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The balanced scorecard (BSC) is a strategy performance management tool - a semi-standard structured report, supported by design methods and automation tools, that can be used by managers to keep track of the execution of activities by the staff within their control and to monitor the consequences arising from these actions.
The critical characteristics that define a Balanced Scorecard are
Balanced Scorecard is an example of a closed-loop controller or cybernetic control applied to the management of the implementation of a strategy. Closed-loop or cybernetic control is where actual performance is measured, the measured value is compared to an expected value and based on the difference between the two corrective interventions are made as required. Such control requires three things to be effective - a choice of data to measure, the setting of an expected value for the data, and the ability to make a corrective intervention.
Within the strategy management context, all three of these characteristic closed-loop control elements need to be derived from the organisation's strategy and also need to reflect the ability of the observer to both monitor performance and subsequently intervene - both of which may be constrained.
Two of the ideas that underpin modern Balanced Scorecard designs concern facilitating the creation of such a control - through making it easier to select which data to observe, and ensuring that the choice of data is consistent with the ability of the observer to intervene.
Organizations have used systems consisting of a mix of financial and non-financial measures to track progress for quite some time. One such system was created by Art Schneiderman in 1987 at Analog Devices, a mid-sized semi-conductor company; the Analog Devices Balanced Scorecard. Schneiderman's design was similar to what is now recognised as a "First Generation" Balanced Scorecard design.
In 1990 Art Schneiderman participated in an unrelated research study in 1990 led by Dr. Robert S. Kaplan in conjunction with US management consultancy Nolan-Norton, and during this study described his work on performance measurement. Subsequently, Kaplan and David P. Norton included anonymous details of this balanced scorecard design in a 1992 article. Kaplan and Norton's article wasn't the only paper on the topic published in early 1992 but the 1992 Kaplan and Norton paper was a popular success, and was quickly followed by a second in 1993. In 1996, the two authors published a book The Balanced Scorecard. These articles and the first book spread knowledge of the concept of balanced scorecard widely, and has led to Kaplan and Norton being seen as the creators of the concept.
While the "balanced scorecard" terminology was coined by Art Schneiderman, the roots of performance management as an activity run deep in management literature and practice. Management historians such as Alfred Chandler suggest the origins of performance management can be seen in the emergence of the complex organisation - most notably during the 19th Century in the USA. More recent influences may include the pioneering work of General Electric on performance measurement reporting in the 1950s and the work of French process engineers (who created the tableau de bord – literally, a "dashboard" of performance measures) in the early part of the 20th century. The tool also draws strongly on the ideas of the 'resource based view of the firm' proposed by Edith Penrose. However it should be noted that none of these influences is explicitly linked to original descriptions of balanced scorecard by Schneiderman, Maisel, or Kaplan & Norton.
Kaplan and Norton's first book remains their most popular. The book reflects the earliest incarnations of balanced scorecards - effectively restating the concept as described in the second Harvard Business Review article. Their second book, The Strategy Focused Organization, echoed work by others (particularly a book published the year before by Olve et al. in Scandinavia) on the value of visually documenting the links between measures by proposing the "Strategic Linkage Model" or strategy map.
As the title of Kaplan and Norton's second book highlights, even by 2000 the focus of attention among thought-leaders was moving from the design of Balanced Scorecards themselves, towards the use of Balanced Scorecard as a focal point within a more comprehensive strategic management system. Subsequent writing on Balanced Scorecard by Kaplan & Norton has focused on uses of Balanced Scorecard rather than its design (e.g. "The Execution Premium" in 2008), however many others have continued to refine the device itself (e.g. Abernethy et al.
The characteristics of the balanced scorecard and its derivatives is the presentation of a mixture of financial and non-financial measures each compared to a 'target' value within a single concise report. The report is not meant to be a replacement for traditional financial or operational reports but a succinct summary that captures the information most relevant to those reading it. It is the method by which this 'most relevant' information is determined (i.e., the design processes used to select the content) that most differentiates the various versions of the tool in circulation. The balanced scorecard indirectly also provides a useful insight into an organisation's strategy - by requiring general strategic statements (e.g. mission, vision) to be precipitated into more specific / tangible forms.
The first versions of balanced scorecard asserted that relevance should derive from the corporate strategy, and proposed design methods that focused on choosing measures and targets associated with the main activities required to implement the strategy. As the initial audience for this were the readers of the Harvard Business Review, the proposal was translated into a form that made sense to a typical reader of that journal - managers of US commercial businesses. Accordingly, initial designs were encouraged to measure three categories of non-financial measure in addition to financial outputs - those of "customer," "internal business processes" and "learning and growth." These categories were not so relevant to non-profits or units within complex organizations (which might have high degrees of internal specialization), and much of the early literature on balanced scorecard focused on suggestions of alternative 'perspectives' that might have more relevance to these groups.
