CASE 5: Communicating the Growth Strategy and Key Performance Indicators of a Market Research Company to all Employees

Strategy phase:  Strategy implementation
Level:     Corporation
Primary content:  Strategic goals and metrics, as well as activities
Thinking types: Mostly convergent
Main benefits of visualization:   Emotional and social: motivation and buy-in, as well as identification, coordination and alignment
Visual format used:   Interaction technique: explorable visual metaphor


Company Context and Strategic Situation

A Swiss market research company with a turnover of approximately 50 Mio. Euro and about 300 employees is the clear leader in its national market with the highest market share (approximately 40 percent) in its sector. In order to sustain this leadership position, the company had developed an aggressive growth strategy, based on the Balanced Scorecard model. However, as the executives soon realized, the complex diagrammatic representations of their strategy were difficult to communicate to its staff and its staff was not really aware of what the company’s strategy and key performance indidator were. Hence, the executives decided to to develop a more accessible, interactive, engaging, and memorable depiction of their balanced scorecard-based strategy. The CEO wanted to reach all employees and let them explore what the strategy meant to their personal behavior or in other words how they could help achieving the strategic objectives of the company. For this purpose an interactive visual flash movie was put on the homepage of the company’s intranet. The movie lets employees choose different behavorial options (such attending trainings or not, documenting processes or not, tracking customer complaints or not) and they can immediately track the effect of their simulated action (or lack thereof) in the animated balanced scorecard tree (i.e., low investment into the roots or know-how of the company lead to a weak trunk and ultimately to small financial ‘fruits’). This playful and interactive way of communicating the strategy in a simple visual metaphor illustrated its implications for all employees and caught their attention.
Figure 1. An interactive, intranet-based balanced scorecard tree for strategy communication


Method Description: Interactive Balanced Scorecard Tree

The simple key idea behind the interactive Balanced Scorecard tree is to map the four dimensions of the Strategy Map diagram (Kaplan and Norton, 2000) unto the four elements of a tree, namely its roots, trunk, crown or treetop, and fruits in order to emphasize the strategic inter-dependence of the four dimensions of the balanced scorecard (i.e., if the roots are weak, the trunk is not stable, the treetop not vast and the fruits not abundant) and to use the positive connotation with the tree image to create a positive communication context. The interactivity of this visualization can be explored in various ways: When clicking on one of the underlined perspective titles on the right, the key goals and performance indicators are shown and accustically explained by the CEO. There is also an interactive version of the tree where employees see the consequences of their action on the strategy tree. There is an instructive version that helps employees understand the basics of the concept of a balanced scorecard.


The key advantage of this kind of strategy depiction is that it is more accessible, engaging and thus motivating than a complex management diagram like the Balanced Score Card Strategy Map. The management of the company believed that by providing a simple, interactive, visual metaphor employees can grasp the essence of the strategy quicker, retain more of its elements and feel more inclined to reach the articulated goals. The picture provides an easy reference point for subsequent conversations among employees and lends itself to memorable presentations and workshops where it can also be used to track the current status of strategy implementation. However, what also became apparent, in terms of disadvantages, is that the power of a visual metaphor (i.e., its interpretative openness) can also become a potential risk: Some employees began to discuss negative associations with the strategy tree that the management simply did not anticipate (such as: what is the moss on the tree trunk in our company?). In order to be effective in its communication, the visualization also had to be simplified which poses the risk of neglecting important relationships among elements.


Case Learnings:

The visualization format that is used to develop a strategy may not work equally well to communicate the same strategy to people not involved in the strategy development process. Hence, a change in the visual format may be necessary to effectively communicate the essence of a strategy internally and / or externally. In addition to supporting thinking and group communication, such a strategy visualization can engage employees and provide motivation and buy-in (if it is adequatyl presented and explained).