warn against it.

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Why Stat Programs Aren’t Just for Sports Fanatics

Posted February 8, 2013 10:24 AM by Melanie Burton

Stat Programs, performance measurement tools that focus on data analysis, are becoming increasingly more ubiquitous. One could say they are the new black- not only are they the color of the season, but they’re here to stay and will soon be looked upon as classics. When using Stat Programs, you know you’ll look good because they help you make headlines. Stat Programs drive performance, and the results are change, success, and innovation. While sports enthusiasts have undoubtedly heard of Stat Programs, they may not be acquainted with the new face of the Stat Program movement: government. 
Stat Programs, or at least data driven reviews in general, are becoming increasingly popular and important among all branches of government (state, local, and federal). Political candidates are deploying them on the campaign trail, and laws are being made that require them. Stat Programs themselves have broadened their original focus on numbers to functions that include and demand a management style, making them useful beyond winning baseball bets with your buddies.  
Stat Programs tell a story and create a culture.  Unlike Stat Programs that sports aficionados are familiar with, these new Stat Programs move beyond data analysis and toward creating a performance-based culture. They create a decision making process as well as a management style. Stat Programs in the government allow one to not only hone in on a problem definition, but also help identify the cause of the problem.  This in turn helps you determine how well your proposed solution is working.
The management style that is built in to the implementation of a Stat Program requires you to continuously gather the data, analyze the data and infer what the data is really saying. So, if the proposed method to solving a problem isn’t working, the very nature of Stat Programs puts the user in a position to recognize in a timely manner that a new approach is needed. And, what’s more, Stat Programs put you in the room with the right people to drive and demand change. The executives, the approvers of new directions and strategies, are there. Stat Programs both elicit and require involvement. They streamline the decision-making process using facts to clarify the problem. If everyone at the table can agree on the problem, and the movers and shakers are there to facilitate the transition from brainstorming to producing actionable strategies, then real progress can begin. Bob Behn put it best in stating, “PeformanceStat is not a system or a model. It is a leadership strategy. For to achieve the strategy’s potential, to produce real results, requires active leadership.” 
This is the first in a series about Stat Programs. Tune in next time to learn about what a successful Stat Program entails.  
And, just in case you’d like learn more about Stat Programs in the government, a great example is Governor O’Malley’s Maryland StateStat. http://www.statestat.maryland.gov/

Dave Norton on Targets and Performance

Posted February 6, 2013 3:29 AM by Dylan Miyake

In my 15 years working with organizations on implementing the Balanced Scorecard, targets have always been a challenge.  While critical, targets (especially non-financial ones) are often a guessing game -- should we do last year plus 10%?  15%?  5?  No, wait -- what's our sector benchmark?  Should we go for best practice or average?  And how do we even make a target for that anyway?

I've seen (and even participated in developing) scorecards where fully half of the measures didn't have targets.  Or if they did, the targets were "baseline" -- code for we don't really know what the target is, so we'll punt this down the road a bit and see how we do.  And then make targets later.  Which, like many compromises, is sometimes the exact right thing to do.  And sometimes the exact wrong thing to do.

Fortunately, Dave Norton will be speaking at the Mission Possible:  The Mission-Driven Management Summit 2013 on targets.  In his presentation (which  I had the great fortune of previewing this week), he'll discuss the many different ways that organizations set targets, and present some tools which we can use to make the process of setting targets more transparent, and more importantly, more effective.

Not to spoil the presentation (which I assure you is great), but Dave focuses on two areas:  The BHAG target (big, hairy, audacious goal) which, ironically, is the lag indicator, and the driver measures that help you understand whether or not you are on your way to accomplishing your BHAG.  With examples from throughout the public and social sector, Dave makes a strong case for effective target setting.

Join us in Washington, DC next month for this presentation and other great speakers and cases to learn how you can execute your mission for breakthrough results.  

Performance.gov |So what??

Posted January 31, 2013 8:11 PM by Brandon Kline

Over the past year and a half, I’ve had the pleasure of supporting the Office of Management and Budget as one of our clients here at Ascendant. A lot has been accomplished in those 18 months, but one of the coolest achievements was finally launching Performance.gov. A website dedicated to showing the “performance side” of the federal government. In other words, it’s how the government is cutting waste, streamlining operations, and improving performance.

