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managing in the new
the use of dashboards in the strategic management process
Patricia M. Buhler, D.B.A.
trategic management has
evolved over the last few
decades and has become a critical
approach for all businesses across
all industries. The term strategic
has been paired with most
organizational functions – such as
management, strategic finance,
strategic marketing, strategic
communication, and strategic
management accounting. This has
clearly communicated the
importance of a strategic approach
throughout all the functional areas
of the business.
While a few decades ago, strategic
important in for-profit businesses,
the not-for-profit sector shied away
from it. Without an overriding
goal of profit generation, the belief
was that strategic management did
not apply to their business
venture. This is no longer the
case. Strategic management
concepts are equally applicable in
the not-for-profit sector. They may
perhaps be even more important
without the unified direction
provided by profit generation.
Strategic management is all about
the big picture. The essence of
strategic management is identifying
the goals of the organization, its
resources, and how those resources
can be used most effectively to
meet those strategic objectives.
Strategic management today
should provide the basic
foundation or guideline for
decision making within the
This is a
continuous, on-going process.
The organization’s strategic plan
is a living document that is
constantly visited and re-visited. It
may even be considered to be
somewhat f luid.
As new
information becomes available, it
should be used to make
adjustments and revisions.
The Changing Face of
Strategic Management
Strategic management today,
then, is about f lexibility. The
point of the process is no longer
the creation of a strategic plan
that is etched in stone and placed
in a desk drawer until next year’s
planning session. It is, instead,
a living, fluid document. The
strategic management process
itself is as important as the
strategic plan itself.
Strategic planning should no
longer be a once- a-year event for
coinciding with a week long visit
to a warm weather resort
featuring world-class golf. It
should no longer be about a fiveyear plan that rotates dropping
one year and simply changing the
date for another.
hypercompetitive environment
and the rapidly changing business
landscape create a situation
whereby the once-a-year strategic
planning process is simply not
Furthermore, strategic planning
is no longer a stand-alone,
separate function reserved for the
C-suite or for a team of dedicated
strategic planners. Today’s
strategic management should be
on ever y employee’s agenda.
And it should be a top priority
for every manager and supervisor
in the organization. The strategic
management process is one today
that dictates the involvement of
essentially all organizational
members. Even those not directly
involved in the planning can be
tapped for valuable input to the
Those front-line
employees working in boundary
spanning positions can often
provide important insights into
external environmental changes –
particularly with changing
customer needs.
The Components of the
Strategic Management Process
Strategic management is
generally defined as a futureoriented process that enables the
organization to make informed
decisions today to position itself
for future success. The more
traditional view of strategic
management utilizes a linear
approach whereby a scan of the
organization’s environment is
conducted (both internally and
externally), a strategy is
formulated, that strategy is
organization’s progress toward
that strategy is then evaluated.
Today’s pace of change dictates
that the formulation and
implementation phases be more
closely integrated to ensure that
implementation problems arise,
the strategy is re-visited on a
continuous basis.
The environmental scan must
include both an internal and an
external component. While most
organizations are comfortable
scanning the internal environment,
they have more difficulty with the
external portion.
organizations that look only inward
are missing half the equation to
make more effective decisions for
the firm. Some of the elements to
examine externally include the
industr y as a whole (including
those trends impacting the
industry), the competition, and
overarching socital trends in four
technological, political-legal, and
socio-cultural trends.
A basic tool of strategic
management is the SWOT analysis
that is generated from the
environmental scanning phase. An
organization performs an internal
audit to determine their strengths
(S) and weaknesses (W). An
environment reveals the firm’s
opportunities (O) and threats (T).
The key, then, is to create strategies
that wed the firm’s strengths (what
they do bigger, better, and faster
than the competition) with
opportunities that have been
identified in the external
There are three levels of strategy
created in larger organizations.
