ManagementSpeak: Let me evaluate your approach and get back to you.
Translation: Great idea. How can I get the credit for it?
I need to evaluate KJR Club member Chris Gallagher’s approach.

“Would you like to see our dashboard?” Larry Robbins asked.

Larry, a talented CIO, is an old friend and occasional client — several years ago I provided some assistance as he combined two IT divisions into one following a corporate “merger of equals.” He’s a very bright guy, a strong leader, and a former consultant himself who’s taught me quite a few tricks of the trade along the way, so there was only one right answer: “You bet!”

While not organized quite the way we put our standard dashboard together at IT Catalysts, it’s very nicely done, providing a clear snapshot of how his IT division is performing and progressing, just like a dashboard is supposed to. With Larry’s scorecard in hand, I asked if he’d be willing to share what he’s learned are the keys to implementing a successful IT dashboard, seeing as how he actually has one. He graciously agreed. So without further ado, here’s Larry on IT dashboards:

  • Keep it simple at the highest levels, to provide focus, focus, and more focus. The dashboard establishes priorities — what’s important. Keeping it simple helps employees at all levels figure out how they can best contribute to improving these priorities.
  • Measures: Crawl, walk, run. Some areas are simply insufficiently mature to manage to the desired measures. That’s okay. Don’t pretend — deal with the situation as it really is. If necessary, take a year to put in place the process (and understanding) necessary to measure the next year. We call these “milestone” measures, which are the concrete steps required to bring that area to the maturity level necessary to measure outcomes in the future. The worst thing to do is to miss this step and pretend. That drives cynicism.
  • Siloes: We tried establishing separate departmental goals for each of my direct reports, with the intent of clarifying accountabilities, around which there was much enthusiasm. The process of doing so actually began pulling my team apart. I now believe many of these departmental objectives will be addressed anyway, as the department head performs his or her primary job.The real purpose of divisional priorities is to provide a meaningful framework to align the department heads to accomplish those priorities that can only be accomplished together. I’m learning the core effectiveness of an IT organization is its ability to operate collaboratively, even while its structure, and the pressures of day-to-day business trade-offs constantly tug at pulling it apart. The employees noticed too, which silently encourages the same behavior through the ranks.
  • Assign “Goal Champions.” Making each of the CIO’s direct reports responsible for one of the dashboard measures gives them an opportunity to influence peers and think like a CIO, getting out of their silos to do it. And as they sponsor these goals in various meetings, employees have an opportunity to see department heads acting on behalf of the entire IT shop rather than defending turf. These are all good things … and there’s no downside.
  • Job of the CIO: I’m learning that it’s to create an environment where everyone can make their best contribution. It sounds simple but it’s not. Peter Drucker said it best: “So much of what we call management consists of making it difficult for people to work.” We’re encouraging employees to customize their goals to contribute to our top four priorities in whatever ways make the most sense to them. It’s working, largely because we have employees who are passionate about making a difference.

I’d love to embellish, but Larry didn’t give me much room to maneuver — his suggestions speak for themselves. I am, in any event, happy to report that the dashboard guidelines provided here in recent columns line up quite well with his experience in real-world IT.

I’m even happier to report that he isn’t consulting anymore. Who needs that kind of competition?