Our Blog

Take a Little Madness Out of Your March

Posted March 18, 2014 1:12 PM by Mark Cutler

Yes, it is that time of year again, March Madness!  To most people in the U.S., this means they are frantically poring over data and statistics to put together what they hope will be the winning bracket in their office’s NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament challenge. 

To individuals’ whose companies do their management reporting on a quarterly basis, it means they too will soon be poring over data, but not to obtain basketball glory and the accompanying office immortality.  Instead, they are furiously pulling together data from all areas of their business to create the reports they need to hold effective management reporting meetings.

more »

Practice Makes Perfect in Executing Your Strategy, Too

Posted February 22, 2013 8:30 AM by Mark Cutler

After reading a blogpost the other night stating that to become good at strategy requires practice, I just had to share it because I couldn’t agree more.

The author, Roger Martin—dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto—says that to be an “accomplished strategist” the first necessary element “is belief, the second is work, work, and work some more. This means making strategy choices, seeing how they work out and then learning from them.”  This is what we at Ascendant try to impart to our clients when implementing a strategy management framework like the Balanced Scorecard (BSC).

more »

When Bad News Is Good News

Posted November 14, 2012 8:30 PM by Mark Cutler

Ted’s blog from Friday reminded me of one of the key moments in Ford’s turnaround as Bryce Hoffman described it in American Icon – and, no, we aren’t that nerdy that we have an Ascendant Book Club – not yet anyway.  When new Ford CEO Alan Mulally began holding his weekly management reviews with the executive leadership team, he was always getting good news – which was a bit suspicious as he had assumed leadership of a company trying to stay out of bankruptcy.

Mulally’s management reviews went on for weeks – maybe even months, I don’t completely remember – while he continued to receive rosy reports from his leadership team.  Until, that is, Ford Americas chief Mark Fields, who wasn’t sure if he was going keep his job at Ford under Mulally’s regime anyway, decided that he would “go out in a blaze of glory” and see if “this guy is for real” and true to his word that all he wanted was honesty.

more »

Do you need a checklist for your Balanced Scorecard?

Posted November 9, 2012 1:23 PM by Ted Jackson

If you have met me or spoken to me about the Balanced Scorecard, I’m sure you have heard me say “the Balanced Scorecard is just a framework for managing your strategy.  It should make managing and achieving your strategy easier.  If you are spending more time on the framework than on your strategy, you are not doing something right.”  So, this week, I was finishing the book “American Icon” by Bryce Hoffman, and I came across a passage that reminded me of another book called “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande.  So, what do these books and the Balanced Scorecard have in common?  To me, they are both a reminder that you can’t just have a Balanced Scorecard or just have a strategy.  You actually must do something with it in order to achieve your strategic goals.

Let me clarify a little bit.  The Checklist Manifesto is a book about how creating a simple checklist can help you perform really well.  The two primary examples in the book are about flying a plane and performing surgery in a hospital.  If you have a simple checklist, then you will know the other people in the surgery room, be on the same page for the actual operation, and know many of the primary risks that can go wrong.  The American Icon is about how Alan Mulally came into Ford and saved it from the financial crisis when the other two major auto manufacturers in the US had to be bailed out by the government.  Mr. Mulally instituted weekly management reviews with data driven decision making.  So the paragraph from American Icon that brought it all together for me was one where Hoffman was quoting Mulally.

“You’ve got to trust the process.  You need to trust and nurture your emotional resilience,” he said. “Do you have a point of view about the future? Check. Is it still the right vision today? Check.  Do you have a comprehensive plan to deliver that? Check.  If you get skilled and motivated people working together through this process, you’re going to figure it out.  But you’ve got to trust it.”

So when I read that passage, I thought to myself, do you have a strategy map?  Does the map still reflect the strategy of the organization?  Are your measures and initiatives supporting this map?  Have you aligned divisions and departments around the strategy?  Are you having regular strategy review meetings?  Yes, then you have a much better than average chance of achieving your strategy.

It sounds easy, but this quote from Mulally is from when he is 4-5 years into this process.  It takes work to ingrain a process and get people to trust that it will work.  It took the <a href=http://www.ascendantsmg.com/blog/index.cfm/2012/9/24/What-do-Alabama-Football-and-the-Balanced-Scorecard-have-in-Common>Alabama Football</a> team 3 years and now it is executing like clockwork.