They include corporate, business,
and functional (or operational)
strategy. While the corporate
strategy determines what businesses
the company will actually operate
in (generally through the use of
attention to the portfolio of
businesses), the business strategy
determines how the company will
compete in each of those
businesses selected. And the
determines how each of the
functional areas (such as human
resources or accounting) will
actually support those business
and corporate strategies. All of
these strategies must be closely
aligned to ensure that the
organization is moving in a unified
The data from the environmental
scan is then used to create a
strategic plan for the organization
– which is then implemented. An
old adage suggests that “failing to
plan is planning to fail”. If an
organization is not planning its
direction, it is not taking control
of its future. The implementation
phase involves virtually all the
organizational members. As a
result, companies are involving
more of the employees in the
planning phase. While historically
more attention was paid to the
planning phase, today’s astute
organizations recognize the critical
nature of implementation as well.
The best plan means nothing if the
implementation is flawed.
The final component of strategic
management is the evaluation and
monitoring of the firm’s progress
toward its strategic objectives.
Those organizations that believe
the process is complete once the
plan is implemented will often
find themselves with a failed plan.
It is essential to continuously
monitor the company’s progress.
Monitoring Progress
Through Dashboards
One of the top reasons cited for
the failure of organizational plans
is that companies don’t monitor
their progress toward the
accomplishment of that plan.
Some companies monitor the
performance, then fail to take
action if the performance falls short
– thereby resulting in a failed plan.
Others simply have no idea that
they are missing their goals. The
monitoring or evaluation phase
helps decision-makers answer the
question “how is the plan
Today’s organizations are
drowning in data and paperwork.
Yet the question remains whether
the firm is generating the “right”
data and then getting it to the
“right” person. Perhaps the bigger
question is whether this data is
being used to make more informed
(better) decisions – and particularly
ones about the strategic direction
of the organization.
It is essential to monitor the
organization’s progress toward the
attainment of their goals. In an age
of information overload, the
measurements to monitor the
firm’s progress should be carefully
Key performance
indicators (known by the acronym
KPI’s) are the measurements that
enable the organization to
effectively monitor how they are
performing in meeting their
organizational objectives. In this
case, more is not necessarily better.
It is about the quality of the
information, not the quantity.
Quality matters most – in terms of
In addition,
KPI’s should be reviewed to
ensure they accurately reflect what
the organization really wants to
measure. A lesson learned from
the military is that “we get what
we measure”. Wasted time, effort,
and resources result if the “wrong”
measures are selected.
More companies are turning
development of dashboards.
Over half of surveyed companies
report that their strategic
dashboard has been “very helpful”
in improving the firm’s
performance. The dashboard is a
tool to help the organization align
goals with the organization’s
strategy and assist with the
alignment of the organizational
parts to meet those strategic
objectives. Just as the name
implies, it is similar in approach
to the dashboard of an
A business intelligence tool, the
dashboard can be considered a
condensed over view of the
organization’s performance. Just
as a car’s dashboard provides a
variety of indicators, the
organization’s dashboard should
reflect the whole organization –
with several gauges. The car’s
opportunity to monitor the car’s
performance (such as gasoline
usage or miles traveled) and an
early warning system (for example,
“check engine” or “low oil”
The organizational
dashboard serves similar purposes.
That is, it provides an opportunity
for decision-makers to monitor
the overall performance of the firm
in key areas. When problems are
surfacing, the gauges signal the need
to take corrective action (before it
is too late).
Regardless of the form they take
(pie charts, bar charts, automobile
dashboard gauges or indicator
lights, to name just a few),
dashboards are intended to
provided an at-a-glance view of the
organization’s performance that
can help decision makers tell if the
organization is “on track”.
Dashboards, however, are unique
for each organization. While there
may be some shared measures, the
overall dashboard should not be
“one size fits all”, but rather
customized to ref lect the key
performance indicators important
to achieving the unique strategic
objectives of the firm. The
dashboard provides a time-saving
alternative to weeding through the
massive volumes of information
available today. The dashboard
highlights specific information that
enables decision-makers to drill
down to obtain more specific and
supporting data when problems are
signaled. Dashboards, then, can be
used on strategic, business, and
operational levels.
A Parting Thought
The dashboard provides a useful
monitoring tool so decision-makers
can tell if the organization is “on
track” at a glance. Just as Houston
astronauts reveal “all systems go”
as a result of their massive
dashboard, a similar scenario can
be painted with the organizational
dashboard. SV

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