A decade ago Canadian Blood Services took over a troubled agency following a tainted blood tragedy. After 10 years of transformation and the introduction of the Balanced Scorecard strategy management methodology, CBS achieved “Hall of Fame” status with the Balanced Scorecard Collaborative – an organization created by Robert Kaplan and David Norton. And recently it took top honours for board governance from the Conference Board of Canada for “fostering a commitment to performance measurement and strategic management.”
Sophie de Villers is vice-president of management strategy responsible for guiding CBS in its adoption of strategic performance management practices, including the implementation of the balanced scorecard. A leader with the organization since its inception in 1998, she leads the internal communications group who assists in translating strategy into practice, and creating a strategy-focused culture. She spoke with editor-in-chief Paul Crookall.
Tell us about the journey.
When we began 10 years ago, we were in crisis management. Trust and confidence had been destroyed. We needed to stabilize the organization, reassure our stakeholders, and reassure our staff, while learning the business.
In time it became clear that we needed to focus beyond crisis management to building a better blood system for Canadians. We needed to define what that was and build a plan to get us there. Before we could get our feet on the ground, though, we had the West Nile virus situation, which sent us back into crisis mode because we needed to set up a test quickly, so all efforts got focused on that.
But we knew that we needed to find a way to manage the operational issues while moving forward and implementing our strategy. So we looked for a management system that would fit with us. Some see the Balanced Scorecard as a performance measurement system; we saw it as a strategy management system that would meet our needs.
How did it work?
We’ve certainly changed the way we manage. We’re so much more conscious of the decisions we take on a day-to-day basis and whether they’re in line with our overall strategy, as opposed to just seeing operations as the driver and the strategy as something we just talk about at meetings. And we have integrated strategy into our operations and that’s making a difference.
Performance measures and performance management are part of the system so managing is much more based on what the data says than on opinion or gut feel. It has brought more rigor and discipline to the way we manage. Publicly funded organizations tend to want to be all things to all people. The scorecard forces us to focus on what we must deliver.
Some organizations, after using a performance management system for a long time, become complacent and feel they don’t need it any more. Are people still gung ho on the scorecard?
We’re on the third generation of our Balanced Scorecard. And we’ve just been given a new mandate to manage tissue and organ donations. That will prompt us to reflect and refresh our strategy. Our discussion with frontline staff is not about the tool, the scorecard, but on performance management and driving strategy into operations.
Were the problems in the 1980s and â€˜90s systemic or caused by individuals?
It was the whole system. In my opinion, the Krever Report is one of the best reports written on how the public health system can fail, and the lessons that the blood system has learned could be applied to a lot of other systems. Problems included a lack of trust at the political level and, at the organizational level, lack of funding, lack of accountability – it was a system that fell apart at many levels.
When Canadian Blood Services assumed responsibility, it was essentially a new management team with the original staff and all the functions of the old organization. It became very clear to us that a lot of individuals were working really hard within the system and they were a dedicated group of people.
Did you have a change management strategy?
In the very early days, there was a transition bureau put in place. Following that initial phase, we assessed what we had inherited and where we wanted to be. We identified several objectives that we wanted to manage and the scorecard became the tool that helped us implement that strategy. Our strategy was not to build on the assets we had but to really change the organization. We called it our “transformation journey.” It was a major change strategy.
What do you think of John Kotter’s view that you need a “burning platform” to achieve change?
Change management is difficult when you lose the burning platform and that’s been one of our challenges trying to do implementation. When we came in we had a crisis and it was relatively easy to “make the case” that the system really needed to be transformed. Ten years later, we’ve had a lot of success. We’ve fixed a lot of things – we brought stability to a system that was broken. We still believe we need to continue to improve the system but it’s much more difficult to “make the case” when you don’t have the urgency.
Our staff gets tired of always being in a state of transformation. And that’s why it’s important to celebrate achievements along the way. I think change management is no longer a one time event. It is a continuous way of managing the implementation of your strategy.
We have established business performance councils who meet on a monthly basis to review how we’re doing in our strategy implementation, so our approach is very explicit and very rigorous. If you don’t have that as part of your management system, strategy gets pushed aside because there’s always something else that today is more urgent, and then you end up only managing crises. I also think that you have to be very deliberate about having someone who is focused on strategy management – to ensure that we don’t lose sight of our overall strategy.
My role is to try to stay out of crisis management while, at the same time, make sure that even during a crisis, the decisions made are balanced against our strategy because it can be an opportunity to move our strategy forward.
How do people receive you when you go around the organization?
Very well! People are interested but I have about 15 seconds to make my case because strategy is often seen as some 30,000-feet discussion. But when I talk about it, and I talk about the strategy and what it means and really talk about what we’re trying to build, I find people respond and get quite excited. They’re very interested. And then, because you can talk about strategy and tie it to performance measures and clear objectives, suddenly it becomes much more real. We still have work to do to bring strategy to the frontline staff, but we’re making progress.
What is your advice on performance management?
Just that it’s not easy. It’s a long-term commitment and you have to be in it for the long haul. I remember sitting at a Balanced Scorecard conference looking at the balanced scorecard and thinking, “Oh, I’ll have that done by Christmas;” I’ve been at it now for six years. We’re on the third generation of it and we’re still improving and refining it.
Part of your mission is to influence social behaviour – for example, to get more people donating blood – and to earn and gain the trust of Canadians. How do you go about that and how does strategy play a role?