By Judith E. Glaser
For years, companies have been using dashboards to show at a glance how well they are doing when it comes to meeting their financial goals.
Just like the dashboard of your car — hence the name — they display in quickly digestible form key metrics such as sales, expenses, debt levels and the like.
And the idea has spread to other departments. IT might have a dashboard to track various upgrades it has underway; legal might use one to monitor the status of contracts or litigation; HR might use one to display things like EEOC compliance, labor costs, and utilization.
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 use them (as some of my clients already have) to track qualitative issues as well as quantitative ones.
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, the thing that invariably gets companies into trouble is the inability of senior managers to work and play well with others.
This is where dashboards come into play. Let me suggest two ways:
Suppose it is absolutely critical that your CTO and CFO work well together to get out the next-generation technology. You’ve picked up that there were delays; you’ve 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, they might be:
- Do we agree on the level of resources needed to get the projects done?
- Do we share the same sense of urgency in implementing the project?
- Do we have sufficient communication to achieve our goals?
- Do we have mutual trust that deliverables will be completed on time?
- Do we have a shared understanding of our current business environment?
They respond with a “no” (which they highlight with a red marker), “kind of” (yellow marker), or “yes” (green), and then sit down and compare dashboards.
Anywhere a red or yellow marker has identified misalignments should be discussed. 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.”
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 a “green,” was shocked to see all the reds and yellows on the dashboards of his colleagues. Once the team made the invisible visible, the conversations replaced under-currents of dissatisfaction and fear of confrontation with 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.
These cultural dashboards can give us insight into the emotional health of an enterprise. That is often more valuable than understanding the numbers, as every dysfunctional company has learned the hard way.
Judith E. Glaser is a change agent and executive coach, and refers to herself as an organizational anthropologist. She’s been a speaker for Vistage and TEC for more than six years, and is the author of three best-selling books: Creating We, The DNA of Leadership and 42 Rules for Creating WE; her new book Conversational Intelligence: How Great Leaders Build Trust and Get Extraordinary Results (Bibliomotion) will be published October 1, 2013. You can e-mail Glaser at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Originally published: Dec 19, 2011