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Performance Management at Housing and Urban Development

Posted May 19, 2011 3:21 PM by Mark Cutler

It is often said that government agencies either do not have the discipline or are too easily distracted by operational issues to concentrate on measuring how well they execute their strategy. Agency heads pay lip service to strategy execution and never attend strategy review meetings, so "why should we care?" managers ask.

Well, I listened to a webinar the other day at which Peter Grace, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's (HUD's) Director of the Office of Strategic Planning and Management, discussed HUDStat, the Department's performance measurement and accountability process. HUDstat helps HUD comply with the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA) Modernization Act requirement that each agency conduct senior-led progress reviews on their priority goals.

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Strategy Review Meetings - report everything

Posted May 13, 2011 2:54 PM by Ted Jackson

I have been asked about strategy review meetings on a more frequent basis. The most recent one was "Tell me about the best strategy review meeting you have seen. Why was it so good?" It got me thinking that there are multiple ways to conduct a strategy review meeting: Review objectives that are off track, review everything, review by theme, and review just one objective. In this blog, I'll focus on reviewing everything.

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Strategy Review Meetings - by exception

Posted April 27, 2011 11:11 AM by Ted Jackson

I have been asked about strategy review meetings on a more frequent basis. The most recent one was "Tell me about the best strategy review meeting you have seen. Why was it so good?" It got me thinking that there are multiple ways to conduct a strategy review meeting: Review objectives that are off track, review everything, review by theme, and review just one objective. In this blog, I'll focus on reviewing items that are off track.

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Preparing for a Successful Strategy Review Meeting

Posted January 30, 2011 1:43 PM by Dylan Miyake

Successful strategy management and execution requires effective strategy review meetings. More specifically, success begins in the week prior to a strategy review meeting. Unfortunately, this is an area where many organizations struggle.

Agendas are often poorly defined. Factions within an organization may use meetings as a chance to compete for budgets or re-fight old battles. Some organizations can even see their meetings devolve into endless rounds of discussion and speculation, rather than a chance for leadership to make clear, disciplined strategic decisions based on the available data.

To keep your meetings focused on strategic choices, your organization should follow a clear progression of steps in preparing for each strategy review meeting. Important tasks are outlined below in a five day progression. But you know your organization best – if it should be 10 days instead of five then take that time to do it right for your team and culture.

5 days before the meeting:

Successful preparation begins with measure owners updating their information to reflect the organization's latest results for each performance measure. The measure owners then update their measure analysis, recommendations, and statuses (red, yellow or green) to reflect the latest data. Initiative owners update their information in a similar manner. Milestones, budget information, and status are updated to indicate how the initiative is performing.

4 days before the meeting:

Based on the data and analysis provided by the Measure Owners and Initiative Owners, Objective Owners then update their analysis, recommendations, and status to indicate whether their objectives are fulfilling the organizational mission. Objective Owners should keep their analysis focused on the key issues and problems related to the objective. Sometimes this means relying on information that is outside of the initiative and measure data and requires discussion and problem solving across functional and organizational boundaries.

After the individual objectives are updated, the Scorecard Owner reviews the overall scorecard and determines if there are any key issues that will need to be addressed by leadership. This is where potential issues are investigated, interested parties briefed, and any potential errors are corrected.

3 days before the meeting:

The Scorecard Owner discusses any issues with the organization's top leader. With a clear view of the entire strategy, together they make a decision about where to focus their time during the strategy review meeting. In essence, they set the agenda for the meeting based on the current issues. Once this decision has been made, the Scorecard owner should go back to the specific Objective owners and ensure that they are briefed and prepared to discuss their objectives in the strategy review meeting.

2 days before the meeting:

The Scorecard Owner sends out an informational packet in advance of the meeting. This packet has a clear agenda of the items to cover, any decisions to be made, and makes sure that the key players understand the issues and decisions that need to be addressed. This is an important way to set expectations and ensure that there are no surprises.

1 day before the meeting:

The Scorecard Owner meets with the top executive once more to pre-present the information to be discussed the next day at the meeting. This is an opportunity to help set expectations, alert the executive to any challenging discussions or issues, and get provide feedback on how to proceed during the meeting.

Don't Forget

This process ensures that owners and data analysts remain accountable for the strategic elements they own, that there is accurate data and analysis going into meetings, and that the team is well prepared to focus solely on making strategic choices within the actual meeting. A week or more of prep work pays handsomely when the leadership team can focus on strategic decision making.

In addition to the process laid out in this 5-day pre-meeting schedule, Owners also need to talk with vested interests prior to the meetings to discuss potential problems and ensure that no one is surprised by the data. Before moving forward, it's important to have accurate data that everyone agrees on – this will keep people from questioning or undermining the overall strategy, or delaying the implementation of new action steps.

