At the risk of stating the obvious, business executives live a busy life. Last year, Harvard Business Review published a survey explaining how 1,000 CEOs spend their day. An average day-in-the-life of a CEO could be broken down into four parts:
- 56% is spent meeting with others
- 26% is spent alone – planning, sending emails, and other individual work
- 10% is spent on personal matters
- 8% is spent traveling
While these numbers give us some insight into how an executive’s time is being spent, it doesn’t tell us what they are spending their time on. In other words, how much of their time is spent taking actions that move the needle and directly impact the success of the company?
Behind Every Strategic Executive is an Executive Dashboard
The most effective leaders are strategic thinkers because they are able to adapt, innovate, and make predictions. Nevertheless, only 18% of executives say that strategic objectives effectively drive how management allocates its time. In fact, only 38% of executives said that the projects they themselves are working on are aligned with the company’s overall strategy.
While it’s easy to get bogged down with other activities and initiatives that aren’t central to the company’s overall strategy, employees respect and value strategic leaders who are mindful of the past, present, and future. They expect executives to understand the organization down to its core and provide a vision and direction to every department.
Historically, business leaders would have to spend inordinate amounts of time examining spreadsheets and reports to match this expectation. Keeping track of data from all departments on a daily basis can lead to information overload. It can feel nearly impossible for an executive to find time to analyze the information required to develop well-informed strategies when they have so many other responsibilities.
Data visualization tools allow executives to track KPIs without the risk of wasting precious time or becoming overwhelmed. Executive dashboards provide a clear and concise high-level view of business operations. Instead of reading lengthy reports and examining spreadsheets to start out their morning, CEOs should be looking at a dashboard that visualizes all of their important information. Creating a single location to monitor all your KPIs in real time signals to employees that their leaders want to foster a culture of strategic management and are committed to a well-informed and data-driven approach.
Benefits of Executive Dashboards
- Track performance
Understanding if, when, and how departments are meeting their goals can help you be a better performance manager and CEO. You can also create scorecards that provide deeper insight regarding employee performance and goals. These at-a-glance dashboards can keep teams accountable and increase transparency, especially if they are published to wall display that is visible to the whole organization. It can be very motivating for employees to see how their performance is affecting the team and contributing to individual and team goals.
- Save time
Dashboards can be set up to automatically update when your data does. This eliminates the need to, for example, create a 45-page report every week, a significant drain on resources. The best executive dashboards reduce the need for ad-hoc reporting, as they are always available and are updated in real-time. Additionally, the user can filter, pivot, and drill down to see the view of the data they need, so a single dashboard can answer many specific questions.
- Gain instant insight
Dashboards provide a dynamic experience that is much more interactive than simply looking at static numbers on a piece of paper. With an executive dashboard, a CEO can set their own input parameters and see related data interact between charts. Visualizing data makes it easier to draw parallels between related metrics, identify trends, and avoid potential problems. The right charts and dashboard design will effectively tell the story of your data, so you can quickly take action to optimize your operations.
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How to Build an Effective Executive Dashboard
- Include data points from multiple sources
Executives need access to information from the entire organization. So why not have that information available in a single view? An integrated ETL tool makes it simple to quickly standardize data from multiple sources in preparation of becoming a dashboard. That way, you can have all of the information from your sales, logistics, marketing, and finance teams in a single repository, regardless of where the data originated. This allows you to examine the health of your organization in aggregate, as well as by department, at a glance.
- Only display metrics that need to be checked daily
An effective executive dashboard will only display metrics that need to be checked on a daily basis. That way, you can use your dashboards to drive decision-making and action. To determine the best metric to monitor from each department, think about what you want to achieve in the end. Keep in mind that a dashboard is supposed to simplify the data, so it’s important to refine KPIs to avoid scope creep. Meet with stakeholders in each department when defining KPIs, and consider having quarterly reviews to ensure their relevancy and utility.
- Use charts that display snapshots
The right charts and graphs will give you a quick, effective view of your performance. There are hundreds of chart types to choose from to give you a succinct snapshot of the organization. Below are two of our favorites:
Traffic lights allow you to quickly and clearly see what areas are in need of attention. When the light is red, you know that an action needs to be taken immediately. When it’s green, you can focus on other problem areas.
Gauges let you see where you are in relation to a target, which can help executives steer the direction of the organization to ensure those goals are being met.
- Include drill downs
While a comprehensive top-level view is critical to an executive dashboard, drill downs provide more information when needed. Executives often have questions as to why certain metrics are the way they are, and drill downs allow you to pursue that curiosity down to the granular data level. This breakdown shows the information driving your metrics, providing a complete picture of where each level and department of your organization stands.