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5 Steps to Overcome Dashboard Hangover

By Barry Pruitt

    Sun, Sep 7, 2014 @ 12:00 PM KPIs & Dashboards

    I’ve seen hundreds of business dashboards in my career. Everywhere I look there are dashboards. Social media, businesses, my car, you name it – there are dashboards everywhere on everything. We track everything from global warming to Airline on-time-flight arrival, customer service to customer satisfaction, our children's height/weight against age, and more.

    And when I’m online, even my social media has dashboards to shame me into getting new friends, and everywhere you click you see advertisements for dashboard and business intelligence (BI) software.

    In the last decade there has been an explosion of data and now we sit front seat to the explosion of analytics. What a great innovation to improve our ability to drive business growth and efficiencies. However, like all good things, there is a tendency to believe that this is the silver bullet, the magic elixir, a cure for all ills in business. The advertisements promise data from all platforms and entries on one dashboard at your fingertips – easy! While it’s intoxicating to have high expectations of your new technology tools and terabytes of data diligently waiting on hard drives… wake up before you experience a hangover.

    The real solution lies in a rhythm of thoughtfully linked priorities and KPIs -thoughtfully linked from individuals to departments to the company’s priorities/KPIs, discussing regularly, and publishing the results to be seen by all. I see and hear a lot of market disappointment regarding dashboards: So the question is, why aren't companies with a good Think-Plan-Do rhythm experiencing the same? What’s different about the companies I coach around the world versus those that fall short in the marketplace?

    For one thing, let's acknowledge that there is little publicly available data on dashboard ROI. For a second thing, I often see leaders in the marketplace creating dashboards in a vacuum – and then monitoring in secret. That may have worked for your granddad’s company, but this is not your granddad’s workplace –and, that’s not a vision of today’s successful dashboard.

    One of the classic books on dashboards is The Balanced Scorecard (BSC) by Kaplan and Norton. The book was selected by the editors of the Harvard Business Review as one of the most influential business ideas of the past 75 years. And since Gartner Group suggests that over 50% of large US firms have adopted the BSC, reportedly more than half of major companies in the US, Europe and Asia are using balanced scorecard approaches, and Bain & Company listed balanced scorecard in the top 10 most widely used management tools in the world, one must wonder why the marketplace complaints?

    My experience? It’s the right idea with the wrong execution. The balanced scorecard is an idea that’s too large for many companies, asking them to push in too many directions when they have too few resources. Inc. 100 companies that I’ve worked with have extra cash, people, and resources that may not be affected by initiatives gone bad or failed efforts. But what’s right for the largest 100 companies in the worlds isn’t necessarily what’s best for you. The successful approach that I see over and over with clients is this: Build your company (or department) plan from the top down with proper metrics. The metrics are should all have success criteria that allow you to know where your progress stands at any point in time. You should build this first from the company level to the department/group level (in support of company) to the individual level (in support of the group), and so on.

    This takes time and energy – in fact, it seems slow. It’s often a tough hurdle for a fast moving leader or entrepreneur to slow down and let this process work. It’s the point where many leaders just build a dashboard and then wonder why their gauges aren’t redlining as expected. It is, in my experience, one of the top reasons for dashboard failure, what I call dashboard hangover. Perhaps you've had one - too much measurement with too little result, often causing low morale and a work harder, work longer reaction.

    Below are my Top 5 Cures for Dashboard Hangover:

    1. Start with the team. Involve your team in the process. Be patient and let the process work and expect 5_Steps_to_Overcome_Dashboard_Hangoverto see ownership for results during your 13-week quarter. Additionally, consider a measurement of team member health as an employee KPI.

    2. Make it SMART. Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely (13 weeks or less for a quarterly priority)

    3. Measure what you want to move, and measure it early. Determine what you want to move, and then determine leading and results indicators. Attempt a balance of both indicators. If a leading indicator turns red and then is acted on, you can reduce (or eliminate )negative impact on the results indicator. We call this a glimpse into the future. Succeed at this just once and your team will grow strong, confident, and focused on addressing leading indicators the moment they turn yellow or red.

    4. The Truth will set you free. I see leaders in the marketplace looking at data that isn’t true. Whether it’s measuring too many things, measuring the wrong things, self-serving data, or a mistake, there is a tendency to blame the dashboard. This won’t happen to you when you measure the “right” things because the truth cannot hide.

    5. Review results and act on Yellow and Red. Get a rhythm of weekly meetings (same time/place/agenda) to cover the dashboard. Require advance details be prepared for Yellows and Reds. A basic format is WHY this item is Yellow or Red, and the ACTION I will take to get it back on track. This focus ignites energy because there are only 13 weekly opportunities to get it right. It moves the team from a save-your-strength marathon approach to one of a sprinter giving every ounce of energy to the finish line – a finish line that they can clearly see looming in front of them.


    The above 5 cures will help you restore form/function over beauty in your dashboards. I have often seen beautiful dashboards that tell you nothing, give no actionable data, and are dismissed by team members quickly. Using the Top 5 Cures for Dashboard Hangover, I coach leaders and teams to align effort and energy toward a meaningful and productive dashboard. If you’ve ever thought of tying your metrics to personal performance, you now have an engine that will spin the wheels of productivity in the right direction.

    I would enjoy hearing how you’re using dashboards in your industry and what has been driving your success, so please leave comments below. Keep an eye on the right gauges and cure your hangover– Barry.


    Executive Summary from Patrick Thean's book Rhythm