The meeting facilitator also needs to ensure that meeting minutes give a clear record of decisions, action items assigned between meetings, clear expectations, and due dates. This makes it easier to help the top leadership ensure that everyone involved is well prepared for the next meeting. These minutes should inform the priorities that get discussed in the next meeting. No matter how large or small your organization, preparation, accurate decision making, and follow through are critical to success.

Final Note

Because solid preparation within the leadership team is so critical to successful strategic review meeting success, we highly recommend using experienced facilitators to guide your first few meetings. The facilitator can build a successful reporting schedule, ensure leadership is prepared, and then maintain follow-up as your leadership team becomes comfortable with a mission driven agenda. Most organizations only require a professional facilitator for the first few strategy review meetings while expectations and good habits are solidified. After that, most leadership teams know what to expect and can continue effective preparation, review and decision making, and follow up on their own.

Models of Organization Alignment: Executing Strategy

Posted January 13, 2011 9:44 AM by Mark Cutler

The difference between the success and failure of an organization's strategy often comes down to how well the organization executes the strategy at all levels. One of the key areas for strategy execution is the organization's strategic business units (SBUs) – smaller, distinct entities within the larger organization that serve specific external markets and may even have their own, distinct business strategy that merely complements the larger organization's.

For a health care system, the SBUs might be the individual hospitals or clinics within the system. For a school district, the SBUs would be either school zones within the district (if it is a large district) or the schools themselves and different departments such as the Curriculum department and the Operations department.

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Balanced Scorecard Measurement + Control Charting Theory

Posted November 20, 2010 9:52 AM by Dylan Miyake

Control charts have long been used in manufacturing, stock trading algorithms, and in other process improvement methodologies like Six Sigma and Total Quality Management (TQM). The purpose of a control chart is to set upper and lower bounds of acceptable performance given normal variation. In other words, the control chart serves to "sound the alarm" when a process shifts (like a machine suddenly breaking on a factory floor) or if someone has a good breakthrough that needs to be documented and standardized across the larger organization. Here is an illustration: (citation) The Balanced Scorecard system typically uses a baseline, regular measurement and tracking against a target. Actual control charts might not be ideal for your Scorecard, however, the theory is still valuablewhen evaluating a measures behavior, either greatly up or down. Control charts at work – Examples: In industry, control charts are designed for speed: the faster the control charts respond following a process shift, the faster the engineers can identify the broken machine and return the system to producing quality products. At a factory, a lag in testing could mean that thousands of parts are produced incorrectly before anyone notices the machine is broken, resulting in wasted time, wasted materials, and angry customers. Similarly, at a non-profit organization, control charts could be used to determine when an online donation system has broken down or is receiving higher than normal usage, resulting in abnormal levels of donations. Should donations suddenly go to zero - the leadership team can quickly alert IT and ensure the system is brought back online. Alternatively, a major jump in donations means something good is happening- be it world events or a successful marketing campaign. Either way – leadership should know quickly when something is doing very well or very poorly compared to an average day. A government agency could use control charts to monitor security threats. Assuming there are between 15 and 30 threats per week, the agents know what to expect. One threat per week should be as alarming as should 75- as they both mean something is very abnormal. A school could use control charts to help evaluate attendance/absenteeism patterns. Let's assume, based on 2 years of analysis, that a school principal expects to see a certain level of student absences near holidays, with a typical range of 3% to 7% of students out. A control chart would plot along within the 3.1% to 6.9% range with no notice, but if 7.5% of students suddenly fail to show up for class, the lower control limit of 7% signals the alarm and the principal gets a call from attendance saying attention is required. Or conversely, if only 1% of students are absent, the upper control limit is surpassed, and the principal begins looking for reasons why the attendance is suddenly so much better than usual. Is there a pep rally or other event that motivates students to come to school at a time of year when they're more likely to be absent? Control Charts and the Balanced Scorecard Control charts can be used as part of the Balanced Scorecard approach to account for an acceptable range or variation of performance – it provides a more nuanced understanding of the organization's processes. There are a few key points to keep in mind when considering using control charts at your organization: Give it time Don't expect to see immediate results or instant insights from a control chart. It takes a number of months or years to understand natural variation and baseline "normal" performance (as the environment has some control on your measures and can distract from your own input). Watch for the "Big Movers" Control charts can help track and measure variation in a process over time. There is going to be a certain amount of variation as part of normal operations – small variation is nothing to worry about. Instead, focus your attention on major jumps or falls – these are the places where your organization needs to concentrate its efforts. Results matter – and results should be visible Process improvement initiatives should cause a metric to rise above the upper control limit – showing that there was a statistically significant shift in the objective's measure. Control charts give you a clear chance to see results and act on them – and if not, it might be time to try something new. Don't get bogged down. Control charts can be complicated – they were developed by engineers, after all! But your organization can keep your control charts as simple as you need them to be. Extremely complex math is still being developed in the operations research field to better understand process variation and how to account for it via control charts – but the typical leader at a service organization doesn't need to worry about going to that level of detail. Instead, try to identify the acceptable upper and lower limits for each key metric that you want to track, and keep the overall theory of limits in mind when reviewing your control charts. Develop an action plan for how to respond when the latest measure lands outside the acceptable limits. __ If you would like to learn more about how the Balanced Scorecard can help "chart" a path to success for your organization, please contact Ascendant Strategy Management Group.

