In most check-ups a doctor will look at certain symptoms to diagnose whether anything is wrong with a patient, rather than the patient’s entire medical history. When establishing the health of their organisation, board members would like to do the same: consider a specific set of metrics to understand performance, rather than be bombarded with a mass of data recording the minutiae of the organisation’s activity. After all, just as a doctor distracted by past or minor complaints may miss signs of a developing illness, boards overwhelmed by information can miss critical points.
One of the most effective ways to avoid overwhelming the board with data is to have an organisation dashboard, providing an “at-a-glance view” of the health of the organisation. Highlighting up-front, on one side of A4, what’s going well and what’s not, allows the board to focus its attention where it’s needed most.
So, how can you create a dashboard that describes the health of your business on one page?
Present data with impact
A dashboard should provide rapid insights and is the top-slice of data from which directors can drill down for more detail. To achieve this, it’s important that the dashboard sits on one page and one page only — and yes, we believe that this can be done for even the most complex of organisations.
Put aside your KPIs
Most organisations we speak to are drowning in data. And they often approach data by including regulatory-required measures or KPIs. Add to this list the measures that the executives think are important and what board members would like to see, and you can easily end up with 10 pages or more of numbers, graphs, and charts. Rationalising the data set down isn’t easy.
We suggest a different tack: put aside your KPIs and unpack your value creation story. This involves identifying the top outcomes you’re trying to achieve as an organisation — effectively, the reasons your organisation exists. There should be no more than a handful of these and they should typically cover financial, customer, and quality outcomes, as well as some measure of “retaining your licence to operate,” be that regulatory or reputational.
Build a holistic picture
To build a full picture of the health of the organisation, avoid being influenced by what’s currently front of mind and structure your thinking to ensure nothing is muddled or missing.
“Mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive” groupings such as financial and non-financial, or internal and external, can help ensure a holistic picture. Your dashboard should cover:
- Strategy: progress towards long-term aims.
- Performance: the results achieved in the last period and how well the forward plan is being delivered.
- Governance: the way in which the organisation’s activity is conducted.
In putting your dashboard together, there are a couple of other principles we suggest you follow:
- To provide rapid insights, we recommend using only red and green colour coding to show whether a metric is on- or off-track as this avoids the tendency for amber to overtake.
- We also recommend keeping data and narrative separate. A dashboard is ideally accompanied by a separate 1–3 page narrative explaining under- or over-performance and the implications for the organisation. This report is typically penned by the chief executive and it becomes the scene-setter for the board meeting.
Done well, the introduction of a dashboard can transform your board members’ conversation — meaning they spend less time drowning in detail and more time on the issues that matter most. New clarity in the information they receive will help them diagnose developing concerns more easily and allow them to use board meeting time to best effect.
And finally: a great dashboard is only one part of a great board pack. To identify where the rest of your board materials shines — or falls short — and get personalised guidance to improve the effectiveness of your meetings, use our free Board Reporting Assessment Tool.