If the Balanced Scorecard or a Strategic Map can help an organization track its performance and goals, then why not develop a similar tool that enables an individual to achieve that most elusive of goals, a work-life balance? Enter the Life-Map, which allows an individual to achieve his or her personal objectives and to balance the work-life equation. This author/developer explains how and why a Life Map works.

Almost all HR surveys of managers and executives reveal that the number one issue in today’s business environment is the achievement of work-life balance. However, without any reliable technique or process to help them examine and perhaps resolve their work-life dilemma, managers and executives have been left to use a combination of wishful thinking and sheer determination to attempt to re-establish some type of equilibrium. Most have been unsuccessful. As a consequence, living a life heavily out-of-balance has become accepted and even lauded among certain types of business people – often with a heavy price being paid in their personal lives.

Over the past few years I have worked with many individuals who have faced this challenge, and many of them were already suffering from the dissatisfaction, ill-health and failed relationships associated with it. During that time, I’ve often adapted the use of classical strategic management tools to help them introduce change in their lives and to take critical personal decisions. For example, encouraging an individual to undertake a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of themselves as a manager or as a father/mother always results in an improved level of self awareness and often real change in their attitude or behaviour. Similarly, asking someone to analyze their own “Core Competencies” (what they are “really really good at”) often enables them to adopt a new paradigm in terms of possible career opportunities or even hobbies that they should pursue. Their comfort with using these strategic management tools often lowered their resistance to doing some interesting self-analysis and legitimized their decisions and new lifestyle choices.

When dealing with the work-life balance challenge, the best strategic management tools to use are adapted versions of those now familiar concepts of Strategic Maps™ and Balanced Scorecards™. Developed by Kaplan & Norton and popularized by numerous consultants around the globe, they are recognized as concepts that work and get results. For me, the challenge was to adapt the models for use by individuals as opposed to organizations. Out of this work came the concept of preparing Life-Maps, tools which allow individuals to achieve their personal objectives and to balance the work-life equation while remaining true to the logic and wellaccepted process of preparing a Strategic Map.

To design an organization’s Strategic Map and achieve its 3-5 years objectives (often known as its Strategic Intent), managers map out the objectives they need to achieve in terms of improved financial performance, customer satisfaction, internal processes and learning and innovation.

In the case of Life-Maps (see Box 1 on page 7), individuals need to first define their personal 3-5 year “Life Satisfaction” objectives and then establish strategic objectives along different axes; however, in this case, the axes are adapted in order to represent the key dimensions of personal growth: strengthened relationships, optimum self-management, new learnings and financial management. The following article outlines the Life-Map concept and the key steps required in order to prepare one and the benefits of doing so.

The preparation

Step 1: Defining Life-Satisfaction (Happiness) Objectives

The first step in completing our Life-Map is to define our personal success and happiness objectives which will give us greater life satisfaction. Although it can be argued that defining such objectives and life-meaning is a life-long process, the following are a few simple exercises among the many that we can use to get some accurate results quite quickly.

  • Identifying your 4Ls

Stephen R.Covey talks about the need for people to identify and satisfy their “4L”s. The “L”s represent Live (how much money do we really need to make? – to put a roof over our heads, food on the table and to finance our children’s education, etc); Love (What type of social environments do we need to work and live in to be content?); Learn (What do we want to learn next?); and, Legacy (What do we want to create and leave for others?). The 4Ls represent the essential elements of a satisfactory existence and everyone’s are different.

  • The axes of our development

As business professionals we are often tempted to judge our development on one axis only, our advancement at work, irrespective of the way we choose to measure that advancement, be it salary, title or the number of people reporting to us. This exercise serves to alter this mindset and asks us to determine our degree of development on several different axes – some of which we might have given little attention to in the past few years. Box 2 (on page 8) shows two different diagrams that can be used. One focuses on the different dimensions of an individual; the other highlights the different roles we have to play in our lives. The exercise demands that we rank ourselves on a scale of 1 (low) -10 (high) and draw in the results. We first draw our “ideal” ranking – where we think we’d like to be; the second asks us to show where we think we are. Our Life-Map should help us fill any gaps we identify.

  • Writing a 60th Birthday Speech

Asking someone to write the 10 minute speech that they would like their best friend or spouse to give on their 60th birthday is also a revealing exercise. What would we like people to say about us? How do we want people to describe and remember us? Even more challenging is to actually sit down and write our own obituary. The results of these two exercises are always fruitful and rewarding, if also quite daunting.

These exercises, among others, really help people define what they need to do in life over the next few years in order to be happier, more satisfied, or successful in their own eyes. Each one provides a slightly different perspective. Together, they allow us to complete the first line of our Life-Map and to define our 4-6 “Life Satisfaction” Objectives – things that we will need to be, do or possess in the next three to five years in order to increase our level of life satisfaction and happiness.

These new and more balanced “Life satisfaction” objectives represent the personal equivalent of our organization’s Strategic Intent or 5-year vision. Having established them, the task is now to complete our Life-Map such that our relationships, spending habits, activities and learning all contribute to the attainment of our vision.

Even after only having completed this first step, many people begin to see why they are experiencing such stress trying to balance work and non-work related objectives: they have been measuring their success using the wrong metrics and prioritizing in the wrong areas. They realize that society’s indicators for measuring their success do not match their own personal definition. They want something different.

Step 2: Building Win-Win Relationships

The next step is to examine our relationships with others and see what changes need to be made and what Relationship Objectives need to be set in order to allow us to achieve the Life-Satisfaction Objectives we’ve just established. Some will have been recognized during the “4Ls” or the “Axes of Development” exercises and can be identified immediately. Therefore, often only one more exercise is usually required to really examine our relationships and that is one I call “Identifying our VIPs”.

This exercise is very similar to a stakeholder-type exercise we would normally do in a corporate/organizational environment. But in this context it forces us to identify all the roles and relationships we have, whether it be as a son, mother-in-law, friend, member of a sports team or religious community. It asks us to rate the quality of each of those relationships now – and what we would desire them to be – again, on a scale of 1 (low) -10 (high) – in order to be happier, more successful or better satisfied. Having identified any gaps between the desired and actual states, we need to ask ourselves a few questions: What is the cause of the gap? Who are our VIPs? Which relationships will help us achieve our Life Satisfaction Objectives – and which are hurting us? What steps are we willing to take now to deal with these situations? These are difficult questions and ones with which we’d rather not deal. However, as within an organizational context, selecting a strategy means saying “Yes” to some things and “No” to others. The same goes for building and managing “Win-Win” relationships. The challenge is to identify the 4-6 Relationship Objectives we need to establish to build “win-win” relationships that will allow us to move towards our “Life Satisfaction” objectives.

Step 3: Self-Management

The equivalent of the Internal Processes dimension of our organizational scorecard, the Self-Management dimension challenges us to re-examine where we invest those most valuable and limited resources, our time and our energy. We need to examine our new Life Satisfaction Objectives and really ask where we should be focusing our effort in order to attain them. What do we need to do differently? What activities do we have to cut back or eliminate entirely? What do we need to start doing or do more of ? Again, we can refer to some of the exercises previously done, for example, the “Axes of Development” exercises, our Roles and Relationships “to do” list, etc to identify how we need to change our behaviour in order to achieve our objectives.

This layer of the Life-Map is perhaps the most important. Our behaviour in the past was not irrational; it was being rewarded in very real tangible ways with rewards that we valued highly. In adopting new behaviours we will benefit even more because everything will be aligned with our Life Satisfaction objectives, something we have valued very highly in the past. It takes determination and clearly visible benefits to give up any type of “drug”!

Step 4: Learning & Growth

The learning aspect of our Life-Map sets objectives in terms of the learning that will be required to allow us to achieve all our Personal Objectives, professional or otherwise. It also includes activities that give us pleasure and facilitate relaxation. Perhaps we need to take gardening, investing, Tai Chi or swimming courses, or to learn and start doing home renovation project, or to restart learning how to play the musical instrument that has been in the basement for 40 years. Sometimes, objectives can include work-related learning that will allow people to pursue a work interest that they’ve always had, to advance their understanding of a subject that particularly interests them or, of course, something that in the future might help them to make a career switch or start a small side-line business or just to pursue a hobby. Alignment with our personal “Life Satisfaction” Objectives and achieving life balance are the guiding principles when preparing these objectives.

Step 5: Achieving Financial in-Dependence

Financial in-Dependence does not mean we can retire tomorrow. It does mean that we are no longer vulnerable to the day-to-day stress and anxiety caused by living beyond our means and being driven by the insatiable urge for “more.” Hence, Financial in-Dependence is achievable by one and all.

Fortunately, having reflected a little upon their definition of success, the first of the “4Ls” and what it will take for them to be happy in the coming years, many individuals will have established Life Satisfaction Objectives that do not necessarily require a lot, or even, more money. Having a better relationship with a sister, setting time aside for our parents, the scout troop or spending one day per year at the local drop-in-centre does not require more money. Neither does eating healthier or watching less television or spending less time on the internet.

However, to gain Financial in-Dependence we do need to face up to financial issues that we’d perhaps rather avoid addressing and answer questions that will require some real changes to be made in our spending habits.

