MB#7 - Helping Stakeholders to Understand Your Strategic Plan
How to Use a Strategy Map to Share Your Deep Insights
I led my first strategic planning retreat as a stop-gap measure.
“Staff are running around like crazy - in all sorts of directions!” This was my client’s complaint. Was it directed at me?
Because the culture-change effort we had delivered was effective. Highly motivated participants were now creating projects to improve the company, just as we had intended.
But that created a new problem. Their efforts lacked direction, and managers were complaining that sometimes folks were working at cross-purposes. There was no roadmap to guide them.
In other words, they lacked cohesion. “But isn’t there are a strategic plan in place?” I asked.
Like many companies at the end of the millennium, their strategic planning was weak or non-existent. But more to the point, as their consultants, we had created a problem but offered no matching solution.
Fortunately, in September 2000, I picked up the latest copy of the Harvard Business Review with an article from the creators of the Balanced Scorecard. It laid out a way to communicate a strategic plan to all levels of the organization in the form of a cause-and-effect diagram: a “strategy map.”
This came as a shock, as their prior work hadn’t interested me at all. Now, it rocked my world.
Many years later, they admitted that they probably should have written this article first. Why?
Here, for the first time, was a way to take abstract strategic ideas and put them in an easy-to-understand picture. With this framework, anyone could understand the essence of a plan without being in attendance at the original retreat. They no longer needed to read a dull 50-page document. Or get an MBA just to understand. Or even need a Balanced Scorecard.
It was the perfect solution to my client’s problems.
In this Mini-Book, you will find a way to use the ideas introduced by Drs. David Norton and Robert Kaplan. But we won’t be following the text. Instead, I’ll share what I’ve learned from our ongoing study of 50 interwoven short/long-term projects so that you don’t get bogged down.
The Strategy Map
As I mentioned, the map is a cause-and-effect diagram. It shows four perspectives and the links between activities and outcomes between levels.
In this mini-book, I’ll use the simple example of a map developed with a for-surplus company - a credit union. Later on, we’ll discuss ways to engage non-profits.
The way we develop a strategy map involves a live session with 18-20 participants from a client organization. Usually, the exercise follows on the heels of the creation of a long-term plan spanning some 15-30 years.
To begin the activity, we review the short-term (2-5 year) targets and tactics. Then we turn to a blank sheet, usually a PowerPoint page on which I start to build the map in real-time.
And the first question I ask is: “What is the short-term timeframe we’re going to map?” After a few minutes of discussion to choose a short-term horizon of 5 years or fewer, the process begins.
As an aside, the idea of using a strategy map for short-term planning didn’t come from the authors. They didn’t mention any timeframe.
However, I discovered through trial and error that maps which try to cover a long timeframe end up becoming cluttered. Instead of revealing the strategic hypothesis, they actually hide it.
Here is a diagram of the completed output for our case study: Fictional Cooperative Credit Union.
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