06/04/2012 05:35 pm ET Updated Nov 28, 2012

A Scorecard for a College?

A civic leader in our community invited me to lunch and promptly asked, "Do all colleges work this way?"

"What way?" I responded. He said, "I am a new board member at a well-known private college and it seems to me there is not much clarity of purpose or accountability at our college." I wasn't sure how to respond. I knew of his college and I knew that they are like many colleges often described as "organized chaos." Traditional colleges have often prided themselves as being decentralized and in the spirit of academic freedom accountable to no one. This new board member was getting a taste of this unique culture. In today's world of transparency and accountability, many stakeholders (parents, legislators, employers, etc.) are losing their patience with this academic world that seems obsolete if not anachronistic.

The application of the balanced scorecard may be of help at this point. First developed by Kaplan and Norton at Harvard Business School and published in the Harvard Business Review in 1992, the balanced scorecard helps organizations to bring clarity on agreed upon outcomes as well as balancing financial and non-financial, quantitative and qualitative measures. Kaplan and Norton write, "The balanced scorecard is like the dials in an aircraft cockpit. It gives managers complex information at a glance." At Crown College, we have found that the balanced scorecard helps the faculty and staff to move toward a set of desired outcomes while allowing for great freedom on the means of accomplishment. At the governance level, the scorecard brings forth high-level clarity and accountability while avoiding micromanagement.

In its original form, the balanced scorecard sought to balance four perspectives: Financial, Customer, Internal Business, Innovation and Learning. These four perspectives combined with four processes: Translating the Vision, Communicating and linking, Business Planning, and Feedback and Learning form the foundation of the balanced scorecard. We found that these could be adapted and modified to an educational institution to cover key areas of effectiveness. It is important that the scorecard not include only financial measures but also non-financial and qualitative measures. For our college, we included key measures of learning, retention (faculty, staff, and students), diversity, etc.

In the drafting of our key outcomes, we wanted collaborative input from faculty, staff, and the board. This process of having a team draft the key outcomes may be as valuable as the end product as it gets buy in on what we want to accomplish together. Once a draft was created, we piloted the outcomes for the first year. This first year allowed us to further clarify the operationalization of our key measures, strengthen our data collection systems, and set goals in each area. The first year, there was a spirit of "held harmless" that fostered transparency and teamwork.

In the second year of implementation, we gained more skill and comfort with the system. We also began phase 2 of the project which allowed the institutional divisions to develop their own balanced scorecard. Our vision is to develop 3-D alignment that begins with the institution and extends to the division, department, and individual desk. This strategy of aligning the work of divisions, departments, and individual faculty and staff was transformational in gaining a greater sense of shared vision and values.

Each quarter, we circulate our balanced scorecard to the board and entire campus. Stakeholders can readily see our agreed upon outcomes and our annual progress. We also are beginning to tie our scorecard performance with annual reviews for staff.

When I was on Capitol Hill earlier this year talking with our congressional leaders about educational reform, they constantly emphasized the need for increased transparency, accountability, and affordability. Our balanced scorecard has a section on affordability which has helped our entire campus to align itself around this important theme. As we embrace a new normal in education for the future, it is imperative that we develop and use new tools to help us serve our campuses and ultimately our students more effectively.

Resources: A whole industry is developing around the Balanced Scorecard. Kaplan and Norton have a number of books available. A free HBR download, Using the Balanced as a Strategic Management System, is also available.

Rick Mann, PhD, is the president of Crown College, a small private college in the greater Minneapolis area. Dr. Mann is also a Professor of Leadership Studies and focuses his research on developing emerging leaders and organizational effectiveness. He does consulting with profit and non-profit organizations on implementing a Balanced Scorecard. He can be reached at