Return to Articles & Newsletters

Welcome to the December 2008 issue of Alignment Solutions! This month’s theme is “creating balance in uncertain times.” These days, many people find it challenging to maintain a positive perspective. Offsetting the unrelenting tidal waves of negative economic news is difficult. Given the uncertainty caused by such overwhelming negativity, it is especially important to create a healthy balance in our lives. This month we offer some concrete ways to create the balance we need in our businesses and personal lives in order to optimize our results.

In the Feature Article, “Creating Balance in Uncertain Times,” we highlight the business need for stability by pointing out the negative consequences of an unbalanced approach. We suggest ways that leaders can create a healthy environment despite uncertainty.

In "Building Balance into the Workplace," the Business Solutions section offers a concrete tool that provides a structured way to align the key elements of the organization for optimal results.

In the Personal Solutions section, “Creating Balance in Your Personal Life: What’s in Your Personal Scorecard?” highlights a tool that allows us to create and maintain a sense of personal equilibrium, thus optimizing the quality of our lives.

I invite you to visit my web site at www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com to find other articles and resources that may be of value to you and your colleagues. I welcome your feedback!

 

Return to Top

Creating Balance in Uncertain Times

It is precisely when the world around us seems chaotic and uncertain that we most need to create and maintain a sense of balance in our organizations. Employees, customers, and stakeholders are all looking to executives for leadership. How does your team measure up when it come to providing that balance?

Often we are so focused on the short-term that we ignore important aspects of the business. An over-emphasis on one area, however, is quite likely to cause misalignment or dysfunction in other, more neglected segments. Think of a balloon: if you squeeze it in one place, the displaced air pops up in another place – it doesn’t go away.

Here are some consequences caused by unbalance or over-emphasis in key business segments:

  • Financial – An excessive focus on cutting costs may lead to lower service levels and dissatisfied customers. The airline industry is a prime example of this type of cost-cutting run amok.

  • Employees – Excessive emphasis on employees may result in a situation similar to what the U.S. auto industry now faces: products that are not competitive due to contractually high labor costs and benefits.

  • Customers – An inordinate emphasis on pleasing customers may result in organizations that lose sight of their intended goals. Politicians come to mind: by trying to serve all masters, they often end up serving none well, or instead, catering to a few select constituencies to the exclusion of others.

  • Internal processes – When there is an excessive focus on rules and regulations, customers can experience frustration due to red tape and inflexibility. Employees who feel like cogs in a machine tend to concentrate on what cannot be done rather than creating ways to help their customers.

In the face of so many potential pitfalls, how do executives create and maintain some semblance of balance in the workplace? Here are fourteen practices that will help:

  1. Keep the big picture (i.e., vision, mission) in mind at all times and refer to it
    often. Help your employees see their unique contributions to this picture.
  2. Whatever your organization’s situation, seek opportunities rather than bemoan
    challenges or negativity. Use adverse conditions to improve, re-focus, and be
    creative.
  3. Engage in positive self-talk, and encourage others to do so.
  4. Challenge assumptions.
  5. Set realistic goals and expectations.
  6. Be honest about what is, and is not, going on in the organization.
  7. Communicate, communicate, communicate.
  8. Be specific about what you want and expect.
  9. Focus on helping your employees become fully successful.
  10. Re-frame situations to highlight their positive aspects and seek what can be
    done to further them.
  11. Get back to basics: focus on organizational and individual strengths.
  12. Exude confidence.
  13. Treat everyone with respect and dignity.
  14. Set a positive example every day. Employees will follow your lead.

For an example of a scorecard that can help create and maintain balance in any organization, please see the Business Solutions section of this newsletter.

