The Royal Air Force (RAF) relied on granular data from its front-line stations to inform strategic decision-making around the important issue of readiness for war. However, station commanders and subordinate staff were unable to see how the data requested was related to strategic goals, poorly equipped to collect certain data, and generally unmotivated to provide quality information. Implementing a Cascading Scorecard approach improved data-collection methods and aligned station goals to organization-wide goals so that data was meaningful all the way up (and down) the chain of command.
The RAF, in conjunction with the Defence organizations, is responsible for delivering the UK Defence Vision: defending the UK and its interests; strengthen international peace and stability; and being a force for good in the world.
The RAF has 50,000 Service and civilian personnel and more than 500 aircraft. It supports operations in the Gulf region, Kosovo and Afghanistan and maintains a presence in Cyprus, Gibraltar, Ascension Island, and the Falkland Islands.
Its key peacetime responsibility is to maintain the required readiness levels of its forces in support of the requirement to operate as an expeditionary air force.
Senior commanders in the RAF relied on data supplied by individual air force stations to know the current and forecast readiness of their forces to meet a range of war scenarios. Approximately 30 stations, made up aircrew and supporting ground staff, are the best source of information on the stations’ readiness for war. Without a deep-level understanding of the current state of operations at each station, senior commanders are unable to deploy resources effectively and provide strategic guidance and direction.
However, senior management found it difficult to motivate station staff to deliver data on performance indicators. Staff reported that the type of information that higher management wanted was at a granular level that staff members themselves found irrelevant to their own, local strategy. They complained that the current system didn’t capture data that was meaningful to them, which meant that they needed to measure it strictly for the purposes of reporting it, not because of its intrinsic value to their own efforts and goals.
This state of events made it challenging to facilitate the consistent collection and reporting of quality data, and it also suggested that local and organizational goals were out of alignment. The RAF needed to realign goals at all organizational levels and motivate station staff to contribute the quality, granular data essential to strategic management and review.
Working closely with a research and advisory organization, the RAF used a Cascading Scorecard approach to create local performance management systems that would provide the meaningful reports senior commanders needed to make informed decisions. After a series of strategic maps, key performance questions and key performance indicators were developed to set strategic objectives, a supporting data flow that moved from junior staff to senior RAF commanders was implemented.
First, the senior commanders of each local station were engaged in the project through a series of one-on-one interviews to determine their perception of the objectives and needs of the station. The interviews were supplemented by on-site reviews of each station to determine how they worked. The resulting information was turned into a value creation map charting the resources required to deliver the station’s overall mission. The consulting organization and the station commanders collaborated to refine these maps, which articulated each station’s core competencies, performance drivers, key resources and objectives. The resulting strategic map for each station is designed to fit on a single sheet of paper, providing an easy to grasp, at-a-glance overview.
Next, through a series of workshops, station staff articulated the key performance questions that helped them to understand strategic elements and objectives and measure performance. An example might be, “Is the station meeting its pilot training target?” For each question, approximately two key performance indicators were agreed upon and captured in a spreadsheet that tracked the source, ownership, weight, frequency, and a host of other data attributes.
When the data was cascaded from overarching station mission to key performance indicators, a critical shortcoming in the pre-existing data collection process was uncovered.
Much of the data was being collected by junior staff that was ill-equipped to provide the information required. These staff were dispersed across the wide geographic range of the RAF stations, and, sitting behind their desks, were unable to collect all the data needed. As well, they did not have the analytical skills to populate their spreadsheets with the right data. This problem was addressed by assigning more senior staff to provide strategic guidance on ways to collect and represent data that would meaningfully answer key performance questions. It was also discovered that junior staff were reluctant to submit data because they feared that data captured errors, incomplete data and that other factors beyond their control could skew or dilute the information submitted and result in poor decisions made at higher levels. Once they understood that station commanders were able to annotate the raw data with their own judgments and input before sending it on to senior commanders, they felt more confident and motivated to produce data as requested.
The final stage in the process was to ensure that the resulting management information is used to make informed decisions and improve station performance. Regular meetings were set in which station executives reviewed data and discussed performance, and an annual review of the performance management system has been set.
After implementing the Cascading Scorecard approach, the RAF has moved from a habit of measuring what’s easy to measure to measuring what needs to be measured to support their strategic goals. They have improved their data collection process, uncovered shortcomings in their pre-existing data collection methods and supported junior staff to collect and deliver strategically meaningful data with confidence.
By creating a simplified one-page strategy map, they achieved buy-in by busy station commanders, and have empowered them to look beyond their immediate priorities to see how station efforts feed into the RAF as a whole. Clear, concise and easy to grasp, the one-page map has the potential to become the primary strategy communication tool among participating stations.
Most importantly, the onerous task of reporting seemingly meaningless performance information to superiors has become an exercise in performance management. Instead of being viewed as a necessary evil, station executives can now see how this data relates to their station’s newly articulated strategic goals, and can also envision how station goals relate to RAF’s organization-wide goals.
Trademarks mentioned in this article belong to the respective owners.