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What Car Repair Can Teach You About the Balanced Scorecard

Paul Niven
Contributor: Paul Niven
Posted: 06/25/2017

I don’t know if it’s a sudden thirst for knowledge or a classic mid-life crisis, but recently I’ve become very interested in cars. Not just a typical urge characterized by the purchase of a sleek new sports car, but instead I’ve cultivated a desire to learn how cars work.

Why do the brakes take us from 60 to zero in a few seconds? How exactly is power delivered from the engine to the four wheels? These and many other questions appeared seemingly from nowhere and I was suddenly gripped with a desire to answer them.

To assist in my quest, I bought a ‘project’ car, one I felt I could learn with and then enlisted the aid of a good friend who is a car junkie, the kind of guy who frequently wears a T-shirt that says, “Will Talk Cars With Anyone.” We decided on our first project, and in anticipation of our work, I read portions of a how-to book, watched a few videos online, and convinced myself I was well prepared.

The appointed day arrived and we assembled in the garage, popped the car’s hood, and my friend handed me a wrench. I eagerly bent over the engine, paused, and was suddenly overtaken by the sinking feeling that I didn’t have a clue what to do.

Fixing The Foundation Of Your Organization

After reflecting on this sorry incident, I realized the same thing occurs with organizations implementing the Balanced Scorecard, a tool I've taught hundreds of Fortune 1000 companies wishing to create a strategy map and identify meaningful metrics to track success. They get excited about the prospects of developing a Scorecard (or any other change-related activity for that matter), are tantalized by the many promised benefits, and decide the time is right to dive in.

Some of the more enthusiastic participants read parts of a book on the Scorecard, peruse articles on the Internet, and may even join an online forum or two, exchanging opinions with other devotees. With that training completed, they feel they’re ready to take on the Balanced Scorecard challenge.

They bring their team together for the initial Scorecard workshop, and then, when it comes time to create the tool, they’re just like me looking over the bewildering labyrinth of hoses, pumps, and blocks in my engine compartment. Instead of a wrench in their hand, they’ve got a scented marker and are standing in front of an empty flip chart wondering just exactly what they’re supposed to do next.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s car repair, implementing the Balanced Scorecard, or becoming adept at origami—interest, reading, and hope only get you so far. Granted, all three are necessary, but they’re definitely not sufficient. When pursuing any meaningful endeavor we must demonstrate an ongoing commitment to it, and that includes study, practice, and the realization that resources— both human and financial—must be allotted to the project if we hope to succeed. 

That’s where many Scorecard implementations go wrong. The organization possesses the requisite interest in the tool, they do some cursory research, but they lack the discipline to commit resources to the engagement on an ongoing basis. Again, it’s no different than my desire to understand the inner-workings of my car—I thought the cursory scan of a book, some YouTube videos, and a sincere desire would transform me into a mechanic.

Not so. It takes time and an ongoing commitment to the task at hand. In my case, I needed to roll up my sleeves and spend a lot more time getting my hands dirty if I expected to really unlock the secrets of how my car works.

There is no shortage of advice out there on how to make the Scorecard work in an organization. I should know, I’ve written three books on the topic.

But if you want one simple, surefire piece of advice on how to virtually guarantee a successful Scorecard implementation, it’s this nugget, based on the lesson above: Be willing to commit resources to the tool on a prolonged basis. Simply assembling a team, crafting a set of objectives and measures, and expecting the benefits to magically appear isn’t realistic.

To get the most from your investment, you must designate a person or group as responsible for shepherding the Scorecard through your organization. This person or team will take the time to truly understand the concepts underlying the Scorecard, have the skills to facilitate its creation, and possess the ability to weave the many links necessary to embed the Scorecard into the fabric of your organization.

This deep knowledge equips your organization to overcome the inevitable obstacles that appear in any change activity, and it ensures you possess what it takes to sustain momentum for the long-term. And when it comes to the Scorecard, you should be committed to the long-term, making strategy execution a focus of every employee. 

Follow this advice and you’ll take your Scorecard implementation from zero to 60 in no time at all—speaking of which there’s a car in the garage that needs my attention. 

Paul Niven
Contributor: Paul Niven
Posted: 06/25/2017