Securing Executive Sponsorship for the Balanced Scorecard

One of my favorite parts of delivering talks on the Balanced Scorecard is the venerable question and answer period, during which the audience grills me with queries large and small on everything Balanced Scorecard, and occasionally beyond. There is a standard slate of questions to which I’ve become accustomed and hear repeatedly: “How big an organization do you have to be to derive benefits from the BSC?” “How long does it take to implement?” “What are some of the key success factors in implementing the BSC?” To use a sports metaphor, I consider these and other similar questions to be ‘soft-balls’ tossed right over the heart of the plate just waiting for me to knock them out of the park with a solid answer. I say that because a body of experience has accumulated over the past eighteen years, which allows me to competently and confidently reply to such questions. However, at some point in virtually every session someone will throw me a curveball, a question that makes my knees buckle like a badly fooled batter, as I search for the best response. That question is simply, “How do I get a reluctant or disinterested executive to pay attention to, or sponsor, the Balanced Scorecard?” The questioner realizes, as does everyone else in the room, that without executive sponsorship the Balanced Scorecard, or any change initiative for that matter, is ultimately doomed to failure.

Although every organization I visit is unique and has their own set of challenges, one common thread uniting all is the declaration:

We’re busier than we’ve ever been!” Downsizing, rightsizing, early retirement, operational efficiency, lean manufacturing, and a host of other productivity boosters have conspired to not only enhance our output but do so in many cases with considerably fewer resources. So we’re run off our feet and in this environment, with a million possible things screaming for our attention, more than ever we look to our executives for guidance.

What are they watching? What gets their attention?

As the old saying goes, if it’s interesting to my boss, it’s fascinating to me. Employees simply aren’t going to commit to the Balanced Scorecard without a passionate, committed, and informed executive leading the charge.

So how do you install the Balanced Scorecard on their already over-crowded radar screens?

The answer is science. No test tubes, white coats, or sterile labs off the New Jersey Turnpike, mind you. In fact, to those of you possibly intimidated by the very notion of science in an article devoted to the Balanced Scorecard, consider the words of English Biologist Thomas Henry Huxley who suggested, “Science is, I believe, nothing but trained and organized common sense.” And in the remainder of this article we’ll be relying on the trained and organized common sense of Mr. Robert Cialdini, author of the wonderful book “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion.” Cialdini and his team of researchers have been studying the science of persuasion for over thirty years and have developed a set of straightforward principles we can use when engaging a recalcitrant executive in a discussion of why the Balanced Scorecard is right for your organization. Described below are the principles of persuasion as developed by Professor Cialdini. I’ll briefly outline each, provide an example of the principle in action from ‘real life,’ and then discuss how we can mold it to work for us in our efforts to secure executive sponsorship.

Liking

People tend to like those who like, and are similar to, themselves. Thus, in order to influence others, we must uncover real similarities and offer genuine praise. An article in the Journal of Personality discovered that participants stood closer to one another after learning they shared political beliefs and social values. I’m sure we’ve all experienced the ‘liking’ phenomenon in our own lives. Before I engage with clients in a workshop setting I always try and meet as many of the participants as possible. Inevitably I’ll share something with at least one, perhaps we have a hobby in common, or we root for the same football team, it could be anything. It’s amazing how often those people will tend to be more responsive and active during the subsequent session. It’s simply because we’ve established a connection.

In applying this principle to executive sponsorship, I suggest you focus on the ‘similarity’ principle and link the Scorecard to something about which the executive feels passionate. Any executive is more inclined to lend vocal and active support to an initiative appealing to a core belief or value, thus it is incumbent upon you to find that linchpin and discuss how the Balanced Scorecard can transform it from rhetoric to reality. For example, perhaps he or she is acutely aware of the power of intangible assets such as culture and customer relationships in transforming your business. Discuss the proven ability of the Balanced Scorecard to translate intangibles into real business value. If quality is their first love, demonstrate the idea of cause and effect, outlining the fact that quality is a result of unique organizational elements such as training and culture, and quality drives customer satisfaction and ultimately financial rewards, all key dimensions of the Scorecard framework.

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