Letter to the editor Bridging the gap between measures and culture

I read with interest the article by Graham Kenny on the balanced scorecard (BSC) (‘The Balanced Scorecard: Why it isn’t working’, Management March 2003, now also available online at www.management.co.nz). Whilst I agree with the author that the BSC is certainly not working the way Kaplan thought it would, I disagree with some of Kenny’s reasons. He is quite right when he says that the BSC is heading the same way as so many other quick fixes, but I believe he is quite wrong in attributing this failure entirely to the BSC itself and absolving management of all responsibility – even though I accept that the BSC does have some inherent shortcomings.
The quick-fix mentality is borne of culture that refuses to accept the complexity of modern organisations and would therefore struggle to assimilate integrative approaches such as the balanced scorecard. The same is true for the other approaches mentioned – TQM, learning organisations, BPR – which all boast failure rate of between 70 and 90 percent. Research in Australia and New Zealand covering over 8000 organisations and 120,000 individuals has shown the predominance of culture that would have more than little difficulty understanding the ramifications of integrative approaches – whether these be measurement systems or transformation methodologies.
Not surprising that these fail so spectacularly. Even Kaplan’s former associate, Tom Johnson, disagreed with him that simply putting the scorecard in front of people would be sufficient for them to use it properly. Johnson recommended much deeper (and slower) approach that would clearly be unacceptable to those with quick-fix mentality.
I feel that the emphasis has been placed almost exclusively on what I call ‘learning to measure’ whilst ignoring the equally important aspect of ‘measuring to learn’. Learning to measure, regardless of the measurement approach adopted, attempts to close the gap between the organisational vision/strategy and the design of the measurement system. It is mechanistic, step by step, necessary but incomplete process. Anthropologist and philosopher Gregory Bateson once said that “describing the world through any mechanistic set of measurements is like partaking of meal by eating the menu”.
Measuring to learn, on the other hand, is achieved by closing the gap between the measurement system and the organisational culture. It is social pro-cess encompassing feedback, meaning, fostering organisational learning and making change. If the research is accurate then, before any integrated measurement system will work, some significant changes in attitudes and world views on the part of managers and employees (but particularly managers) are needed.
In this context, Graham Kenny’s solutions represent simple recasting of the link between vision/strategy and measures (more of the same learning to measure, valuable as this may be) but deny the real problem that, in my opinion, lies in the gap between measures and culture

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