Who owns your organization’s strategy?

Posted November 15, 2010 8:45 AM by Dylan Miyake

One of the first questions that public sector and non-profit leaders need to ask when embarking on a new strategy management initiative is: "Who are the Owners of the strategy?"

Who is accountable for establishing and maintaining the objectives, measures, and initiatives that will determine whether your organization's strategy succeeds? These are the Owners. And their role is one of the most important in your organization. Whether your new strategy succeeds will depend in large part on the kind of Owners you have working to implement it.

Who is an Owner?

Being an Owner of organizational strategy is not necessarily a job title or part of a job description. Owners are leaders within the organization who act as champions for certain parts of an organization's strategy (or certain measures of the organization's Balanced Scorecard), and who oversee communication and training so that the organization's strategy becomes ingrained in the overall culture of the organization. There can be plenty of layers of supporting staff and data analysts, but the Owners are the ones who are manage and are accountable for achieving certain objectives.

The four types of Owners

Every organizational strategy has four types of owners, with responsibilities for varying areas of responsibilities:

  • Scorecard Owners set the tone for the work done by the other owners. Scorecard owners work on high-level questions such as issue definition (identifying the specific strategic issues that need to be addressed), agenda setting (deciding on a course of action for the group's activities), and meeting preparation (aligning the work of various owners and marshalling the group's latest data to discuss at the next strategy meeting).
  • Objective/Theme Owners provide analysis and commentary about the specific objectives – a finer level of detail than the overall Scorecard itself.
  • Measure Owners provide performance analysis about specific measures as outlined on the organization's Balanced Scorecard.
  • Initiative Owners provide performance analysis on strategic initiatives and help evaluate whether the organization's top projects are on track and helping deliver results.

Owner and Data Analyst: Separate but Supporting Roles

One of the most important roles of Owners, especially as it relates to the organization's Balanced Scorecard, is to ensure the most accurate data is analyzed and presented at strategy review meetings. While the owner may not be specifically responsible for the day-to-day tracking, they are responsible for the data's accuracy and the value of the analysis – and ultimately for championing the required actions in the highest circles of organizational leadership.

Each owner typically has one of more "data analysts" supporting themselves. Owners are usually not ideal for this role as it is more time consuming, more focused on collection, and is not directly related to strategic analysis or action. The data analysts collect the numbers, verify they are accurate, compile any supporting documents, and ensure the owner is knowledgeable of any emerging trends.

  • "Data Analyst" – in this role, supporting staff needs to collect updates from different parts of the organization, and tabulate and graph the data for each measure. For example, a school district might need to track student test scores, graduation rates, dropout rates, or the percentage of students going on to enroll in college. Collecting and analyzing these data is a complex task, but once the numbers are in order and emerging trends identified, the data analyst passes the information the Owner.
  • "Owner and Champion" – in the role of Owners, the champions of strategy are responsible for providing recommendations for future action based on the data compiled. Owners review the graph and investigate the underlying data to understand why the measure is behaving as it is, then suggest, act upon, and ensure strategic objectives are being acted upon.

For example, if a school district's graduation rates are down and dropout rates are up, they might analyze some of the risk factors for dropouts – has the community suffered an economic downturn, leading to increased financial stress on families? Have the demographics of the district changed in the past few years, bringing a greater proportion of students who are at higher risk of dropping out of school? Then, as champion, what can they do to ensure the organization achieves its mission? Are new programs required? Should funding or resources be realigned to meet new challenges? These are the questions and resulting actions an Owner is responsible for.

While it might seem obvious, the Owner, needs to be have the right level of authority to make changes that will drive the measure towards the intent of the organizational objective. The authority should appropriate both formally (by title and job description) and informally (authority is recognized and honored by the organization) to ensure success. Owners need to be empowered and confident that they can act and to spur change within the organization. No matter the challenge, Owners ultimately have to be able to drive the organization forward in response to the findings.

