As a consultant and interim executive I am constantly developing and refining tools and techniques to help my clients become better at what they do. Over the past couple months, as I routinely reconnected with people I had worked with at past clients, I put a question to each of them: “What, if anything, did I contribute to your organization that you personally found helpful?” Or a variation, “Is there anything you learned from working with me that could benefit other individuals or organizations?”
I was a little surprised, but pleasantly so, to learn that my one-page StraightUp Operational Dashboard Tool came out on top. It received high praise from individuals who had reported to me as well as CEOs to whom I reported in my roles an interim head of corporate services or operations.
Dashboards are certainly not a new phenomenon and indeed there are many highly sophisticated software tools in existence to support multi-level reporting of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). The Dashboard tool that I have introduced to a number of my clients operates at a much simpler and organic level. However, I would argue it is practical, effective and often just what is needed in small but growing or simple but increasingly complex not-for-profits and businesses.
For functional managers or department heads, developing a customized Dashboard requires that they identify the critical elements of their ongoing responsibilities as well as the corresponding vital signs they will use to regularly assess and report on the health of each element. Confining all this information to a single page report forces one to have a keen sense of what is important and to articulate it concisely.
People tell me that it was the discipline of creating their initial Dashboard that helped “pull them out of the weeds” and made them “more proactive and less reactive”. They said that discussing their Dashboard with their manager both initially and thereafter in regular one-on-one meetings, greatly improved that interface and gave them “a better sense of how their manager viewed risks and priorities”. These individuals also liked the fact that the Dashboard had become a diplomatic way of reminding their manager of all the key ongoing activities and special projects they had on their plate at any point in time!
For my client CEOs, they said they liked receiving from their head of Corporate Services a regular one-page report that commented on the health of key functions (e.g. finance, HR, IT, facilities) and highlighted emerging issues. They applauded the Dashboard as an effective and efficient way to stay connected with the support functions without forcing them to dive into unnecessary levels of detail. Colour-coding the health check status for each reported element as Green, Yellow or Red helped them quickly focus on trouble-spots, and highlighted positive or negative trends from one reporting period to the next. Dashboard reporting greatly reduced the CEO’s fear of being caught off guard by a major issue arising with few or no warning signs. With this regular health check reporting in place, the dialogue between the CEO and head of Corporate Services was elevated to a more strategic level.
The Dashboard Tool, together with regular dialogue with the senior team, keeps the CEO informed about what’s working well and where cracks may be emerging. Done properly and maintained, it can shift the organization’s culture from reactive, firefighting to a culture that is proactive, purposeful and nimble.
Admittedly, creating even a simple Dashboard does require a bit of time invested upfront. The Dashboard needs a champion within the organization to ensure it is regularly updated, distributed, discussed at the right level and that highlighted issues are appropriately acted upon.
As I commented at the beginning of this blog post, I was surprised, but pleasantly so, that the Dashboard Tool has been embraced by so many of the folks I have worked with. One individual said they had brought the concept forward into their new organization and found it particularly helpful in establishing priorities and effective communication with their new boss.
My advice is to pilot the Dashboard in an area of the organization that is struggling with how much information to communicate to whom and when. Try it out for a few months, then take stock as to how well the tool is working. Refine it based on the feedback received and consider whether the tool has potential for broader use within your organization.