Monday, June 11, 2007

Why Balanced Scorecards Haven't Succeeded at Marketing Measurement

All this thinking about the overwhelming number of business metrics has naturally led me consider balanced scorecards as a way to organize metrics effectively. I think it’s fair to say that balanced scorecards have had only modest success in the business world: the concept is widely understood, but far from universally employed.

Balanced scorecards make an immense amount of sense. A disciplined scorecard process begins with strategy definition followed by a strategy map, which identifies the measures most important to a business and how they are relate to each other and final results. Once the top-level scorecard is built, subsidiary scorecards report on components that contribute to the top-level measures, providing more focused information and targets for lower-level managers.

That’s all great. But my problem with scorecards, and I suspect the reason they haven’t been used more widely, is they don’t make a quantifiable link between scorecard measures and business results. Yes, something like on-time arrivals may be a critical success factor for an airline, and thus appear on its scorecard. That scorecard will even give a target value to compare with actual performance. But it won’t show the financial impact of missing the target—for example, every 1% shortfall vs. the target on-time arrival rate translates into $10 million in lost future value. Proponents would argue (a) this value is impossible to calculate because there are so many intervening factors and (b) so long as managers are rewarded for meeting targets (or punished for not meeting them), that’s incentive enough. But I believe senior managers are rightfully uncomfortable setting those sorts of targets and reward systems unless the relationships between the targets and financial results are known. Otherwise, they risk disproportionately rewarding the selected behaviors, thereby distorting management priorities and ultimately harming business results.

Loyal readers of this blog might expect me to propose lifetime value as a better alternative. It probably is, but the lukewarm response it elicits from most managers has left me cautious. Whether managers don’t trust LTV calculations because they’re too speculative, or (more likely) are simply focused on short-term results, it’s pretty clear that LTV will not be the primary measurement tool in most organizations. I haven’t quite given up hope that LTV will ultimately receive its due, but for now feel it makes more sense to work with other measures that managers find more compelling.

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