Admittedly, it was a long process bringing together the largest agencies in the federal government to report publically on top issues and priorities. But, it was worth it! If you follow our blog, check out Melanie’s post earlier this month to learn more about Performance.gov. Anyway, the reason I’m writing this post on essentially the same topic is because I was recently telling someone about the website and she asked me, “so what, why should I care?”  

It was an interesting question. Why should you care? My response – you should care because it tells the story of the impact that YOUR tax dollars are having on the American people. One of my favorite examples of this story is the Department of Interior’s goal of cutting violent crime in Indian communities across the country. High crime rates on some Indian reservations have been a concern for some time and DOI decided that they were going to change that. So, using performance metrics and review meetings to guide the effort, DOI developed a pilot program to reduce the violent crime of four specific communities with the highest crime rate.

The original goal was to reduce the crime rate by 5% and many considered that to be an ambitious goal at the time. To kick off the effort, Interior began collecting and analyzing crime data, identified trends, and began allocating resources to the areas of highest need. As the program progressed, regular reviews of the data became the norm, law enforcement strategies were continuously evaluated, and the communities were engaged on the front lines.

All of this effort began to pay off. By the end of 2011, the initiative had far exceeded its goal by reducing crime in these communities by a whopping 35%.  Now that is a performance story! Reducing violent crime on Indian communities by 35%! That means, through the Department of Interior, YOUR tax dollars have had a positive impact on the lives of thousands of people in Indian communities throughout the country.

So, back to the original question of - “why should I care?” I think this story is a perfect example of why you should. It shows real impact for real people. I’d like to encourage anyone reading this blog to check out Performance.gov and find similar stories of YOUR tax dollars at work.  

Can Good Measurement Help Fix the World’s (and Your Organization’s) Toughest Problems?

Posted January 28, 2013 3:59 PM by Mark Cutler

The Saturday, Jan. 26 Wall Street Journal, had a great essay by Bill Gates about the power of good measurement systems.  To me, there were two key aspects of Gates’ argument that “[y]ou can achieve incredible progress if you set a clear goal and find a measure that will drive progress toward that goal—in a feedback loop.”

First, he points out its importance to innovation.  Precise measurement instruments, Gates paraphrases William Rosen as saying, allow inventors to see if their incremental design changes led to improvements.  The lesson being: Without feedback from precise measurement, Mr. Rosen writes, invention is “doomed to be rare and erratic.”

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Reaching Your Goals In 2013!

Posted December 31, 2012 3:03 PM by Brandon Kline

Before I get started, I want to thank Angie for her post earlier today. It really got me thinking about the importance of starting the year strong, both personally and within your organization. However, while starting the year strong is important, I think we would all agree that keeping the momentum is the most crucial part (and the toughest). So, as we get ready for 2013, what are some things you can do to ensure that the momentum from the New Year is sustained?

First, make sure everyone knows that change, especially in an organization, is not a single event, but a process that takes time. You don’t simply decide to change something about yourself or your organization and then, poof, it’s done. It takes energy, focus, and a plan.

Next, develop a plan with specific goals. Specific goals help you to focus. Let’s say you set a personal goal to “lose weight.” It’s great that you want to lose weight, but as a goal, it’s not specific enough to force you to focus. Instead, try something like, “lose 20 pounds by the end of May.” By making your goals specific, attainable, and time-bound, you create a framework that you can manage to. In addition, it helps you (or your organization) visualize what success will ultimately look like if goals are met.

Once you have a set of goals, make sure someone or something holds you accountable. The first step towards accountability is making sure your goals are well known. If nobody knows what you are trying to accomplish, they can’t possibly hold you accountable. So, write your goals on the wall, post them on your website, or send a letter to all employees. Do whatever it takes to spread the word.

Okay, your goals are set, you’ve got an accountability mechanism, but how do you know if you’re getting any closer to success? That’s why you need to clearly and consistently measure progress against your goals. Tracking your progress not only lets you know if something is going awry, but it can also provide positive reinforcement when you’re doing well, and nothing is more motivating than proven success.

So, now that people know your specific goals, are ready to hold you accountable, and understand what progress looks like, just GET STARTED! Sometimes the hardest part is getting the ball rolling, but whether you’re trying to lose 20 pounds by May, or raise an extra million to support your cause, the only way you will reach your goal is by getting started.  

