Using Dashboards to Realign Your Business

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.

HRNYC

Thought you'd be interested in the feedback!  Highest I've ever seen – 100% excellent overall – you rock!

Margaret McLean Walsh
Chapter President HRNYC

Hyatt Associates, Inc.

Your speech was extraordinary! Professional, enlightened and so knowledgeable. You impressed every one of us with your thinking. Thank you so much for joining us and sharing your great thinking. It was a special joy having you among us. With my warmest appreciation, Your great fan,

Carole Hyatt
CEO & Founder

Russell Investment Group

Your presentation to our leadership team was dynamic, relevant, inspirational and the delivery engaging. Many of the participants stopped by or emailed me comments such as "inspirational", "golden nuggets of information I can use"; "relevant"; "practical tips on the science of communicating"; "I love knowing the science behind the why; and "I wish I had this much support delivering vital conversations every day!"

I personally believe we forged a bond and a connection. What deeply inspiring, unforgettable stories you have and how fortunate we all were to experience them. Thank you for that.

Yolanda Bailey

Liz Claiborne

Your presentation was so impactful! We are truly grateful for your flexibility and energy!

Ellen and Barbara

Weil, Gotshall & Manges

What a splendid job you did today! You had the room in the palm of your hand — and how wonderful for everyone to experience that! I can't thank you enough for sharing your wisdom and insights, and I hope that those who drank in the goodness will take your ideas home to their respective businesses, and bring you in to the spread the light.

Jane M. Hewson

Vistage

Thanks again for the keynotes and presentations this week. You did a great job! Mostly all 5s Comments included – tremendous command of the material, great presentation, really liked how you engaged the group; loved it – could have spent the whole day on this; excellent; interesting; thought-provoking.

Tom Zahniser
Group Chair

You have a remarkable ability to deliver a lot of information in an informative and entertaining way. You know your subject well and can deliver the information in a way that makes it sound fresh. You are an extraordinary speaker.

Dick Singer
Pittsburgh

Writer’s House

Yesterday morning I was sitting in the auditorium almost directly below your husband so I could look up to him every time you mentioned him; and I loved your involving him in the way you did. I thought you presentation was terrific, also clever, ingenious, funny and provocative. I was pleased that you invited me, and even more pleased that I was able to come.

Al Zuckerman
CEO

MIT

On behalf of the MIT Sloan fellows Program in Innovation ad Global Leadership, we thank you for meeting with the fellows this year during our annual trip to New York. The candid remarks about your own experiences with executives helped set the stage for the leaders wee met later in the week and offered the kind ofleadership insights that the fellows can use as they continue to build their own leadership abilities. We are grateful for the time and passion you shared with us, and it was our great pleasure to meet you.

Stephen J. Sacca,
Director

Marsha Warren
Associate Director

American Express

I wanted to thank you for speaking today at American Express.  I have spoken to Kinjal and several others who attended and the feedback has been very positive.  People enjoyed your insights and found it relevant to their own leadership situations.  Those who attended also appreciated the novel focus on understanding the science behind leadership.  Several commented that it gave them new things to think about.

Valerie
VP, Global Leadership Development