Measuring the Success of Business Strategy

It’s so easy, right? A successful strategy means the business grows and is profitable. There might be other consequences that are positive that occur because of a successful strategy, but growth and profitability are the only ones the really matter.

Right?

Well, what if you have a technology company that is never intended to become profitable, but instead is intended to attract attention as an acquisition? How about another company that doesn’t grow but still manages to outlast almost all of its competitors?

I could go on and on with a lot more “what if” scenarios, but then someone from the back of the room would pipe up with this: “A successful strategy creates shareholder value. Whether it’s improving employee morale, market growth, building a brand, better HR systems, a strict business-attire dress code, netting a profit, it doesn’t matter. All those things create shareholder value.”

Okay, I can roll with that, but how in the world do you really measure the impact improving employee morale has on shareholder value? It’s more or less voodoo, isn’t it? You can measure an increase in employee morale and say that a subsequent increase in the value of the company happened as a result of the boost in morale, but I defy you to prove that beyond a doubt.

So is there a soft side to business strategy, intangible results that you intuitively believe exist, but cannot be proven? Is the checklist regarding strategy success employed by companies and strategy consultants incomplete? Should the success of strategy be measured using a large, holistic dashboard (and free crunchy granola and delicious banana bread for all)? Are we deluding ourselves with all of these rigidly-defined paths of business strategy that lead to an unalterable destiny, measured by accepted models, numerological systems and systemic markers?

Holy smokes! My world has been torn asunder and my mind is reeling right now.

No, just kidding, I’m fine.

The answer is that those measurement tools like KPI, Strategy Maps, ROC, IRR, Balanced Scorecard, ROA, Benefits Measurement, share price, etc. work very well for measuring the success of most business strategies. That’s why they’re used.

But strategy is dynamic and so are the successes attached to it. Sometimes, depending on the strategy, it’s going to be a little more Art than Science. This not going to happen very often, but sometimes you just have to let go and trust that it will pay off. Sometimes you do the right thing because it’s the right thing to do, and sometimes you do the right thing because it’s good business to do the right thing, and the positive results of the former are sometimes not as readily apparent of the latter.

Brendan Moore is a Principal Consultant with Cedar Point Consulting, a management consulting practice based in the Washington, DC area, where he advises businesses in marketing, sales, front-end operations, and strategy. Cedar Point Consulting can be found at http://www.cedarpointconsulting.com.