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The Unexpected Value of Manual Data Entry into Your Balanced Scorecard

At some point in their strategy creation and execution/Balanced Scorecard journey, almost all organizations and business leaders come to the realization that, to experience the benefits of their investment in, and commitment to, strategy management they would be wise to leverage the power of technology.

Let me be clear that I am still saying that strategy management (in general) and the Balanced Scorecard (in particular) is NOT a technology project – far from it. However, today, more than ever, organizations can, and should, leverage technology to enable their strategy management processes, activities, conversations, and interactions.

With all the technology advancements and options available to us, this is absolutely the best possible time for organizations to finally slay the strategy execution dragon. Though it’s not the complete answer, technology goes a long way to removing past barriers to strategy execution success.

While this post is not meant to be a primer on technology selection criteria (I wrote a comprehensive blog on that topic a few years ago), I think that now is a good time to take a closer look at one capability that most performance management platforms tout and that many organizations look for in an application: automated data upload. The automation of data upload refers to the ability of a performance management application to extract data from internal source files and import that data into the application itself – most commercial applications available today make it pretty easy for this activity to happen.

From an organization’s perspective, automated data upload is very seductive. It suggests a reduction in the work needed to get results data into the performance management application and the hands-off factor offers some assurance of data quality. Yes – automated data sounds like a “must have” capability that will make the implementation of strategy management much easier and more efficient.

However, before you can automate data uploads into your performance management system, your data must be available in a compatible electronic format. This can be problematic for many organizations. You see, in my experience, results data is often located on local desktops and in a variety of different formats. In some cases, results exist in paper files or on daily data capture sheets, though as we get further into the technology age, this situation occurs far less often than it used to.

It isn’t unusual for the results data you want to include in your performance management application to exist in a combination of electronic and manual formats. When this is the case, the dream of fully automated data upload can’t happen without some level of effort.

As for ensuring data quality, automated data uploads will not magically fix an existing bad data problem – data gets uploaded in “as is” condition. Yes – removing manual data entry from the picture eliminates data transposition errors (for example), however, unless you complete data quality checks somewhere in your pre-upload data handling process, data quality can still a problem in an automated data upload world.

The truth is that, for most organizations, automated data upload still requires hands-on manual work. So why wouldn’t organizations just consider opting for the manual data input approach? It sounds ridiculous in an era of advanced technology but hear me out because it actually turns out that manual data entry has some unexpected benefits you may not have thought of before.

When you go the manual data entry route your first step, after determining where the data is coming from, is to assign people to data entry (“owner”) roles. The key here is to select people who normally touch the targeted results data as part of their regular work. Rather than asking them to submit their data to a data warehouse (in preparation for data upload), why not have them enter their data straight into the performance management application? In my experience, a distributed network of data entry owners results in each data entry person entering only a small number of data points into the application. This keeps the per person data entry burden minimal PLUS it has the benefit of giving individuals who are familiar with the data the opportunity to inspect results as they go into the application. When something doesn’t look quite right, knowledgeable and empowered data owners can investigate and resolve data issues before results are added into your performance management application.

When you look closely you see that manual data entry doesn’t really increase the administrative work associated with assembling results data for most organizations, AND it performs a necessary data quality assurance function.

However, there is another, more important benefit to manual data entry that business leaders shouldn’t overlook. Manual data entry within a distributed data owner network gives more people across your organization a role in, and an opportunity to interact with, your organization’s business strategy. In fact, in my experience, data owners develop significant feelings of ownership for both “their” data and the organization’s strategy as a result of their accountability and role. In addition, data ownership allows more people to physically connect with your strategy and see their contribution (and that of their team) to the achievement of strategy.

Why is creating a culture of strategy ownership important? Because this employee ownership is a critical factor in strategy execution success and employee engagement with your strategy is a key enabler of a strategy ownership culture.

One argument that I hear against manual data entry is the risk of data/results manipulation. While this is a concern worth thinking about, I will say that the risk is actually low when your strategy governance model includes indicator commentary owners and the review of performance management results data in an open forum. Having results data open to inspection and questioning by others has the effect of minimizing acts of results manipulation. Essentially, an open approach to strategy management plays a preliminary auditing role, resulting in a fairly high degree of quality assurance and data integrity.

 

Realistically, most organizations end up taking a hybrid approach to getting data into their performance management application – some results will be automated but more will require manual data entry than expected. It turns out that manual data entry isn’t as much of an administrative and organizational burden as business leaders may expect  – when you look closely, automated data upload isn’t really a “hands-off” process after all. More importantly, the use of data entry owners* has some unexpected and powerful benefits that support enhanced strategy execution success and, ultimately, the achievement of desired business performance results and outcomes.