Return to Top

Building Balance into the Workplace

Balance is achieved when there is alignment among the components of an organization. A tool called the balanced scorecard was introduced (Kaplan & Norton, The Balanced Scorecard, 1996) to help organizations focus on four key areas: customers, employees, finance, and internal processes. The original model recommended using no more than nine measures across these four areas to assess the organization’s progress, although later this was revised to between sixteen and twenty-five. Initially many clients gasped at the thought of drastically reducing the number of “things” they measured from hundreds or thousands to only a handful, but later they came to appreciate the clarity and focus that resulted from engaging in this exercise.

Since its introduction, the balanced scorecard concept has been adapted for use in a variety of contexts. Below we will talk about how to adapt it in an organizational setting to help build balance and create accountability. For an example of how this concept may be used for creating and maintaining balance in one’s personal life, see the Personal Solutions section of this newsletter.

The idea behind the business scorecard is to ensure that all parts of the organization receive appropriate attention. A healthy organization is one in which all parts are nurtured and aligned: financial, customers, employees, and internal processes. Too much emphasis on one or more parts and not enough paid to others results in misalignment. Under those circumstances, the organization cannot possibly optimize its results.

Below are the measures contained in a sample scorecard for the financial division of a public-sector organization:

Financial
Employees
% of costs compared to budget Employee satisfaction scores (% satisfied)
Injury rate Retention
Lost workdays per 100 FTE Training hours per employee
   
Customers
Internal Processes
Customer satisfaction scores (% satisfied) Productivity
Response time Accessibility of services
  Effectiveness of services

The organization’s key objectives and the relative weight of each area accompany the list of measures and are defined at the division level. Each department in the division has its own scorecard whose measures are consistent with, and support, those of the division. Progress is assessed quarterly, and results are shared and discussed across the division. Results also are used to celebrate successes, identify areas for improvement, and ensure the continued alignment of the organization.

 

Return to Top

Creating Balance in Your Personal Life: What’s In Your Personal Scorecard?

How much balance is there in your personal life right now? How much is there compared to last year? How do you know? How do your family and friends know?

I often use variations on the above questions with clients to help them focus on important aspects of their businesses and develop effective measures of progress and success. These questions are equally useful when applied to one’s personal life. How would you answer them? If you are not able to do so, the tool described below may help.

Balance is achieved when there is alignment among the components of an entity, whether it is an organization or a human being. In business, a tool called the balanced scorecard was introduced (Kaplan & Norton, The Balanced Scorecard, 1996) to help organizations focus on four key areas: customers, employees, finance, and internal processes. (For further discussion of this tool, see the article in the Business Solutions section of this newsletter.)

This concept can be applied in many contexts, including one’s personal life. Over the years, I have found the practice of aligning key life elements to be an effective way of creating and maintaining balance. The four areas in such a personal scorecard are physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. Within each area are two or three measures that indicate progress toward desired goals.

The benefits of using a personal scorecard include the following:

  • Clarity: we are compelled to examine our lives to determine what we want and how each area supports us in getting there


  • Simplicity: there are only two or three measures for each area.


  • Accountability: we have measures to identify our progress and stay on course.


  • Focus: having only a few measures enables us to concentrate on what's really important.

Though feeling that all parts of our lives are in balance is important at any given moment, it is critical to believe we have that control in times of adversity. To counteract destructive tendencies (e.g., not taking care of ourselves, buying into our worst fears, ignoring our feelings, not trusting our intuition) and bring all key aspects of our lives together in a balanced way, we develop a personal scorecard that contains two or three measures each of our physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

Whatever measures you choose for your personal scorecard, make sure they work for you, that they enable you to answer the “How do you know?” questions posed at the beginning of this article. People have found that using this tool provides focus and clarity, as well as a way to help create and maintain balance in their lives.

Why not see what it can do for you?

For additional details and to view a sample personal scorecard, see the full-length article Creating Balance in Your Personal Life: What’s in Your Personal Scorecard? on my web site.

 

Return to Top

Date of Publication: December, 2008
Pat@BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com
www.BusinessAlignmentStrategies.com | 562.985.0333
Copyright 2008 - All rights reserved, Pat Lynch