As for the checklist, imagine you went into every strategy review meeting with a checklist.  I’m sure you are doing strategy review meetings either monthly or quarterly.  Before the meeting, have you sent out information in advance? Check.  Have you identified the issue? Check. Do you have the right people in the room to make a decision about the issue?  Check. Do you have a process for following up from the decision with both actions and communications? Check.  OK, you are well on your way to executing your strategy.

The Heart of the Matter is Your Mission: Catholic Charities of Boston

Posted November 8, 2012 1:02 PM by Angie Mareino

In baseball’s first modern World Series in 1903, the Boston Americans rallied from a three game deficit to beat out the Pittsburgh Pirates. America was bustling: Henry Ford incorporated his automobile manufacturing company in a Detroit suburb, revolutionizing large-scale assembly, and the Wright brothers piloted their first flight.

Yet as immigrants continued to stream into the United States, the Catholic Archbishop of Boston, John J. Williams, was troubled. All around him he witnessed Boston’s immigrant population—which consisted of mostly Catholics—face horrific social and economic struggles. 

That same year, determined to affect change, Archbishop Williams formed the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston (CCAB) with a simple yet profound goal: provide hope by assisting those in need.

Over 100 years later, CCAB faced modern-day challenges: the organization had become too complex, mired by issues that didn't connect with its core mission. Staff was apathetic; the public, unimpressed, unsure of CCAB's true purpose. In short, CCAB had lost its way.

With fresh leadership in place as the Great Recession dug in its heels, resources were scarce. Catholic Charities’ future success depended on the alignment of the board, the leadership team, and employees in pursuit of its mission to serve Boston's neediest citizens. To guide them, CCAB developed a strategic plan of action to anticipate the road ahead with a big-picture understanding of how to return to greatness. The Balanced Scorecard served as a compass to allow management to holistically evaluate and measure impact. 

In September 2008, the first Balanced Scorecard report was provided to the board of directors. The report included a strategy map with red, yellow, and green indicators that revealed performance versus plan. Further information was provided through quantitative performance data and qualitative performance assessment and recommendations. Board members were so impressed by the initial comprehensive review that they gave management a standing ovation!

During the holiday season of 2009, CCAB was able to increase its food program recipients by 20 percent as over 90 percent of food requests were met. Press mentions, tracked monthly by the Archdiocese, increased, and Catholic Charities was increasingly called upon to serve as a voice and advocate of the neediest in a positive light. By focusing on the “critical few” measures and projects, Catholic Charities positioned itself to do more with less as it embodied its core mission. We think Archbishop Williams would be proud.


  1. The Board aligned with leadership, which strengthened the agency
  2. Successes and challenges were communicated and monitored
  3. Middle management had a framework to align their activities with the strategy
  4. Because resources were better allocated, programs were set up for success
  5. Charities established a protocol for interfacing with the press to highlight the plight of Massachusetts’ poor
  6. A clear strategy and measures of effectiveness in achieving that strategy became the cornerstone of large donor acquisition
  7. Hard benefits became apparent about 18 months after the Balanced Scorecard implementation (sales and ROI increased significantly)

Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Boston was inducted into the 2012 Balanced Scorecard Hall of Fame for Executing Strategy on Tuesday, October 16th, during Palladium’s Global Summit for Executing Strategy in Boston. Read our press release for more information. 

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!!!

Do you have a Decision Making Process?

Posted February 15, 2012 10:23 PM by Ted Jackson

Let me quickly describe a dysfunctional organization. It is one whose leadership team meets on a regular basis. Maybe they meet weekly for 1 hour or monthly for 2-4 hours or even quarterly for 4-8 hours. They talk about all the things that are important to their organization. They discuss all of the challenges and successes. They fret over the complex and difficult issues, and then they break for the day and meet back again the next time. This might not seem all that unfamiliar to you.

more »

Effective Meeting Preperation, Management, and Follow-up Habits

Posted October 14, 2011 4:14 PM by Dylan Miyake

After dealing with the headaches of Excel and PowerPoint reporting, version control issues, and not being able to dynamically track all the things that a leadership team needs to know, and fast, we decided to develop a new kind of tool to make strategy review meetings more effective.

In this journey, we developed a piece of software called ClearPoint Strategy. ClearPoint is more than a simple scorecard or dashboard application. This is a tool that includes fifteen plus years of best-practices accumulated by developing and implementing effective strategic plans across many high-performing organizations.

But real success does not come from a slick software alone. There are other habits and patterns that a leadership team needs to understand and value. In this article, we try to capture the people-process through which an organization can prepare for strategy review meetings, manage well organized and data-driven meetings, record decisions, and ensure accountability and timely follow-up on mission-critical items.

Continue reading for more details about each stage in the process:

more »