Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Strategic Planning & Evaluation: An Exercise in Communication Design

As a designer, I often understand problems to be ones of communication, either good or bad. From this perspective, I see strategic planning and evaluation, to put it simply, as exercises in communication design. To illustrate this point, I will focus on two of this week’s readings: Building Your Company’s Vision by Collins and Porras and The Balanced Scorecard: Measures that Drive Performance by Kaplan and Norton. Though quite different, they both, at their essence, deal with questions of clear communication and clear articulation of a company’s strategy.

In Building Your Company’s Vision, Collins and Porras explore the makings of a compelling vision, which is composed of a core ideology and an envisioned future. The “core ideology defines the enduring character of an organization…transcend[ing] cycles, technological breakthroughs, management fads, and individual leaders” (3). Within it are a company’s core values, its guiding principles, and its core purpose, its most essential reason for being. The other part,an envisioned future, is where I believe clear communication (read design) has the most significant impact on strategy. While values and purpose are fundamental, they are intangible, hard to define and thus, they can be difficult to act in accordance with. A clearly envisioned future, brings those abstract concepts to life in ways that everyone in the company can understand, rally behind and design a strategy to.

Once clearly articulated and co-opted at all levels, a company’s vision sets the foundation for strategic evaluation that keeps a company operating in a manner consistent with its core purpose. As The Balanced Scorecard illustrates, companies must evaluate themselves on more than just financial performance but deciding what to measure can be difficult. Each organization must design their own metrics for success, and doing so requires a clear articulation of what that success looks like (what envisioned future is being evaluated against). To further complicate the communicative potential of strategic planning and evaluation, Kaplan and Norton explain that the things a company chooses to measure, “link[s] top management’s judgment about key internal processes and competencies to the actions taken by individuals that affect overall corporate objectives” (4). This means, that how a company (and its employees) is evaluated reflects (either correctly or incorrectly) that company’s values and purpose. Performance assessments communicate to employees about what’s important, influence the way they prioritize their time and what activities they devote the most mental and creative energy to.

A breakdown of communication at any point along the path of strategic planning and evaluation can be detrimental. If a company’s values and purpose are not brought to life through a compelling vision for the future, management can’t appropriately select metrics for for evaluation. When evaluation is not properly rooted in a company’s vision (because it hasn’t been made vivid enough through envisioned futures) it can quickly derail even the most well intentioned activities. When evaluative measures are aligned with the company’s vision, managers can communicate that to their employees, whose behaviors then support that larger mission.

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