A couple of years back, feeling that performance at a learning technology company I was running at the time was declining, I brought in a firm call SUMMIT Performance Systems to help us take a look at our strategy and general operations. SUMMIT introduced us to the Balanced Scorecard approach to formulating, implementing, and measuring the impact of strategy. The results were really quite remarkable, and I have been a fan of the Balanced Scorecard ever since.
I tend to think of most organizational learning initiatives as essentially a business initiative. Whether you are selling online learning, running a comprehensive corporate university, or offering classroom-based training workshops for volunteers, the learning technology effort needs to align with the overall mission and strategy of your organization—and preferably in a measurable way.
he development of measures for non-financial aspects of an organization’s operations is the hallmark of the Balanced Scorecard, though much of what makes development of measures possible is the underlying Strategy Map framework on which scorecards are typically built. Strategy Maps are structured around four primary perspectives on an organization’s strategy:
- The Financial Perspective
- The Customer Perspective
- The Internal Operations Perspective
- The Learning and Growth Perspective
(If you seek out examples of the Balanced Scorecard and Strategy Maps you will find many permutations of the above perspectives, but for purposes of this posting, the above version will do.)
For each of these perspectives, an organization pinpoints three to five (again, these numbers vary in actual scorecard implementations) key objectives. For the financial perspective, identifying objectives is typically pretty easy—most organizations, whether for profit or not, want to maintain positive cash flow, control expenses, and operate with positive net revenue.
he other areas are significantly less tangible, however, and the simple (which is not to say easy) process of identifying objectives for these areas constitutes a great deal of the value of the Balanced Scorecard. What are the three or four objectives that, if achieved, would result in loyal, highly satisfied customer base? Which internal process, if really executed effectively, would have the most impact on the Customer perspective and the Financial perspective? These are not easy questions to answer, and finding good measures for each objective once it has been identified is equally challenging.
For those developing and deploying online learning initiatives, the existence of clear objectives and measures for the three perspectives that Learning and Growth must support can be incredibly clarifying. Not only does the process of creating a map and measures provide insight into where learning can have the most impact, it also provides for evidence that the return on investment in learning activities is (or, of course, is not) being achieved.
I have suspicion, though one I may never be able to identify, that learning initiatives are significantly more effective in organizations that have implemented a Balanced Scorecard (and better yet, that develop an e-learning business strategy that aligns tightly with the Scorecard). I’d be interested in hearing from anyone who might have evidence to confirm or deny that suspicion.
P.S. Readers may find the following book related to the Balanced Scorecard helpful: