By Judith E. Glaser | Business Week
Published: December 9, 2011
Like the control panel in your car, a virtual dashboard on your office computer screen displays info that heads off disaster
For years companies have used dashboards to show at a glance how well they’re meeting their financial goals. Obtained via software applications, web-based apps, or widgets and viewed on computer screens, dashboards display such metrics as sales, expenses, and debt levels.
And the idea has spread to other departments besides finance. IT might use a dashboard to track various upgrades it has under way, legal might have one to monitor the status of contracts or litigation, and HR might employ theirs to display EEOC compliance metrics and labor costs.
All this is fine. But it does not go far enough. As a longtime executive coach and consultant, I think C-suite executives should use dashboards as a matter of course—and I will go even further: I believe CEOs should harness their power (as some of my clients have started to) to track qualitative issues as well as quantitative ones.
WORKING WELL TOGETHER
Dashboards are traditionally used to measure the hard stuff: How well are we doing at satisfying our customers? How much is plant utilization climbing? How much have we cut payroll?
But in the executive suite, trouble invariably arises from the inability of senior managers to work and play well with others. This is where the dashboard comes in. Let me suggest two ways it could work.
Suppose it is absolutely critical that your CTO and CFO work well together to get out the next generation technology. You noticed delays. You heard some grumbling in the halls, but when you asked everyone how things were going, they glossed over the difficulties with a perfunctory “everything is just fine.”
To find out where the problems lie, you give each of them the same five questions to answer. For example:
1. Do we agree on the level of resources needed to get the projects done?
2. Do we share the same sense of urgency in implementing the project?
3. Do we have sufficient communication to achieve our goals?
4. Do we have mutual trust that deliverables will be completed on time?
5. Do we have a shared understanding of our current business environment?
They respond with “no” (which they highlight with a red marker), “kind of” (yellow marker), or “yes” (green), and they sit down and compare dashboards.
The places where one (or both of them) have marked red or yellow identify misalignments they should discuss. Too often people complain to others about what isn’t working or blame the other party after the deadlines are missed. Instead of, “I think you are a jerk,” the opening line could be, “I see you don’t think we have enough resources to get the job done. Tell me more.”
MAKING THE INVISIBLE VISIBLE
At a broader level, you can have every member of the C-suite rate the organization on both its quantitative goals (“Will we meet our revenue targets for the quarter?”) and qualitative ones (“Are we good at sharing information?”). When you pinpoint an issue during a key project—at a stage when you can collaborate more easily on a solution instead of complaining after the fact—you create a different platform for success.
One CEO client, who rated everything across the board with “green,” was shocked to see all the reds and yellows on the dashboards of his colleagues. Once the team made the invisible visible, undercurrents of dissatisfaction and fear of confrontation gave way to conversations and a process for creating deeper understanding of one another’s perspectives on organizational change.
You’ll find that using dashboards in the C-suite helps identify blind spots—when you might think everything is fine, but all the reds and yellows say otherwise.