Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Performance Power Grid Doesn't Impress

Every so often, someone offers to send me a review copy of a new business book. Usually I don’t accept, but given my current interest in performance management techniques, a headline touting “Six Reasons the Performance Power Grid Trumps the Balanced Scorecard” was intriguing. After all, Balanced Scorecard is the dominant approach to performance management today—something that becomes clear when you read other books on the topic and find that most have adopted its framework (with or without acknowledgement). So it seemed worth looking at something that claims to supersede it.

I therefore asked for a copy of The Performance Power Grid by David F. Giannetto and Anthony Zecca (John Wiley & Sons, 2006), and promised to mention it in this blog.

The book has its merits: it’s short and the type is big. On the other hand, there are no pictures and very few illustrations.

As to content: I didn’t exactly disagree with it, but nor did I find it particularly enlightening. The authors’ fundamental point is that organizations should build reporting systems that focus workers at each level on the tasks that are most important for business success. Well, okay. Balanced Scorecard says the same thing—the authors seem to have misinterpreted Balanced Scorecard to be about non-strategic metrics, and then criticize it based on that misinterpretation. The Performance Power Grid does seem to focus a bit more on immediate feedback to lower-level workers than Balanced Scorecard, but a fully-developed Balanced Scorecard system definitely includes “cascading” scorecards that reach all workers.

What I really found frustrating about the book was a lack of concrete information on exactly what goes into its desired system. Somehow you pick your “power drivers” to populate a “performance portal” on your “power grid” on a “(there’s a lot of “power” going on here), and provide analytics so workers can see why things are happening and how they can change them. But exactly what this portal looks like and which data are presented for analysis, isn’t explained in any detail.

The authors might argue that the specifics are unique to each company. But even so, a few extended examples and some general guidelines would be most helpful. The book does actually abound in examples, but most are either historical analogies (Battle of Gettysburg, Apollo 13) or extremely simplistic (a package delivery company focusing on timely package delivery). Then, just when you think maybe the point is each worker should focus on one or two things, the authors casually mention “10 to 15 metrics for each employee that they themselves can affect and are responsible for.” That’s a lot of metrics. I sure would have liked to see a sample list.

On the other hand, the authors are consultants who say their process has been used with great success. My guess is this has less to do with the particular approach than that any method will work if it leads companies to focus relentlessly on key business drivers. It never hurts to repeat that lesson, although I wouldn’t claim it’s a new one.

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