Modern balanced scorecards have evolved since the initial ideas proposed in the late 1980s and early 1990s, and the modern performance management tools including Balanced Scorecard are significantly improved - being more flexible (to suit a wider range of organisational types) and more effective (as design methods have evolved to make them easier to design, and use).
Design of a balanced scorecard is about the identification of a small number of financial and non-financial measures and attaching targets to them, so that when they are reviewed it is possible to determine whether current performance 'meets expectations'. By alerting managers to areas where performance deviates from expectations, they can be encouraged to focus their attention on these areas, and hopefully as a result trigger improved performance within the part of the organization they lead.
The original thinking behind a balanced scorecard was for it to be focused on information relating to the implementation of a strategy, and over time there has been a blurring of the boundaries between conventional strategic planning and control activities and those required to design a Balanced Scorecard. This is illustrated well by the four steps required to design a balanced scorecard included in Kaplan & Norton's writing on the subject in the late 1990s:
These steps go far beyond the simple task of identifying a small number of financial and non-financial measures, but illustrate the requirement for whatever design process is used to fit within broader thinking about how the resulting Balanced Scorecard will integrate with the wider business management process.
Although it helps focus managers' attention on strategic issues and the management of the implementation of strategy, it is important to remember that the Balanced Scorecard itself has no role in the formation of strategy. In fact, balanced scorecards can co-exist with strategic planning systems and other tools.
Many authors have since suggested alternative headings for these perspectives, and also suggested using either additional or fewer perspectives (e.g. Butler et al. (1997), Ahn (2001), Elefalke (2001), Brignall (2002), Irwin (2002), Radnor et al. (2003)). These suggestions were notably triggered by a recognition that different but equivalent headings would yield alternative sets of measures. The major design challenge faced with this type of balanced scorecard is justifying the choice of measures made. "Of all the measures you could have chosen, why did you choose these?" This common question is hard to answer using this type of design process. If users are not confident that the measures within the Balanced Scorecard are well chosen, they will have less confidence in the information it provides. Although less common, these early-style balanced scorecards are still designed and used today.
First Generation Balanced Scorecard:
This generation used the "4 box" approach to asses performance. These perspectives or boxes were typically financial, learning and growth, internal business process, and customer. The balanced scorecard alluded to a relationship between these four perspectives but the relationship was not often used or seen.
In short, early-style balanced scorecards are hard to design in a way that builds confidence that they are well designed. Because of this, many are abandoned soon after completion.
In the mid-1990s, an improved design method emerged. In the new method, measures are selected based on a set of "strategic objectives" plotted on a "strategic linkage model" or "strategy map". With this modified approach, the strategic objectives are distributed across the four measurement perspectives, so as to "connect the dots" to form a visual presentation of strategy and measures.
In this modified version of balanced scorecard design, managers select a few strategic objectives within each of the perspectives, and then define the cause-effect chain among these objectives by drawing links between them to create a "strategic linkage model". A balanced scorecard of strategic performance measures is then derived directly by selecting one or two measures for each strategic objectives. This type of approach provides greater contextual justification for the measures chosen, and is generally easier for managers to work through. This style of balanced scorecard has been commonly used since 1996 or so: it is significantly different in approach to the methods originally proposed, and so can be thought of as representing the "2nd generation" of design approach adopted for balanced scorecard since its introduction.
Several design issues still remain with this enhanced approach to balanced scorecard design, but it has been more successful than the design approach it superseded.
In the late 1990s, the design approach had evolved yet again. One problem with the "2nd generation" design approach described above was that the plotting of causal links amongst twenty or so medium-term strategic goals was still a relatively abstract activity. In practice it ignored the fact that opportunities to intervene, to influence strategic goals are, and need to be, anchored in the "now;" in current and real management activity. Secondly, the need to "roll forward" and test the impact of these goals necessitated the creation of an additional design instrument; the Vision or Destination Statement. This device was a statement of what "strategic success," or the "strategic end-state" looked like. It was quickly realized, that if a Destination Statement was created at the beginning of the design process then it was easier to select strategic activity and outcome objectives to respond to it. Measures and targets could then be selected to track the achievement of these objectives. Design methods that incorporate a "destination statement" or equivalent (e.g. the results based management method proposed by the UN in 2002) represent a tangibly different design approach to those that went before, and have been proposed as representing a "3rd generation" design method for balanced scorecard.
