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To be sure, Kaplan and Norton outline a communication program (1996, pp. 206-208), and it is focused on developing particular communication discourse at specific times for specific audiences. Testimonials about BSC-oriented communication that Kaplan and Norton cite refer to the idea of winning over employees’ (and board members’ and external stakeholders’) “hearts and minds,” but the next step of action is only assumed. This point is critical, as Malina and Selto (2002) assert, that effective communication based on the BSC must have a lasting and 738 positive effect on “reinforcing desired patterns of behavior, shared values, and beliefs…. [and] encourage[ing] behavior consistent with goals, values, and beliefs.” Having the performance data and publishing it is one thing, but getting people to do something with their heads, hearts, and hands is another. That is, people need to understand what is going on and what is at stake in their minds (head), embrace it emotionally as important to themselves and the organization (heart), and apply it directly in their work (hands) (cf. Jensen, 1995). The issue here is not simply one of communication—that is easy if we adhere to the linear view of communication. It is also more than just persuasion—if we tell them what is in it for them, they will buy our arguments. It is more about identification—employees seeing themselves in both the data and the solutions for success and acting on that vision.
An Example for Illustration As a consultant I have had the opportunity to work with many companies of different sizes and in different industries on their communication challenges. Indeed, one such opportunity featured an electrical contractor serving architects, builders, and building owners in a major Midwestern metropolitan area. This company was and still is family-owned and is in its second generation of family ownership. The chairman of the company confided in me that he has been worried that, statistically speaking, the odds are against his company, which his father and his uncle started in the 1950s, surviving beyond his tenure. His initial view to secure his company’s future was to engage in more external communication.
I interviewed him and reviewed many documents about the company’s history, performance, and industry comparisons. I discovered that the company did not have a strategic plan and never had one. The business had survived for half a century by seat-of-the-pants management, and the chairman was right in sensing that approach would no longer work or at least would not work much longer with the economic changes taking place. Unfortunately, he felt there was a silver bullet in public relations, but my analysis showed that the company needed much more—and it had to start with a clear strategic plan to measure and manage performance.
The basis for the management and measurement of the company’s performance included the Balanced Scorecard and other appropriate approaches, such as those from Epstein and Birchard (2000), Frost (2000), and Harbour (1997). This case will be used as an illustrative example woven through the remainder of this paper. The following analysis will feature principles and practices, bridging the two in ways that make points about the rhetoric of performance measurement concrete A Rhetoric of Performance Measurement The Balanced Scorecard is founded on communication—the symbolic action—germane to each of the four areas the approach covers, as described in Table 1 and visualized in Figure 1.
Much of the substance of the Balanced Scorecard is rhetorical in nature, which means that communication about corporate performance can and should be managed prospectively. This approach does not so much look back retrospectively on what worked or what did not, although that view would be valuable; the task is to look forward prospectively and enact effective communications for appropriate stakeholders about corporate performance and how it will be managed.
739 Measuring the performance of a company, departments, individuals, processes, programs, products and services, projects, and teams is critical to any organization’s success—to achieve the results called for in the strategic plan. All of this is exactly what my client needed. The strategic plan is a detailed document developed by management that defines the direction of the business for a year or so by describing objectives, goals, and other matters vital to the company achieving success (see Mintzberg, 1994). Proof of the importance of measuring performance comes from a comparison of those companies that measure their performance to those that do not. According to Schiemann and Lingle (1999), companies that measured their performance and managed their businesses accordingly substantially outperformed all companies that do not. Table 2 breaks down the study’s results. It was these findings that tipped the scales for the electrical contractor to decide to develop an organizational strategic plan first, then create operational plans (e.g., sales, public relations) based on the organizational plan.
====================== See Table 2 ====================== Fundamentally, performance measurements are ways of tracking how well an organization is getting the results it needs to achieve its objectives and realize its vision.
Such measurements are based on data that are collected daily and reported on each day, week, month and quarter—which ever periods are needed. Working with my client we determined a series of performance measures that were necessary to manage the business on a continuing basis. Based on the Balanced Scorecard approach, the breakdown of performance measurements tied directly to the new strategic plan I prepared were as follows (note that specific targets are not presented to further protect the client’s
- Market Share
- Profit per job
- Cash flow per job
- Economic profit (book profit less cost of capital employed) Business Growth & Learning
- Percentage of new-client sales (overall and by market)
- Percentage of current customer sales (overall and by market)
- Sales pipeline (overall and by market) Internal Business Processes
- Employee satisfaction
- Training time per year
- Safety record Customers
- Customer satisfaction
- Service quality index
- Repair incidence
- Customer loyalty At an individual level, what each person does at my client was distilled to the most important, measurable things that relate directly to the company’s strategic plan and the 740 individual activities employees at all levels do. What is also important to know is that my client valued the company’s position within the community. So other measurements beyond the BSC were devised to track community satisfaction, charitable and community contributions (tied to the financial view), and community program involvement.