 

*Bonus insight:

Organizations that are able to automate the upload of their performance results data may still wish to consider assigning data owners, however, the role will be primarily focused on data quality review. Asking specific employees to inspect the quality and accuracy of uploaded performance results data allows your organization and employees to experience the benefits of data ownership while still leveraging the data upload automation capabilities in your selected performance management application.

 

What is your organization’s experience with manual or automated data upload into your performance management application? How has your data entry approach helped or hindered your organization’s strategy execution and management efforts?

5 Comments

  1. Bill Barberg
    Dec 4, 2014

    This article makes some important points. A strategy management system based on the BSC is not an operational monitoring system that needs to be populated with a lot of data. Much of the power of the BSC approach is how it puts a focus on a critical few measures (often leading indicators that are not even in an operational system). So the volume of data in a BSC system should be relatively low–but still powerful in creating alignment and change. Often, the owner of a measure should be making a thoughtful comment on each new data point (which are usually monthly or quarterly). Given this expectation, it is not much extra effort for that person to also update the data point. In a good Strategy Management System, there are huge savings in time by avoiding manually creating different reports and presentations. Regardless of how a measure is updated (manual or automated), the real value is having it in a system that allows it to be viewed and used in different ways but only be in the system once.

    There are cases where automated data updates make good sense, but that should not be a priority. A data system that is automatically updated and sits “out of sight and out of mind” may not have nearly as much positive impact as a system that has objective and measure owners actively engaged in viewing, updating, commenting and thinking about a focused set of measures that are key to driving strategy implementation. Technology should save them time that is normally wasted in building reports, creating presentations, and sitting in status update meetings. A small amount of that time may be used to update some data points in a system (which they probably had to do manually in the past anyway) and free up the rest of the time for more valuable strategic discussions and problem-solving.

    Thanks for raising this issue in a thoughtful way.
    Bill Barberg, President
    Insightformation, Inc.
    http://www.insightformation.com

    • Sandy Richardson
      Dec 4, 2014

      Thank you Bill for adding great comments that extend my thinking further. To get the most out of their strategy management efforts, leaders (and organizations) must focus on what adds the real value (though important, as you point out, it’s not really the data part of the information). Enabling and capturing conversation, insights, knowledge and learnings, and plans for improvement is where the true value lies. And having one repository of strategic information that can be re-used and leveraged in multiple ways is a critical factor for success for all organizations.

  2. Mihai Ionescu
    Jan 4, 2015

    Good points. I’ve never seen so far a BSC implementation in which all data is uploaded automatically.

    Then there are two complementary points to make on this subject (one about a negative impact of manual data entry and one positive). Data (usually, KPI/KRI Measures actual values and targets) is ultimately the representation of success or failure of a group of people (business units) or individuals (for individual scorecards) in executing a plan and achieving the expected results.

    [Negative]
    Sometimes, there is a ‘reality twisting’ aspect involved, when some people want to make the results they are responsible for look better, if there is room for interpretation, or if it’s just technically possible and they believe that they can get away with it.

    [Positive]
    Sometimes, the data to be manually entered, is part of an evaluation by a higher authority (‘the boss’) and for this reason that authority might want to place such data entry into an approval workflow, where the final value entered is seen by at least ‘two pair of eyes’.

    So, your performance management system might show the data entered in various workflow states, such as ‘Submitted’ or ‘Pending Approval/Review’, or ‘Reviewed – Verification Required’, or ‘Reviewed/Approved’.

    • Sandy Richardson
      Jan 5, 2015

      Hi Mihai: thanks for your comments, There is always the chance with manual data entry that results will be manipulated. As you point out, there are many ways that organizations can safeguard against this. In my experience, most want to limit the administration effort and find a way to achieve this goal while still ensuring confidence in results data.

      In my experience, under performing results almost always tell us that something is going wrong within the organization rather than with the people. For example, resource misalignment, process breakdown, etc. People generally try very hard to produce great results however there’s lots that can get in the way that produces sub-optimal results performance. Unfortunately, business leaders create a measurement resistant environment when they jump to the conclusion that poor results are a reflection of people and their work. Once an organization has their BSC in place I encourage them to engage in a non-judgemental and unbiased examination of the root cause problems however taking an honest look can be difficult and painful for business leaders. However, in my opinion, the BSC can only make its real contribution when results and performance are approached in this way.

  3. Aleksey Savkin
    Jul 21, 2015

    Sandy, I can only confirm your observations from the view point of software vendor. In BSC Designer software we need to have all: manual data entry, automatic data entry (fetching directly from ERP), and let’s also call it semi-automatic (getting some data from middle sources like Excel).

    In the most cases the right data is not available in ERP, it is usually a good mix of manual entry and importing from Excel.

    In this sense Bill’s comment is right to the point.

    Fortunately, now we see the shift from KPI/data to strategy maps/alignment. Hopefully this tendency will continue.