Design methods for balanced scorecards continue to evolve and adapt to reflect the deficiencies in the currently used methods, and the particular needs of communities of interest (e.g. NGO's and government departments have found the 3rd generation methods embedded in results based management more useful than 1st or 2nd generation design methods).
The balanced scorecard represents an adaptive tool for assessing public and private programs and projects. A very interesting initiative is a new application of BSC proposed by Ioppolo G. et al. He has published on land use policy journal the structure and application of the territory balanced scorecard to support environmental management projects and new public governance actions.
From another perspective, Del Giorgio Solfa has proposed the development of a Benchmarking Dashboard Public Management (BDPM), which enable benchmarking from the point of view of Public Management Modernization of the State, the location and degree of development of the provincial public organizations, in relation to the resources used to operate.
Second Generation Balanced Scorecard:
This generation helped to fix some problems of the first generation scorecard. The strategy map approach made it easier to connect the four perspectives together and visually see how they fit together. One problem was that there was casual linkage between perspectives. To fit into the diagram, the strategic objectives required short titles. This required another place where one would have to go to read the paragraph or so about what that objective entailed.
Third Generation Balanced Scorecard:
This generation refined the second generation of the balanced scorecard to give the strategic objectives more relevance and functionality. The major difference is the incorporation of 'destination statements'. Other key components consist of strategic objectives, strategic linkage model and perspectives, and measures and initiatives.
An organization needs a clear understanding of what they are trying to achieve. This understanding points the company in the right direction to make strategic objectives to get them to their goals. This statement describes what their company is likely to look at on a future date. A company might look at financial and market characteristics, activities and processes, external relationships, and organization and culture.
This adds the details to the destination statement of how the company might reach their goal at the set point in the future. The strategic objectives gives direction on things to focus on. A company might gather groups together to find what strategic objectives will best help the company with their end goal. It is helpful to involve many people so everyone is on the same page and the objectives are mutually supported. These objectives are generally split into two groups, one set for 'Activities' describing interventions / change programmes that will be run to implement the strategy (or maintain operations within the organisation), and a second describing 'Outcomes' that are the expected short-term observable consequences of the strategy interventions. By comparing the performance of activity objectives and validating these activities against the expected outcomes, managers can gain more control over the strategy implementation process (see Lawrie and Cobbold 2004, and for examples Andersen et al. 2005.).
The strategic objectives chosen by the company are then spread across a diagram with two perspectives - one for the outcome objectives and one for the activity objectives. Typically the outcomes are at the top of the diagram, and these comprise a mixture of financial and non-financial objectives. Use of this 'outcome perspective' is particularly helpful for non-profit organisations. The objectives are linked together to show simple causality - the links representing the beliefs of the management team about the linkages rather than formally proven relationships. The strategic linkage model's design and structure reflects a management team's perceptions - and in so doing builds management team consensus concerning the strategy itself and the plan for its implementation, which in turn improves the effectiveness of implementation.
Measures and initiatives are identified and constructed after the strategic objectives are chosen. These are designed to monitor the company's progress towards the end goal. A key requirement of the cybernetic control element of Balanced Scorecard is for each of these measures to have targets (expected values): without targets the measures cannot be used for control purposes.
In 1997, Kurtzman found that 64 percent of the companies questioned were measuring performance from a number of perspectives in a similar way to the balanced scorecard. Balanced scorecards have been implemented by government agencies, military units, business units and corporations as a whole, non-profit organizations, and schools.
Balanced Scorecard has been widely adopted, and has been found to be the most popular performance management framework in a recent survey
Many examples of balanced scorecards can be found via web searches. However, adapting one organization's balanced scorecard to another is generally not advised by theorists, who believe that much of the benefit of the balanced scorecard comes from the design process itself. Indeed, it could be argued that many failures in the early days of balanced scorecard could be attributed to this problem, in that early balanced scorecards were often designed remotely by consultants. Managers did not trust, and so failed to engage with and use, these measure suites created by people lacking knowledge of the organization and management responsibility.
Since the balanced scorecard was popularized in the early 1990s, a large number of alternatives to the original 'four box' balanced scorecard promoted by Kaplan and Norton in their various articles and books have emerged. Most have very limited application, and are typically proposed either by academics as vehicles for promoting other agendas (such as green issues) - e.g. Brignall (2002) or consultants as an attempt at differentiation to promote sales of books and / or consultancy (e.g. Bourne (2002); Niven (2002)).