In the reporting of performance, the data alone cannot speak for themselves. The rhetoric of the performance reports enact the environment supported by the data and the sensemaking activity about the data and other enactments. These reports present the information that management needs to run the business, and the reports show employees how their work is paying off (or not). The key: the reporting of corporate performance is inherently rhetorical, as they are the enacted environments for certain audiences for certain purposes focused on improved organization performance. Cheney, Christensen, Conrad, and Lair (2004) argue that rhetorical analyses reveal key dimensions to organizational discourse, including (1) interactional dynamics about what is going on and how certain, ambiguous, or contingent they may be, (2) the simultaneous affects of authority and rationality on the sizing up of organizational situations large and small, and (3) the variability of audiences internal and external to organizations that must be addressed effectively (p. 81-82). The successfulness of companies who measure performance effectively is, therefore, a direct result of the symbolic action of good organizing behaviors among organizational members who apply the information well to their work. What is still missing is an understanding about these dynamics, including the balancing of quantitative and qualitative, “hard” and “soft” information.
Establishing Identification through the Balanced Scorecard Important in this analysis of the Balanced Scorecard is the concept of identification as it relates to specific stakeholders involved in each of the four scorecard areas. Identification entails simultaneous unity and division—it is rooted in the inherent division among people because of their physical separateness, and language helps them bridge that condition to find common ground or “substance” (Burke, 1950/1969). Because identification involves simultaneous unity and division between people that is bridged through symbolic action, it has direct implications on organizing and, particularly, in the naming of situations. Cheney and Tompkins (1987) argue that identification in organizations “is a process closely tied to identity [i.e. what is commonly taken as representative of a person or group], both linguistically and conceptually,” and linked to individual and group commitment (pp. 5; 6-7). Identity, identification, and commitment, then, are the result of socially constructed symbolic action when people organize, and this is a systems view of organizational identification. Larkey and Morrill (1995) argue that organizational identification involves symbolic action among people within and across hierarchical groups that emerges from daily and informal interactions between individual actors in organizations over what it means to be an organizational member [cf. Weick’s notions of raw talk and consensual validation in the process of sensemaking].... It is through such interactions, particularly between rank-and-file members and managers, that individual actors cocreate overlapping identities and ultimately to a lesser or greater degree create the shared symbolic systems (‘cultures’) which enable individual actors working in concert to become the organization [i.e., participate in the process of organizing]. (p. 198) In his Rhetoric in an Organizational Society, Cheney (1991) argues that because the nexus of organizations is communication and is, therefore, rhetorical, the paramount task is the “management of multiple identities” among all of an organization’s publics. People enact this rhetorical process, because “[w]e are constantly aligning ourselves with the interests of some 741 persons and distancing ourselves from the interests of other persons” (p. 20). Organizational rhetoric is a process enacted by individuals on behalf of themselves and the collectives with which they are affiliated. In Cheney’s scheme, “identity” refers to an individual’s or group’s sense of who they are in the social order; “identification” refers to the process by which people appropriate an identity; “organization” concerns symbolic and material energies used among people to coordinate their own interests and maintain the collective; and “rhetoric” subsumes both processes of identification and organization to simultaneously balance the unity and division among people both within and without a collective (pp. 19-20). For organizational rhetoric, “[t]he coordination of identities in expression becomes complicated in proportion to the multiplicity of identities for which and to which a collectivity such as a corporation must speak, including both members and outsiders” (p. 17). The Balanced Scorecard relies on the symbolic action of organizational rhetoric along its four dimensions shown in Figure 1.
The concepts of identification and symbolic action are key to clarifying how the four areas of the Balanced Scorecard function rhetorically. In terms of the symbolic action through which identification can be established between targeted stakeholders and management, the first of the Balanced Scorecard’s four areas is financial. This area in general involves symbolic action with employees, retirees, suppliers, shareholders, analysts, news media, civic leaders, and others about business forecasts, key performance indicators, market analyses, and sales, financial and performance reports. The second area of the Balanced Scorecard focuses on growth and learning with all organizational members and is largely (if not completely) internally oriented. Selected information may be used in the recruitment of new employees/members. Relevant types of symbolic action include documentation of corporate strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats; the strategic plan; performance goals compared to actuals; and employee education and training opportunities. The third Balanced Scorecard area, which focuses on internal business processes, involves symbolic action with all organizational members and outside suppliers and dealers about an organization’s mission and strategies for doing business; periodic reports of goal-based performance of corporate functions; and individual assessments of one’s own performance and what adjustments need to be made. The fourth and final area of the Balanced Scorecard concerns customers.
Overall, it is important for everyone to know that performance expectations are defined on an annual basis and applied periodically. This means that management begins a year with certain expectations, and each department works toward meeting or exceeding those expectations. The assumption is that performance expectations for the year will be met or exceeded as defined in the strategic plan. Only a major circumstance, like a severely faltering economy, a new and aggressive competitor, or unexpected heightened demand for the company’s services, would significantly affect the company’s ability to achieve its objectives and probably require changes to the strategic plan and each department’s work.