The balanced scorecard (BSC) was one of the major breakthroughs in the nineties.  The groundbreaking work of Kaplan and Norton brought to management’s attention the fact that strategy had to be balanced, needed to be implemented and performance should be measured using a more holistic approach.

Unfortunately many performance-related initiatives have failed and the BSC has been no exception.  I set out below some of the ways I recommend to adapt and apply the BSC model to the contemporary business environment.

efine what KPIs are and what they are not

Many companies are working with the wrong measures, many of which are incorrectly termed key performance indicators (KPIs). Very few organizations really monitor their true KPIs as they have not defined what a KPI actually is.

An Airline KPI

Lord King set about turning British Airways’ (BA) declining performance around in the 1980s by reputedly focusing on one KPI. He was notified, wherever he was in the world, if a BA plane was delayed over a certain time. The BA manager at the relevant airport knew that if a plane was delayed beyond a certain threshold, they would receive a personal call from Lord King. It was not long before BA planes had a reputation for leaving on time.


This single KPI totally changed my understanding of KPIs and lead me to develop the seven characteristics of a winning KPI.  KPIs:

  1.    Are nonfinancial measures (e.g., not expressed in dollars, yen, pounds, euros, etc.)
  2.    Are measured frequently (e.g., 24/7, daily, or weekly)
  3.    Are acted on by the CEO and senior management team (e.g., CEO calls relevant staff to enquire what is going on)
  4.   Clearly indicate what action is required by staff (e.g., staff can understand the measures and know what to fix)
  5.   Are measures that tie responsibility down to a team (e.g., CEO can call a team leader who can take the necessary action)
  6.   Have a significant impact in the organization (e.g., affect more than one BSC perspective)
  7.  Encourage appropriate action (e.g., have been tested to ensure they have a positive impact on performance and their dark side is minimal).


The first characteristic warrants an explanation. Financial measures are a quantification of the outcomes of an activity. We have placed a value to the activity.  Consequently behind every financial measure is an activity. I call financial measures result indicators; a summary measure.  It is the activity that you will want more or less of.  It is the activity that drives the $, Pd, Yen result. Therefore, as I argue in my book[1], financial measures cannot possibly be KPIs.


Source your KPIs from your the critical success factors of your business


The traditional BSC approach uses performance measures to monitor the implementation of the strategic initiatives and measures are typically cascaded down from a top-level organizational measure such as ‘return on capital employed’. This cascading down of measures from each other will often lead to chaos, with hundreds of measures being monitored by staff in some form of BSC reporting application.


I argue that critical success factors (CSFs) should be the source of all performance measures that really matter, the KPIs. It is the critical success factors, and the performance measures within them, that link daily activities to the organization’s strategies. The critical success factors impact all the time, 24/7 on the business therefore it is important to measure how the staff in the organization are aligning their daily activities to these critical success factors, see Exhibit 1.


I believe many strategic initiatives are monitored through normal project reporting methodologies e.g., acquiring new operations. These new initiatives will become ‘business as usual’ only when the new business or product is part of daily activities.  The strategic initiatives that impact directly on ‘business as usual’ can be managed better through monitoring measures in the CSFs.


Exhibit 1: How strategy and the CSFs work together




Beware of the ‘dark side’ of performance measures


All actions, and measures, have intended consequences and unintended consequences. Hence, every measure can have a dark side, a negative unintended consequence.  In order to minimise the dark side you need to discuss measures with staff, “If we measure this what actions are you likely to take”. Pilot measures and observe behaviour and then tweak how the measure is used so that the behaviours it promotes are the intended ones.


As Dean Spitzer[2] says “People will do what management inspects, not necessarily what management expects


A City Train Service

A city train service that had an on-time measure with some draconian penalties targeted the train drivers. The train drivers who were behind schedule learned simply to stop at the top end of each station, triggering the green light at the other end of the platform, and then to continue the journey without the delay of letting passengers on or off the train. After a few stations a driver was back on time, albeit the travellers, both on the train and on the platform, were not so happy.