Cheers to reaching your goals in 2013 and beyond - Happy New Year!


Smarter, More Strategic Workforce Development in America

Posted November 30, 2012 3:44 PM by Angie Mareino

The typical American worker is changing across America, but the education systems aren’t keeping up. Too many Americans are stranded without the skills to get jobs in their own communities. This also puts growing employers in a challenging position: wanting to hire but not finding qualified employees. How can we have high unemployment, yet certain employers struggle to fill positions? Workforce Development programs attempt to tackle this important mission head on.

Fred Dedrick, the President of the National Fund for Workforce Solutions, has been leveraging national and local funders to support regional funding collaboratives that invest in worker skills and key regional industries. The National Fund makes it their job to help provide career advancement opportunities for low-wage workers using a model of substantial employer engagement. The impact is a better skilled workforce and changes in public policies in 32 regional communities to make businesses more competitive and communities more sustainable. The National Fund understands that different communities have different profiles of the jobs that are in high demand, so there’s not a cookie cutter approach across America to solve the problem.

The Southwest Alabama Workforce Development Council (SAWDC) is one of the regional funding collaboratives with which the National Fund partners. Laura Chandler, its executive director, has made huge strides through partnerships with education organizations and industry groups to align workforce development with workforce needs.  And what has helped make SAWDC so successful? A little thing called the Balanced Scorecard. (We may have mentioned this tool before. wink) We’ll let Ms. Chandler show you how.

During a can’t-miss breakout session at our Mission-Driven Management Summit this March, Chandler and Dedrick will present each of their challenges and successes and lead a discussion about measuring your impact in areas where you rely on partnerships

National Fund has 32 partners like SAWDC and innumerable funders who want to see results. SAWDC has several industry clusters and many community colleges and other training organizations who all have different needs. How can they unite these various partners and interests to make an impact? The breakout session will explore how to apply these challenges to your own organization’s situation. Come to the Summit and return with new ideas to help your organization make a bigger impact. We think that’s pretty smart.


Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter with #MDMS13 and register while our rates are great!

What do Alabama Football and the Balanced Scorecard have in Common?

Posted September 24, 2012 8:56 AM by Ted Jackson

I’m originally from Alabama, and thus I’m a big Crimson Tide fan.  These are good times to be a fan with Nick Saban as coach and two national championships in the past three years.  Imagine if this was your organization.  It means that two of the last three years, you executed your strategy the exact way you designed it.  You accomplished all of your organization goals and excelled in all measurable areas.  It appears that you are on track for long term success.  For the University of Alabama, it means there is a lot of media attention to try to figure out the formula for the success. <more/>

There have been many articles in sports magazines, and there have been them in business publications as well, including the Wall Street Journal.  I was reading Fortune magazine’s article by Brian O’Keefe about Alabama, and it reminded me of the Balanced Scorecard.  O’Keefe quotes Saban as saying “First you’ve got to have a vision. Then you’ve got to have a plan to implement it.”  I agree completely.  We’ve been helping many nonprofits and NGOs with visioning exercises, change agendas, and strategy maps to lay out the plan to implement the change needed in an organization.

As for the implementation plan at Alabama, there is a phrase for it “the Process.” The Process is a disciplined operational approach that keeps the assistant coaches and players focused on execution.  He thinks about all of the components and aligns all of the activities, including training, recruiting, practices, and academics to the Process.  Now, imagine your organization.  Do you take all of your business units or key functions and think about how they operate?  Are they all aligned in executing the strategy and getting the right things done?

One of the things I found interesting in the Fortune article is that O’Keefe points out that the Process gives the coaches and the players more confidence in what happens.  If they need to adjust on the field, in the middle of the game, they can, because they know they have a set of activities that they have been working on and they trust that everyone knows their roles.  Again, if you have a clear strategy in your organization, you will be able to adjust when something extraordinary happens because your entire team will have a vision of where you are trying to go.  In the mission-driven space, I’m confident that Saban would love City-Stat, School-Stat, and strategy review meetings as a way to examine the activities, look at data, and make decisions to help achieve results.  His results speak for themselves: 48-6 in the last five years.  They are 4-0 this year (at the time of this blog). Two crystal trophies are in the cabinet so far. David Norton would be impressed with the Achievement Results.   Roll Tide!!!

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