As a CEO, you’re always looking for the insight that will change everything for you and your business.
You study your competitors because you intend to see what they missed. You read everything, hoping to find that outlier idea first. You chat with your friends, working off their thoughts to sharpen your own. And for the last decade or so, a lot of CEOs spent a lot of time creating – and recreating, over and over – one “dashboard” after another.
For a while, dashboards seemed like magical windows into the heart of business. Finance, ERP, CRM, COS – there were so many kinds, and so many ways to use each one, that we all just assumed they contained secret knowledge. They had a mystical history, originating in the mainframes of multinationals. They were so interesting we believed that, somewhere in there, we would find the breakthrough that would change everything.
We found plenty of things to graph, that's for sure. We had better measurements and we made better analysis. But breakthrough? Not really. Not from any one dashboard anyway.
We're hitting their limits. And now we’re seeing some CEOs transcend them.
First, we looked at a series of dashboards in order. We'd start with our Content Optimization System (COS), for example, to see where our leads came from. Then we'd look at our Customer Relationship Management (CRM) dashboard to see how sales turned those leads into clients. And we'd round it off with our Enterprise Resource Management (ERP) to see how we served them.
While the multinationals had something like this back in the 1980s, the computing power needed for it was completely out of reach for most businesses. That started changing in the 1990s, and today practically any business with fifty employees or more has these systems in place.
It's a historic expansion of understanding. CEOs never had the ability to track their operations in such detail before. Now we do it all the time.
But still no breakthrough.
So, since the series of dashboards only took us so far, we started looking at a bunch of them at once. We'd line them up across multiple screens so we could search for some unique correlation. We'd even take data from different ones and paste it into a spreadsheet, which is so retro it's funny, but which often produced great insights.
It's at this point in the story that we first catch sight of our breakthrough. As we understood how the dashboards fit together, it became much easier for us to invent meaningful Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) for our employees. KPIs let us use data to improve management - for anyone. At last, our dashboards started to produce a return other than efficiency and tracking.
They helped us become better managers, and they did it just in time. In today's digitally native workforce, talented and committed employees need to know how they are contributing to their company’s success. KPIs let us tell them while aligning them with our strategy.
They also shifted our thinking about dashboards. Now we could wonder, "What other management benefits can we get out of them?"
The dashboard gives us plenty of data about what happened. But could a dashboard also tell us about the people who made it happen? Who contributed? What did they do? Who had the idea that improved things? Who came through with coaching that closed the deal? For that matter, who is truly engaged? Do we know what they want out of their career? Are we taking advantage of their personal ambitions to further the business?
CEOs transcending today's dashboards ask these questions, because that's the next progression. The next generation of dashboards will assist management with people the way the last generation assisted with data. It’s the natural expansion of our understanding. Tomorrow’s leaders will tune into their enterprise like never before, and the next generation of dashboards will be indispensable in this regard.
They’ll also be quite a bit different. Since you can’t put a person into a database and graph their feelings, you have to collect a completely different set of data. And you'll have to analyze it in a completely different way.
The data collection side is absolutely critical at this point in time, for reasons we'll get to in a moment. You can't ask people to fill out forms or take surveys in order to get the data you need. That's too easy to game, and it's way too cumbersome.
You have to collect your data without asking for it. And the only way to do that is to create a digital environment where your people can work. You would want to collect everything they reported at their daily huddles. You'd want everything at their team meetings. You’d want threads about their KPIs and goals. You’d want their ideas and suggestions. You’d want to know who they asked for help, and who they helped.
You can collect this data today. One way to do it is to cobble together the pieces of a digital workspace using a number of vendors, giving your people different logins for goal tracking, chatting, tasks, collaboration, etc. Another way is to give them RESULTS.
No matter how you choose to do it, now is the time. Tomorrow's business leaders give their people virtual workspaces today so they can transform their business into one that moves at the speed of a digital native. You get your initial return on investment through efficiency and transparency, same as with the last generation of dashboards.
But from your point of view, the real gold is the dataset your people create. Some visionary CEOs are using it already. It's not a set of graphs, but it certainly enables them to make management decisions with more clarity and certainty.
And that's just the beginning. The technology to analyze this new dataset in completely new ways is quickly arriving. It will be able to use this dataset to make meaningful observations and recommendations.
The next generation of the "dashboard" won't be a "dashboard" at all. It will be a virtual manager, helping you think about your people and how you can accomplish more together.