Kaplan and Norton co-authored an article which was published in the Harvard Business Review (January/February 1993). In it they introduce an exciting new concept: the balanced scorecard. They have since published three books: this one, preceded by The Balanced Scorecard: Translating Strategy into Action (1996) and The Strategy-Focused Organization: How Balanced Scorecard Companies Thrive in the New Business Environment (2000). Here's some background on the two books before we shift our attention to Strategy Maps.
In The Balanced Scorecard, as Kaplan and Norton explain in their Preface, "the Balanced Scorecard evolved from an improved measurement system to an improved management system." The distinction is critically important to understanding this book. Senior executives in various companies have used the Balanced Scorecard as the central organizing framework for important managerial processes such as individual and team goal setting, compensation, resource allocation, budgeting and planning, and strategic feedback and learning. When writing this book, it was the authors' hope that the observations they share would help more executives to launch and implement Balanced Scorecard programs in their organizations.
Then in The Strategy-Focused Organization, Kaplan and Norton note that, according to an abundance of research data, only 5% of the workforce understand their company's strategy, that only 25% of managers have incentives linked to strategy, that 60% of organizations don't link budgets to strategy, and 85% of executive teams spend less than one hour per month discussing strategy. These and other research findings help to explain why Kaplan and Norton believe so strongly in the power of the Balanced Scorecard. As they suggest, it provides "the central organizing framework for important managerial processes such as individual and team goal setting, compensation, resource allocation, budgeting and planning, and strategic feedback and learning." After rigorous and extensive research of their own, obtained while working closely with several dozen different organizations, Kaplan and Norton observed five common principles of a Strategy-Focused Organization:
1. Translate the strategy to operational terms
2. Align the organization to the strategy
3. Make strategy everyone's job
4. Make strategy a continual process
5. Mobilize change through executive leadership
The first four principles focus on the the Balanced Scorecard tool, framework, and supporting resources; the importance of the fifth principle is self-evident. "With a Balanced Scorecard that tells the story of the strategy, we now have a reliable foundation for the design of a management system to create Strategy-Focused Organizations."
Those who have not as yet read The Balanced Scorecard and/or The Strategy-Focused Organization are strong urged to do so. Brief comments about them in commentaries such as these merely indicate the nature and extent of the brilliant thinking which Kaplan and Norton provide in each.
What we have in Strategy Maps are two separate but related components: Further development and refinement of core concepts introduced in the earlier two books, and, a rigorous examination of new ideas and new applications by which to convert intangible assets into tangible outcomes. In the Introduction, Kaplan and Norton explain that their direct involvement with more than 300 organizations provided them with an extensive database of strategies, strategy maps, and balanced scorecards. This abundance of material has revealed a number of strategies and tactics by which literally any organization (regardless of size or nature) can create and then increase value. The strategies and tactics are embraced within three targeted approaches for aligning intangible assets to strategy:
"1. Strategic job families that align human capital to the strategic themes
2. The strategic IT portfolio that aligns information capital to the strategic themes
3. An organization change agenda that integrates and aligns organizational capital for continued learning and improvement in the strategic themes."
Kaplan and Norton carefully organize their material within five Parts. I presume to suggest that Part I be read and then re-read before proceeding to Value-Creating Processes, Intangible Assets, and Building Strategies and Strategy Maps. Part Five provides a number of case files generated by private-sector, public-sector, and nonprofit organizations. In fact, I strongly suggest that Chapter 2 be re-read several times because it offers an invaluable primer on strategy maps. When reading and then re-reading Chapter 2, be sure to check back on Figure 1-2 (Page 8) and Figure 1-3 (Page 11) in the Introduction.
One word of caution from Kaplan and Norton: "It is important (if not imperative) to describe an organization's strategy with word statements of strategic objectives in the four linked perspectives BEFORE turning to measurements. Many organizations building BSCs attempt to go directly from somewhat vague strategy statements to measures without this step, and often omit critical aspects of the strategy or else select from measures that are already available, rather than selecting measures that quantify their strategic objectives."
This is a much longer review than I usually compose because I am convinced that only what is measurable is manageable. Also because, after extensive prior experience helping corporate clients with formulating process maps of various kinds, I am convinced that organizational "journeys" to increased sales, profits, and value need maps by which to reach those destinations just as those who drive vehicles do when seeking their own destinations. One of the greatest benefits of strategy maps is that the process by which they are devised helps to ensure that the most appropriate destination is identified. Think of Kaplan and Norton as travel agents and cartographers, to be sure, but also as consultants whose services you can retain merely by purchasing their three books, then by absorbing and digesting the information and counsel those three books provide. For many decision-makers in all manner of organizations, Strategy Maps may well prove to be the most valuable business book they ever read.