Five Things We’ve Learned About Organizations

The balanced scorecard is an iterative, learning process. No organization gets everything 100 percent correct the first time. After all, strategy formulation remains an art, not an exact science. It’s our best hypothesis about how organizations will succeed.

The balanced scorecard offers a rapid and effective way to implement and then to test the strategy and react and respond as necessary. “As the environment changes, so must the balanced scorecard,” says Beverly Hall, superintendent of the Atlanta Public Schools, who introduced her district to the scorecard approach in 2004. In working with dozens of organizations, both nonprofit and corporate, in applying the balanced scorecard, we have discovered a few important lessons that can help or hinder leadership’s goals.

Listen, listen, listen. The balanced scorecard will not be effective as a tool, and you will not be effective as a leader, if the balanced scorecard and strategy map do not reflect the realities the schools face every day. To successfully develop a balanced scorecard, don’t just retreat into your office with your deputies and put something together. Instead, you must go to the schools and meet all affected constituencies and listen to their needs. Learn how the current measurement system is broken (trust us, it is broken). Solicit ideas from everyone on how to fix it. And reflect these good ideas in the strategy map and scorecard.

Communicate early and often. People don’t like change, and change involving measurement can be even more scary. In addition to listening to stakeholders from inside and outside the district, communicate early and often about the strategy, the map and the scorecard. Experts have told us you must “communicate seven times, seven different ways.”

Deploy in phases. A key message from everyone interviewed for our accompanying article is the need to phase in the deployment of the balanced scorecard. It’s critical the strategy be clear and sustainable before introducing it to the principals and the schools. That’s not to say the principals shouldn’t be involved in the development process (they must!), but it’s important to get the district’s balanced scorecard right before starting work on the school- or department-level scorecards. Otherwise you risk losing the excitement around the process.

Also, show how the balanced scorecard can replace much of the data currently reported, which no one looks at or uses. Atlanta schools now just turn in a three-page scorecard instead of a school achievement plan typically running between 40 and 90 pages in length. All principals love the reduction in required paperwork.

Staff and train appropriately. According to Alexis Kirijan, chief strategy officer for Atlanta Public Schools, getting people involved in the process is easy. What’s challenging is keeping them engaged. To keep people involved, Kirijan has assembled a team of people who try to simplify the scorecard process. The team provides training and best-practice templates. The deputy superintendent, Kathy Augustine, emphasized the value of establishing a “strategy management office” to coordinate all the processes of the new strategy management system.

Use it or lose it. The balanced scorecard, said Atlanta Superintendent Beverly Hall, is “more than just show and tell.” To be successful, the scorecard must become ingrained as the central information system for managing the district. The scorecard changes as district strategy evolves. In that way, it remains relevant and adaptable to changes in the environment and new educational opportunities.

— Robert Kaplan and Dylan Miyake