Many of the variations proposed are broadly similar, and a research paper published in 2004 attempted to identify a pattern in these variations - noting three distinct types of variation. The variations appeared to be part of an evolution of the Balanced Scorecard concept, and so the paper refers to these distinct types as "generations". Broadly, the original 'measures in boxes' type design (as proposed by Kaplan & Norton) constitutes the 1st generation balanced scorecard design; balanced scorecard designs that include a 'strategy map' or 'strategic linkage model' (e.g. the Performance Prism, later Kaplan & Norton designs the Performance Driver model of Olve, Roy & Wetter (English translation 1999, 1st published in Swedish 1997)) constitute the 2nd Generation of Balanced Scorecard design; and designs that augment the strategy map / strategic linkage model with a separate document describing the long-term outcomes sought from the strategy (the "destination statement" idea) comprise the 3rd generation balanced scorecard design.
The balanced scorecard has attracted criticism from a variety of sources. Most has come from the academic community, who dislike the empirical nature of the framework: Kaplan and Norton notoriously failed to include any citation of prior art in their initial papers on the topic. Some of this criticism focuses on technical flaws in the methods and design of the original Balanced Scorecard proposed by Kaplan and Norton,. Other academics have simply focused on the lack of citation support.
A second kind of criticism is that the balanced scorecard does not provide a bottom line score or a unified view with clear recommendations: it is simply a list of metrics (e.g. Jensen 2001). These critics usually include in their criticism suggestions about how the 'unanswered' question postulated could be answered, but typically the unanswered question relate to things outside the scope of balanced scorecard itself (such as developing strategies) (e.g. Brignall)
A third kind of criticism is that the model fails to fully reflect the needs of stakeholders - putting bias on financial stakeholders over others. Early forms of Balanced Scorecard proposed by Kaplan & Norton focused on the needs of commercial organisations in the USA - where this focus on investment return was appropriate. This focus was maintained through subsequent revisions. Even now over 20 years after they were first proposed, the four most common perspectives in Balanced Scorecard designs mirror the four proposed in the original Kaplan & Norton paper. However, as noted earlier in this wiki page, there have been many studies that suggest other perspectives might better reflect the priorities of organisations - particularly but not exclusively relating to the needs of organisations in the public and Non Governmental sectors. More modern design approaches such as 3rd Generation Balanced Scorecard and the UN's Results Based Management methods explicitly consider the interests of wider stakeholder groups, and perhaps address this issue in its entirety.
There are few empirical studies linking the use of balanced scorecards to better decision making or improved financial performance of companies, but some work has been done in these areas. However, broadcast surveys of usage have difficulties in this respect, due to the wide variations in definition of 'what a balanced scorecard is' noted above (making it hard to work out in a survey if you are comparing like with like). Single organization case studies suffer from the 'lack of a control' issue common to any study of organizational change - you don't know what the organization would have achieved if the change had not been made, so it is difficult to attribute changes observed over time to a single intervention (such as introducing a balanced scorecard). However, such studies as have been done have typically found balanced scorecard to be useful.
The 1st generation design method proposed by Kaplan and Norton was based on the use of three non-financial topic areas as prompts to aid the identification of non-financial measures in addition to one looking at financial. Four "perspectives" were proposed:
These 'prompt questions' illustrate that Kaplan and Norton were thinking about the needs of non-divisional commercial organizations. They are not very helpful to other kinds of organisations (e.g. multi-divisional or multi-national commercial organisations, governmental organisations, non-profits, non-governmental organisations, government agencies etc.), and much of what has been written on balanced scorecard since has, in one way or another, focused on the identification of alternative headings more suited to a broader range of organizations.
It is important to recognize that the balanced scorecard by definition is not a complex thing - typically no more than about 20 measures spread across a mix of financial and non-financial topics, and easily reported manually (on paper, or using simple office software).
The processes of collecting, reporting, and distributing balanced scorecard information can be labor-intensive and prone to procedural problems (for example, getting all relevant people to return the information required by the required date). The simplest mechanism to use is to delegate these activities to an individual, and many Balanced Scorecards are reported via ad-hoc methods based around email, phone calls and office software.
In more complex organizations, where there are multiple balanced scorecards to report and/or a need for co-ordination of results between balanced scorecards (for example, if one level of reports relies on information collected and reported at a lower level) the use of individual reporters is problematic. Where these conditions apply, organizations use balanced scorecard reporting software to automate the production and distribution of these reports.
Recent surveys have consistently found that roughly one third of organizations used office software to report their balanced scorecard, one third used software developed specifically for their own use, and one third used one of the many commercial packages available.
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