The ideal process of re-evaluating and adjusting our financial habits is to identify how we should earn, invest and spend money based upon our “Life Satisfaction”, Relationship, Self-Management and Learning objectives. Then, simply compare those “ideal” financial habits with the ones we currently have. It is easy to identify our “Fit” and “Misfit” habits. Establishing our Financial Objectives is then relatively straightforward – although I do not say easy to achieve. Old habits die hard. However, now that we know what we need to do to be successful and happy, why spend money on items or activities that are not taking us towards that goal? Old dogs can learn new tricks when there is a clear reward in doing so.

Scorecards or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for Life-Maps

“Everything that is important can be measured” is a phrase that is often used by consultants implementing organizational performance scorecards. Hence, in an organizational setting, the next step would be to establish Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) and targets which would measure whether they’re on-track or not. However, when preparing Life-Maps, there is often little added value in measuring Personal Objectives or the measurement is implicit in the definition of the objective itself. Alternatively, in some cases, selective use of KPIs can serve to force people to implement real change in their lives.

For example, if one of my “self-management” objectives is to be willing to work long hours in the week but not at all on weekends, I can either plan and discipline myself to do so – or I do not. This objective does not need a KPI and target. My Life-Map will clearly point out to me why it is in my overall interests to do so – and the price I will pay in terms of life satisfaction if I do not change my behaviour.

However, if I have an objective such as: “Spend more time with aging parents,” it is too qualitative and vague to force a real change in behaviour. I need to establish some KPIs and targets to achieve in order to motivate me and to measure whether I’m achieving my objective. How could I do that? Possibly by measuring the number of times I telephone them per month (e.g. Target: 4) or the number of weekends spent together with them per year (e.g.Target: 6), etc.

The guiding principle with KPIs is this: if they add value in helping us to know whether we’re on track to doing what we intend to do and to achieving our overall Life Satisfaction objectives, use them. If not, don’t.

The challenges of preparing and using Life-Maps

Most people are trying to follow the same or similar routes towards society’s commonly accepted definition of success. Once we have invested the time and energy to determine our personal definition and have prepared our Life-Map to get there, by necessity we begin to stand out from the crowd, to be different and behave differently. This leads us to face certain challenges:

  1. Learning more about ourselves and finding the right path – our unique path in life – is not easy and making mistakes is an integral part of any learning process. It takes resolve to see the difficult periods through.
  2. We can only achieve more balance by giving some things up. Feeling some withdrawal symptoms during this period is natural but nevertheless unsettling.
  3. Friends, family and peers may all questions our ambition, motives and challenge us to return to the “flock.” The pressure to conform is always there: through advertisements, films and TV programs, at social gatherings, etc.
  4. Many people pass through their lives never questioning who they are and what they want to achieve. Having prepared a Life-Map, you will know what you didn’t know before. You can not turn the clock back.

Results and benefits: Why use Life-Maps?

What are the advantages of preparing a Life-Map? What are the likely outcomes and benefits that will be reaped by doing so?

  • Perhaps first and most important, the reflection and self-analysis that we must undertake to complete the process rewards us with greater insight into our internal motivations and overall self-knowledge. It simply allows us to make better, more informed career and life decisions.
  • Life-Maps evoke a sense of engagement in people. It is not a wish list or an equivalent to a new year’s resolution. It sets objectives on several dimensions and places non-work related objectives and ambitions on an equal footing with career objectives, thereby explaining on a rational level why real changes need to be made in their work-life priorities and balance. It also allows people to justify to others, if necessary, why they want to change and the benefits of doing so.
  • It’s a simple, easy to use and inexpensive exercise. It is also easy to update.
  • Life-Maps can be prepared for individuals, for couple or for families. When more than one person is involved the process can really re-enforce the emotional bonds tying them together or to help them understand the causes of existing inter-personal problems.
  • Many business people facing work-life balance issues have confidence in the Balanced Scorecard and Strategic Mapping process to get results and therefore feel comfortable using Life-Maps. It will give results.
  • A Life-Map fits on one page and can be placed in a private, personal space where it can be checked on a regular basis.

A final word

In the organizational context, the preparation of a Strategic Map™ and Balanced Scorecard™ is a pro active, systematic and disciplined way of dealing with the strategic issues an organization is facing and to ensure it achieves its 3-5 year objectives. The preparation of a Life-Map represents the equivalent in our personal lives. Do we want to be reactive or proactive? Are we really ready to create a more balanced life? Do we want to test ourselves, risk “failure” and learn more about ourselves? Do we want to follow others or do we want to forge our own path towards who we want to be? These are very fundamental questions and ones that determine the type of person we are and the life we want to lead.