Track Execution Through Leading Indicators and Dashboards

By Ted Skinner


dateThu, Dec 28, 2023 @ 11:00 AM

How can you ensure the successful execution of your goals and objectives? The key lies in using leading indicators and dashboards to monitor progress and make informed decisions.

In today's fast-paced business world, organizations constantly strive to achieve their goals and stay ahead of the competition. However, many struggle with execution and fail to see the desired results. This is where leading indicators and dashboards come into play.


Leading indicators are key performance indicators (KPIs) that provide insights into future performance, and help predict the outcome of strategic initiatives. When combined with dashboards, which visually represent data, organizations can effectively track progress and make data-driven decisions to drive success. This article will explore the importance of execution through leading indicators and dashboards and how they can drive organizational success.

In Chapter 8 of Rhythm: How to Achieve Breakthrough Execution and Accelerate Growth, author Patrick Thean spotlights tools to enhance visibility into the execution of your priorities. He advocates developing leading indicators and leadership dashboards - crucial mechanisms to monitor progress proactively versus reactive fire drills.

The Problem with Lagging Indicators

Most organizations track "lagging indicators" - results from the prior period like revenue, profitability, and customer satisfaction. But as Thean notes: "By the time your lagging indicators head south, you are already headed for trouble." Lagging indicators document the past. To drive better execution, you need visibility into the future with leading indicator KPIs.

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Introducing Leading Indicator KPIs and Metrics

Leading indicators are predictive metrics that provide early warning signs as to whether execution is on track. As Thean defines them: "Leading indicators forecast whether you will achieve the result; they lead the lagging indicator." You can use leading indicators and dashboards to create a culture of accountability. Set specific goals and track progress against those goals regularly. This will help everyone in the organization take ownership of their actions and be able to see how their work is contributing to the success of the business.

Leading indicators specific to each priority might include:

  • Product Feature Utilization: Measures how often and to what extent customers use various product features, indicating product value and potential areas for improvement or upsell.
  • Sales Pipeline Growth: Tracks the increase in potential sales opportunities over time, reflecting the effectiveness of sales strategies and forecasting future revenue.
  • Marketing Leads Generated: The number of potential customers identified through marketing efforts, signifying the reach and impact of marketing campaigns.
  • Application Conversion Rates: The percentage of users who take a desired action within an application, such as signing up or making a purchase, demonstrating the application's effectiveness in driving user behavior.
  • Sales Pipeline Growth: The volume of potential sales in progress.
  • Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC): The cost of acquiring a new customer.
  • Customer Churn Rate: The percentage of customers who stop using your services over a given period.
  • Employee Turnover Rate: Reflects company culture and operational stability.
  • Social Media Engagement: Early indicator of brand loyalty and customer satisfaction.
  • Inventory Turnover: How quickly inventory is sold; a measure of demand and sales efficiency.
  • Accounts Receivable Aging: Speed of cash flow into the business.
  • Market Share Movement: Indicates competitive position and growth potential.
  • Capital Expenditure (CapEx): Investments made for future growth.

These indicators offer predictive insights into the health and trajectory of a business, enabling leaders to make informed strategic decisions. Tracking these weekly provides insight into progress well before lags like revenue or profitability are impacted.

Four Steps to Define Leading Indicators

Thean outlines a process for identifying and applying leading indicators:

List 3-4 Leading Indicator Possibilities per Priority

When establishing priorities, consider a range of indicators that could signal execution success or imminent issues. For sales, this could be the volume of sales calls, average deal size, and sales cycle length. For product development, look at the sprint completion rates, the number of product bugs reported, and feature delivery speed. In customer service, consider the first response time, resolution rate, and customer satisfaction score. These varied metrics provide a comprehensive view of performance, revealing strengths and pinpointing areas needing attention.

Select 1 Leading Indicator per Priority

Drill down to the most telling metric for each priority area. If revenue growth is the focus, sales pipeline growth might be your key indicator. For product innovation, feature utilization rates could be most predictive. The churn rate will likely be your leading metric in customer retention efforts. Selecting one allows for a concentrated effort in tracking and improving a core aspect of your business strategy that directly impacts outcomes.

Set Targets for Each Leading Indicator

Establish clear, achievable targets for each chosen leading indicator. If focusing on sales pipeline growth, a target could be a 10% month-over-month increase. For feature utilization, aim for a certain percentage of your customer base to use new features within a month of release. Setting precise targets provides a benchmark to measure against and drive efforts toward tangible goals.

How do you Implement Leading Indicators?

Review Leading Indicators Weekly

Incorporate a routine check on these indicators to catch shifts early. Weekly reviews allow for rapid response to deviations from targets. For instance, if pipeline growth slows, immediate action can be taken to address sales activities. If feature utilization drops, product teams can quickly gather feedback and iterate. This weekly rhythm ensures the business remains agile and can adjust strategies promptly to maintain progress towards overarching goals.

The Power of Visual Project Dashboards

In addition to leading indicators, Thean advocates using executive dashboards that compile multiple metrics into a single snapshot. He recommends a simple red-yellow-green framework with color-coded metrics based on performance versus targets. Green indicates on track; yellow is a caution, and red signals danger. Reviewing one-page red-yellow-green dashboards weekly ensures executives have visibility into priority execution without drilling into multiple detailed reports. Yellow items trigger proactive course correction discussions.

Benefits of Leading Indicators and KPI Dashboards

Installing leading indicators and dashboards enables:

  • Early detection of execution roadblocks or gaps.
  • Proactive adjustments based on real-time data.
  • Increased ownership and accountability.
  • Accelerated identification and response to risks.
  • Enhanced execution coordination across interdependent teams.

In total, these tools turn leaders into proactive coaches rather than reactive troubleshooters.

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Key Rhythm Chapter 8 Takeaways

In summary, core lessons from this chapter include:

  • Lagging indicators like revenue document past results but provide little visibility into the future.
  • Leading indicators like pipeline size predict results and provide early signals when execution goes off track.
  • Dashboards compile multiple leading and lagging indicators into one snapshot.
  • Red-yellow-green coding quickly highlights metrics needing attention.
  • Review indicators and dashboards weekly to get ahead of obstacles.

In conclusion, the implementation of leading indicators and dashboards can greatly impact the execution of your organization's strategies. By monitoring the appropriate metrics and having instant access to performance data, you can make proactive, data-driven decisions and promote ongoing improvement. Therefore, it is recommended to take advantage of leading indicators and dashboards to enhance your execution and achieve exceptional outcomes.

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Ted Skinner


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