Getting Your Board on Board

In a wide-ranging discussion I recently held with the senior strategy officer of a midsized organization the conversation eventually made its way to their Board of Directors. I asked how involved the Board had been in their Balanced Scorecard. “Not at all” this person replied. That response didn’t come as a great surprise to me as most organizations choose, rightly, to create strategy and their Balanced Scorecard themselves, seeking Board insight and approval afterwards. But what came next did surprise me, a great deal.  I asked: “Did your Board receive any training on the Balanced Scorecard so they could use it effectively to gauge your strategy execution?” With no hesitation this executive responded, “No. They would think that was beneath them.” As someone who makes their living facilitating, writing, and speaking it’s not often I’m unable to mount a reply to a comment, but this shocking response rendered me speechless. Let’s review one primary responsibility of any Board to see why no member should ever consider Scorecard training “beneath them.”

Boards serve multiple functions, but perhaps their chief responsibility is approving and monitoring enterprise strategy. As noted above, the Board typically doesn’t engage in creating the organization’s strategy, that’s the province of the senior executive team, led by the chief executive officer. However, to fulfill their oversight role, Boards they must understand and approve the strategy, then continually monitor management’s execution efforts. Based on the findings of a study performed by global consulting firm McKinsey, effective monitoring is often easier said than done. The researchers discovered that a whopping forty-four percent of directors don’t fully understand the drivers of value for the organization on whose Board they sit. Without that knowledge it’s impossible to provide meaningful insights and advice, the very reason members were selected in the first place. Enter the Balanced Scorecard.

Around the globe, thousands of organizations have turned to the Balanced Scorecard (and other measurement-related systems) to isolate the value-creating mechanisms of their strategy by identifying measures that translate strategy into meaningful action. One of the many benefits of using the Balanced Scorecard is providing the Board with powerful metrics that distill the essence of the organization’s strategy and clearly indicate what drives value for customers and shareholders alike. Armed with that knowledge, Board members can draw on their substantial reserves of knowledge and experience to actively participate and provide the counsel every management team requires. But as any practitioner will tell you, the Scorecard is more than an ad-hoc collection of measures scattered across four perspectives. The true value of the framework lies in the ability to connect the measures in a strategic narrative, understanding how they weave together, across the related perspectives. For a director to contribute meaningfully to an organization’s strategic dialog, they must first understand the intricacies and subtleties of the Scorecard model. If to them a Scorecard is simply a group of bucketed metrics, they will never derive the benefits possible from the tool, and are likely to squander much of their own potential value to the organization. Any Board member who takes their responsibility to the organization seriously, and respects their fiduciary duties, should never consider Scorecard training beneath them. To the contrary, they should encourage and embrace the lessons, as they will allow them to better serve their vital role in corporate governance.


Paul Niven

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