Every day, executives ask for green, yellow, or red light status on projects. To many, high-level status reports are the heart of a management dashboard or balanced scorecard.
But there is a secret poison to high-level status reports. When status is “green,” busy executives assume they know enough and move to another topic. They lose visibility into what drove success. Seeing green on all projects and initiatives makes execs think their organization is a well-oiled machine. It might be. But it could also signal whatever-it-takes initiative owners succeeding against the winds of inefficiency through force of will. Or it could mean redefinitions of success making efforts look better than they are. Or 1000 other situations.
Execs should regularly follow with: “…and what are you seeing out there?” to every report—not just the “red” ones. The answer to “What are you seeing out there?” delivers insight about how the execution environment actually functions.
When Kaplan and Norton popularized the balanced scorecard in 1992, they included ongoing feedback. And savvy companies like Host Analytics offer tools to support a more nuanced view of success. Unfortunately, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it document astute project details.
Accepting “all green” without probing hurts your organization’s long-term prospects because upper mgmt doesn’t realize what it takes to win. It fights your continuous improvement responsibilities outlined in Sector 3 of the Performance Portfolio. This alone is one reason management can lose insight as companies grow.
What other dangers have you seen hidden within best practices?
- Keep your high-level dashboards, but add probing questions—no matter the status—regarding what project owners face as they deliver results.
- Make sure executives maintain a clear view of what it takes to succeed in your organization: will power, political savvy, favors, executive visibility, etc.