May 11 2013

Leading effectively an organization at the strategic level requires several important ingredients. Some of these ingredients include:

  • Clarity of mission, vision, and values
  • Clarity concerning strategic priorities/themes
  • Clarity on strategic drivers and results
  • Clarity on measures and targets

Achieving a high level of strategic clarity is an ambitious goal which is not accomplished easily. Additionally, gaining strategic clarity is as much a process as a destination. One tool that can help both in the development and the maintaining of strategic clarity is a monthly strategy meeting. The well-known organizational consultant, Patrick Lencioni, highlights in his leadership fable Death by Meetingand in his summative work The Advantage, the value of separating meetings by type. He emphasizes the need to separate tactical meetings from strategic meetings. This insight has been transformational in my leadership and in the work of many organizations. A monthly strategy meeting has many aspects that bring strength to high-performing teams:

  • Helps in raising the strategic altitude of the team
  • Provides space to discuss the most strategic aspects of the organization
  • Allows for a clear point of monthly accountability through the balanced scorecard
  • Reminds the leadership team and campus stakeholders of the current strategic priorities

This monthly strategy meeting can take different forms to best suit the needs of the team and organization. These formats form a continuum from a brief review to a day-long strategic offsite. Here is an example of that continuum:

  • One-hour segment with a strategic focus embedded in the context of other standing meetings. The agenda usually includes a limited review of the balanced scorecard update.
  • Two-hour segment with a strategic focus including a review of balanced scorecard measures with some additional attention to strategy effectiveness
  • Half-day, stand-alone meeting that includes a balanced scorecard review, strategy review, and strategic update
  • Full day, off-site which can include a balanced scorecard update and strategy update as well as a time for team building, and discussion on broader strategic issues.

The longer segments allow for broader strategic discussions and may include a variety of topics including:

  • Finding competitive advantage in specific market space
  • Identifying key aspects of the institution that can be leveraged for a competitive advantage
  • Assessing which aspects of the institution add significant value and which aspects add little value
  • Aligning resources with the strategy
  • Strategic trajectory over the next 3-5-10 years

Before You Start There should be a date each month when the balanced scorecard is updated. If you are working with an internal team or an external consultant, this update is typically after the 7th day of each month and may be as late as the 15th day of each month. With that pattern in place, plan out a strategy session for the next 3-6 months. When you come to the meeting, the participants should have reviewed the balanced scorecard data and website a day or two ahead to prepare for the meeting.Strategy Meeting Here are the key components of a monthly strategic review meeting: Strategy Map

  • Review of mission, vision, and values:
    • Are these components providing energy and passion to the institutions?
    • Strategic Priorities/Themes:
      • Do these statements continue to focus on the most important aspects of the institution’s strategic future?
      • Strategic Objectives: Does this causal chain provide the team with confidence that the strategy will be effective in the coming months
        • Is there a need to consider changing any objectives for next year?

Balanced Scorecard Website

  • Measures:
    • Are the data points accurately updated on the website?
    • Is there any confusion on the operationalization of the data?
    • Targets:
      • What do the colors tell us?
      • Is there a reasonable balance of color so that there is not too much green or too much red?
      • Readability
        • Can “consumers” of the measures and targets make sense of the visuals?
        • Are the colors sending the right messages?


  • Are some screenshots being sent out to draw attention to the process?
  • Can people log in and navigate with relative ease?
  • Are some notes included on the website to explain unique issues (e.g. red, etc.)

Changes Needed

  • What changes need to be made based on the data, measures, and targets?
  • What strategic adjustments are needed in the next week, month, or quarter?
  • Who is going to take responsibility for what?

Punishment or Learning When it comes to the topic of performance measurement, many will be concerned about the purpose of the process. While some organizations take a punitive or draconian approach to performance review, most healthy organizations take a more balanced approach which includes these considerations:

  • Yellow/Red colors should not automatically mean that something has gone terribly wrong. Instead, it should be a flag that triggers inquiry, learning, and adjustment
  • Learning should be the primary mode of investigation when performance comes up short.
  • All green is not necessarily a good sign. If all measures color green, it typically means that a recalibration is needed. When all measures are green, a third of them should be reviewed and considered for recalibration which may include raising the bar on some of the target thresholds.

Five Traps of Performance Management In his 2009 HBR article, “Five Traps of Performance Management,” Likierman highlights some common issues that impact leaders and managers:

  • Measuring Against Yourself: It is preferable to have at least a portion of your measures benchmarked against external sources and/or standards.
  • Looking Backward: This refers to the important balance of leading and lagging indicators. At least half of your measures should be leading indicators to offset the backward looking lagging indicators.
  • Putting Faith in Your Numbers: Your measures should focus on the most strategic areas, be meaningful, and include both qualitative and quantitative features.
  • Gaming Your Metrics: This is one reason to involve an outside consultant to regularly audit your measures and data to make sure that staff members are not cooking the books.
  • Sticking to Your Numbers Too Long: If your measures are all annual, the time lag is too great to be adequately responsive. This points toward the value of a monthly review.

Application Questions

  1. Do you currently have any regular times set aside for the discussion of strategic issues or strategy review?
  2. What is the color mix of your measures? What should you do if there is too much green or red?
  3. How many hours each month does your team spend on strategy?

Next Issue: Thriving Scorecard: Topic Index Internet Resources Best Practices in Performance Measurement (An extensive study done by the National Performance Review related to governmental agencies). Guidebook for Performance Management (A thorough guidebook published by University of Washington related to healthcare)


Lencioni, P. (2004). Death by Meeting. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Lencioni, P. (2012). The Advantage. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Likierman, A. (2009). The five traps of performance management. Harvard Business Review, 87(10), 96–101. Niven, P. (2008). Balanced Scorecard: A Step by Step for Government and Nonprofits. Hoboken: Wiley.

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