I recently had the privilege of watching the boys’ varsity basketball team at my school compete in the state championship game. The game was in Fort Worth, Texas, about 175 miles from where I live, with numerous small towns along the way. On the drive there and back, I quickly observed that there seemed to be a police car parked discreetly somewhere near the entrance of each town, ready to give a speeding ticket to anyone entering going too fast. So every time I approached a town, I did the same thing that you would probably do whenever you notice a police car behind you or on the side of the road – I checked my speedometer.
The purpose of your speedometer is to help you know your speed. It doesn’t determine how fast you go, rather it tells you how fast you are going. And it’s not the only instrument on your vehicle’s dashboard: you also have a gas gauge, as well as icons and gauges that keep you informed about tire pressure, engine heat, doors open, seatbelts, temperature inside and outside the car, radio dials, and so on. Your dashboard is an instrument panel designed to provide you with all the pertinent, immediate information regarding your vehicle’s performance and operation.
This same concept has valuable application to your leadership and to your organization. Vern Harnish, in Scaling Up, talks about Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), the numbers that represent the data that serve as the most important indicators of health and performance. WordPress, the platform for my blog, has a section on my administrator’s page that lists my recent and upcoming posts, the most recent comments that need to be addressed, and updates to software and plug-ins. You personally probably have a calendar that you check regularly, a to-do list, and a checkbook or ledger with a constantly changing balance that you monitor. All of these things are versions of a dashboard.
A dashboard is more than simply a helpful tool; it is an incredibly valuable (and necessary) means of monitoring how you and your organization are doing. Like the speedometer in your car or the thermometer at your doctor’s office, it doesn’t set the speed or the temperature, it tells you what they are. It gives you the most critical and basic information that you need to know in order to assess your current performance, get a gauge on your health, and then make the most appropriate decisions based on that information. If you think about it like that, you will realize that your dashboard is key to your decision-making.
Therefore, you need a dashboard. And I don’t think that there is only one way to design a dashboard (just like no two makes of cars have the same dashboard), so you need to create or choose one that works right for you. To do this, start by identifying the most important data that you need to track, the basic or critical information that gives you the best big-picture snapshot of how you are doing. This may be bottom-line budget numbers, time spent on tasks, deadlines, calendar dates, completion rate, performance ratios, or any number of other things that are specifically relevant to your own job and performance, or to your organization’s performance. Then, put all of this data on one page – whether in a spreadsheet, a word document, a useable app, or some other form that works well for you – that you can update at least once a week. Doing this will allow you to keep track of the information you need to see on regular basis, so that you can know how you are doing. It becomes your personal (or organizational) dashboard.
Currently, in my school, I have a dashboard on which I keep track of year-to-date income and expense, and accounts receivable and accounts payable; previous year-to-date comparison of income and expense; current enrollment and re-enrollment numbers and percentages, and previous year-to-date comparison enrollment and re-enrollment numbers and percentages; the current and next months’ calendar of events; and the critical annual tasks that are coming in the next two months. These work well for me because they represent my type of business (a school) and because they give me the information that I need to see in my present circumstances that tell me if we are moving in the right direction.
You don’t need to use the same data, but you do need to figure out what data you need to use. Once you do, put it all together in one place, make it easy to see and easy to track, and check it often. It’s a dashboard. Use it see how you are doing, and so that you can make adjustments when you need to. Imagine not having a speedometer and driving past a police car, with no way of knowing whether or not you are under the speed limit. Operating your organization without a dashboard is the same, because you can’t really tell (at least, not easily) if you are on track, underperforming, or in trouble. Again, it doesn’t matter so much what your dashboard looks like, but it does matter that you have one, and that it has the data that gives you the best big picture.
Your challenge, then, is to ensure that you have a dashboard. Make it personal and relevant, make it something you can easily read and use, then use it. Then, when you come across the “speed traps” that catch others, you’ll be able to make sure you are making the right adjustments to avoid them, all because you are checking your dashboard.