Limit your measures – by using the 10/80/10 rule


I recommend a 10/80/10 rule for the number of performance measures in an organization. Exhibit 2 explains the four types of indicators and the suggested mix: about 10 KRIs, up to 80 RIs and PIs, and 10 KPIs in an organization. Very seldom are more measures needed, and in many cases fewer measures will suffice.


Exhibit 2: The four types of performance measures


Types of Performance Measures (PMs) Number of PMs Frequency of Measurement
Key result indicators (KRIs) give an overview on the organization’s past performance and are ideal for the Board as they communicate how management have done in a critical success factor or BSC perspective. Up to 10 monthly, quarterly
Result indicators (RIs) give a summary on a specific area and they tell staff what they have done (e.g., Yesterday’s sales). 80 or so.  If it gets over 150 you will begin to have serious problems 24/7, daily, weekly, fortnightly, monthly, quarterly  
Performance indicators (PIs) are targeted measures that tell staff and management what to do (e.g., number of sales visits organized with key customers next week/ next two weeks).
Key performance indicators (KPIs) tell staff and management what to do to increase performance dramatically (e.g., which planes need to be brought back on time urgently) Up to 10(you may have considerably less) 24/7, daily, weekly




For many organizations, 80 RIs and PIs will at first appear totally inadequate. Yet on investigation, you will find that separate teams are actually working with variations of the same indicator, so it is better to standardize them (e.g., “number of training days planned for next month” performance measure should be consistently applied across all teams).


Based on the seven characteristics of KPIs you will find 10 KPIs will suffice unless your organization is made up of many businesses from very different sectors; in that case, the 10/80/10 rule can apply to each diverse business, providing it is large enough to warrant its own KPI rollout.


Monitor 24/7, daily or weekly if you want to create change.


Show me a monthly performance measure and I will show you a result indicator, a key result indicator or a performance indicator.  It will never be a KPI! How can it be key to your business when you are looking at the measure well after the horse has bolted?


If you want something to happen, something to change then measurement has to be timely. 


Imagine saying to staff, once a month, “You had 35 late trains last month”. All you would achieve is a shrug of the shoulders.  Instead, train operators monitor the lateness of trains 24/7 and phone calls are made to the team manager who made the train late making it clear that better performance is required.


To get a change a CEO needs to focus on the critical success factors, and act on the KPIs (activities that are happening now) that will align the appropriate behaviour.


Do not use the lead (performance driver) or lag (outcome) indicator split


I have lost count the number of times I tried to understand the lead / lag indicators argument until I realized my difficulty in understanding was due to flawed logic. 


Many KPIs are simultaneously both a lead and a lag indicator.  ‘Late planes in the sky’, a common KPI for airlines has clearly arisen out of past events and will have a major impact on future events – the late arrival will make the plane late in leaving.


Instead of lead / lag I recommend that you look at measures as either as a past measure (last week last month), current measure (yesterday’s or today’s activities – the here and now) or as a future measure (commitments made in the future e.g. date of next visit to key customers, number of CEO recognitions planned next week, next fortnight).


Next steps


The next steps you need to make to adapt and apply the BSC model are:


  •         Start marketing the need to run a workshop to clarify the organization’s critical success factors.
  •         Have a common understanding of the definition of a KPI and its characteristics within the organization
  •         All measures should be vetted for a damaging ‘dark side’ an unintended consequence
  •         Limit your measures to the 10/80/10 rule.


The BSC will be around for centuries to come we just need to implement it better.


David Parmenter is a speaker on and author of “Key Performance Indicators – Developing, Implementing and Using Winning KPIs” (Wiley). He would welcome you feedback., visit: www.DavidParmenter.Com.


[1] David Parmenter “Key Performance Indicators – Developing, Implementing and Using Winning KPIs” second Edition 2010 John Wiley & Sons

[2] Dean Spitzer “Transforming Performance Measurement – Rethinking The Way We Measure and Drive Organizational Success” AMACOM 2007