How to Make Your Strategy Map Shine in 3 Easy Steps

One of the first, and most important, steps in implementing the Balanced Scorecard is to create a strategy map that tells the story of your strategy and is unique to your organization.  If you are the City of Minneapolis, the strategy map must tell the strategy story of Minneapolis, not just any city, and if you are St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, it must tell the story of St. Jude’s, not any children’s hospital.

The tricky part is that most individual organizations—and their strategies—have a lot in common with those generic organizations, it is just the way it is.  There are steps, however, that you can take so that when your staff and other stakeholders view your strategy map, they see your organization. The top three steps, in my opinion, are what I’ll call branding, description, and customization.  I will discuss the last one first.

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Step 1: Customization

Sometimes, I work with clients who are so intent on implementing the Balanced Scorecard “by the book” that they are afraid to really make their strategy map their own.  By this I mean that they build their map with the typical Kaplan-Norton strategy map perspectives—Customer/Client, Financial, Internal Processes, and Learning and Growth—and themes—Operational Excellence, Program Management, and Advocacy/Communications—which is all good.  However, they are afraid of changing the words to better fit their organization for fear of not following the Balanced Scorecard methodology.  This is a big mistake.

Your staff, clients, and other stakeholders who you share the strategy map with need to look at it and see your organization in it, so you need to use the language your organizations speaks.  Very simple, basic customization of the language can make a big difference when communicating the strategy map.

For example, I’ve worked with an educational organization that changed its Customer perspective to “Students” and the Internal Processes perspective to “Organizational Excellence”—two phrases that have a lot more meaning to its stakeholders.  A nonprofit membership organization I worked with used the “Member” perspective instead of Customers and “Organizational Capacity” instead of Learning and Growth.  Again, because these terms have an agreed-to meaning within the organization.

With respect to themes in the Internal Processes perspective, one client used “Invested Stakeholders & Community” (Advocacy), “Excellence in Every Classroom” (Program Management), and “Highest-Performing Network” (Operational Excellence).  The themes on the other’s strategy map were: “Knowledge” (Communication), “Access and Service Delivery” (Program Management), and “Operational Excellence.”  When I asked the latter client about the customizing the third theme, their answer was “No, the term ‘operational excellence’ has a specific meaning within our organization and that’s what we are talking about here.”

The customization of themes is also helpful for organizations that seek alignment by cascading the strategy because the lower level strategy maps can use the same themes, but customize the individual objectives to the unique parts of their business.


Step 2: Description

When I say description, I mean objective description.  This step involves taking a simple objective such as “Improve fundraising” and describing it better so it means something more to both your organization and its stakeholders. 

The strategic objective “improve fundraising” may be important, but it doesn’t tell anyone much.  However, if you use the suggested objective structure of verb-adjective-noun, you can come up with more specific and meaningful objectives, such as “Increase event-driven fundraising” or “Develop annual giving programs” or “Drive website donations”.  All of these objectives aim to improve fundraising, but are very specific in how they intend to do it.

Step 3: Branding

Finally the third easy step is to brand your strategy map.  Do you have a company logo with a specific font and colors?  Of course you do.  Use them on your strategy map.  Is there a particular “look and feel” that permeates all of the documents your organization produces?  Use it.  Make it look like the strategy map is coming from your organization, not from the same consultant as every other strategy map.

Your organization’s strategy map is a key tool for helping communicate your strategy so it is important to make it your own and be sure everyone knows it is.  I believe these three steps I’ve described should help you get there.