The importance of reporting: managing "small things"

In addition to these higher-profile instances of managing change in response to new data, Owners also have an important leadership role in the ongoing task of enforcing behavior and sticking to a reporting calendar.

Maintaining a solid regimen of reporting is one of the most critical tasks of the Owners. If your organization is serious about performance management and staying on track with your strategy, you need Owners who will work to ensure that the Balanced Scorecard stays relevant, that the data and analysis are accurate and result in clear decision making, and that decisions are acted upon.


Balanced Scorecard Reporting

Posted November 11, 2010 2:06 PM by Ted Jackson

What makes a good Balanced Scorecard report? I have written in this blog many times about the need to have regular reporting and how to prepare for the report, but I continually get the question about what is a good one or bad one? Let me quickly state that a good report is one that provides useful information to the leadership team of an organization so that they can discuss and make decisions about their strategy. Well, if you know anything about Ascendant and the Balanced Scorecard, you have probably read or heard that answer before. This blog attempts to provide a few more details.

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Running the Numbers

Posted October 12, 2010 10:00 PM by Ted Jackson

This is a guest blog re-ported from Brad Howe's November Newsletter. Brad is the owner of Financial Managers Trust.

Even though I had done it six or seven times over the years, there was no certainty that I could do it again. Seven years had passed since the last time, and it doesn't get easier as you get older. It wasn't that the burden was getting too much to bear -- I'd been carrying most of it for at least a couple of years -- simply that I was getting squeezed all around. My clothes really didn't fit: proof that you can't get eleven pounds of flour in a ten-pound sack. I needed to lose weight.

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Avoid Poor Press and Espionage - Keys to Protecting Your Organzation

Posted October 4, 2010 3:34 PM by Dylan Miyake

The Balanced Scorecard methodology can drive amazing results. It can also cause a royal headache if improperly publicized. As with any leadership tool or report, your organization must be careful to understand what impacts a public report may have. Local non-profits are usually the least at-risk, with publicly traded companies and governmental organizations requiring more due diligence. Regardless of your status, it's worth understanding the key concepts below:Publicly Traded Companies: If you work at a publicly traded company, be careful not to share Balanced Scorecard information regarding business forecasts. For example, many companies have restrictions leading up to quarterly or annual financial results reporting, where no forecasting or performance information can be released. (These types of sensitivities often apply as well to private non-profit organizations that have to issue regular performance reports to donors and board members.) In the case of a publicly traded organization, disclosure restrictions must be factored into the decision on how to report results. FOIA Exposure: If your organization is a government agency subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), every piece of recording information within your agency – whether it's meeting minutes, memos, e-mails, or a rough draft of a new policy – could potentially be subject to FOIA requests from members of the public or press. This means that unless your Balanced Scorecard contains FOIA-exempt information like national security secrets, personnel information, or other confidential information, you may be asked to share the details behind your publicly available scorecard. Of course, even if you're not subject to FOIA, there are other reasons why your organization might not want to disclose all of the information on your Balanced Scorecard. To protect yourself, there are a few key principles to keep in mind as you protect your agency's proprietary and/or sensitive information. Government Agencies: should understand what information is exempt from FOIA. There are nine specific exemptions worth investigating including national security secrets, personnel files, medical records, or information pursuant to law enforcement investigations would not need to be disclosed. Redaction and Proprietary Statements: are the first line of warning staff about sensitive information. Time Limitations: may be related to information requests. There might be organizational, local, state, or federal statutes that further protect sensitive information by allowing a lag time between collection and availability of public review. Publicly Traded Companies: may be subject to other regulations should financial information be disclosed via a publicly posted Balanced Scorecard. Consider using metrics or rating scales that eliminate the disclosure of prohibited information. Utilizing a less detailed public report can allow senior management the detail and privacy leadership needs while still ensuring accountability to the public. International Regulations: may require drastically different precautions so if your information is proprietary or sensitive, seeking legal counsel on the matter may be a good precaution. Ultimately, the Balanced Scorecard methodology is a one-of-a-kind planning tool that will give your organization shared knowledge of vision, current state, and key trends. From our experience, the benefits far outweigh the possible risks related to managing public records. And as every non-profit and governmental organization exists to improve the surrounding community – the best Balanced Scorecards ultimately should be displaying and celebrating your good works. If you have any questions or would like help protecting your scorecard- we are just a call away. Note: The ACLU has a helpful book called: "The Step by Step Guide to Using the Freedom of Information Act"

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