Let’s start by looking at the fundamentals: data and metrics. The simplest way to explain data and metrics is this: Data are what we have, and metrics are what we measure. For example, the total number of sales professionals trained on customer service in a year is data; the customer satisfaction score that has increased due to this training is a metric. As L&D professionals, we will have access to a wide variety of data—but to use dashboards effectively, we need to identify the metrics that most reflect the success of our initiatives.
An ideal executive dashboard showcases the return on investment of the learning function, the profitability index of key learning initiatives, and the percentage contribution of L&D to the bottom line. But often, we may not be able to arrive at such insights. That does not mean we cannot produce meaningful, effective executive dashboards. However, it leads us to a reality to keep in mind when designing executive L&D dashboards: The maturity of our metrics will be indicative of the maturity of our learning and development function.
As you start designing your executive dashboard, start from scratch, erasing everything you think you know about dashboards and, instead, design an objective, business-aligned, smart, creative L&D dashboard for the C-suite. Here is a step-by-step guide to doing so.
Working Backward: Defining the Outcomes to Influence
When designing an executive L&D dashboard, instead of writing the objectives of having a dashboard, you should start with the outcomes in mind. As each business is unique, so is every learning function—and so too will be the outcomes. If you know the outcome that you want to influence, drawing an objective is relatively simple. These questions will help you arrive at the outcomes you wish to influence with your dashboard:
- What is the main purpose of your learning and development function? For example, is it engagement and retention, performance acceleration, ensuring quality of products and services, or something else?
- Are there any business metrics tied to the performance of the L&D function, such as reduced time to resolution of a customer issue through training of your customer service reps?
- What decisions does the leadership team usually make with learning and development reports?
- Which of these decisions do you want to influence?
- In the best-case scenario, what change would result from your L&D intervention?
Your answers to these questions might not be the outcome you wish to influence for all your future dashboards. While dashboards can follow a standard template, they need to be responsive to the changing landscape within the learning function, the organization, and the industry as a whole.
Again, the maturity of your learning function will influence the maturity of your L&D metrics and their clear alignment to business outcomes. If this is your first time designing an executive dashboard for learning, it likely will be quite challenging. But it will be a step in the right direction, and it will provide an opportunity for you to look again at your priorities through the eyes of the business.
Reporting Objectives and Business Priorities
Once you have decided on the outcomes you wish to influence, the next step is to write one or more objectives. Unlike the outcomes, your dashboard’s objective defines the rationale behind having a dashboard. Therefore, your objective might be consistent across projects, or it might change with your chosen outcomes.
Here are a few examples of objectives for executive dashboards:
- to communicate the value of L&D initiatives to the business leadership team
- to present the L&D initiative’s progress to leaders, validate the direction taken, or enable course correction, if required
- to showcase the L&D function’s efficiency and effectiveness
- to present the degree to which L&D contributes to achieving business targets
- to publish L&D metrics in comparison to the industry benchmark
- to list organizational roadblocks in moving L&D initiatives forward.
I recommend that you have a limited number of objectives, if not a single objective, for your L&D dashboards. Of course, there might be many benefits to designing and publishing an executive dashboard, but we need to focus on a few objectives so as to channel our efforts on achieving that goal or goals. Your objectives need to align with the outcomes you wish to influence and will need to change with the changing priorities of the business and of the L&D function.
During this audience analysis step, let’s don the hat of a marketer and analyze the audience for our executive dashboard. We will first notice that the audience is quite diverse. If we wanted to try segmenting our audience, we would realize that there are three major ways to go about it:
- Segments by hierarchy. Business heads, directors, CEOs, or the like each fall into a different segment.
- Segments by function. Leaders across operations, engineering, research and development, sales, marketing, general management, and so forth each go in a different segment.
- Segments by decision-making authority. Although this segmentation can be similar to segmenting by hierarchy, it is important to differentiate them. A classic example would be a cross-functional council that sponsors initiatives to promote quality. Each individual might be play a different role in the organization, but for the purpose of this council, they would only focus on the quality of products.
Choose the segmenting method that makes the most sense with your audience. If you are planning to present the dashboard to your C-suite only, for example, then segment by function. After understanding the segments in our audience, we need to learn about their priorities. It is challenging to understand business priorities of other function heads, because you may not have access to the same information and intelligence they have. But being able to understand your audience is crucial to your dashboard’s design.
What’s Your Next Step?With the prep work for your dashboard complete, you can move on to the most interesting and fun part of dashboard design—identifying the components (metrics and insights) that go into your dashboard. For advice on how to do that, check out the February 2017 issue of TD at Work, “ Executive Dashboards to Win Over the C-Suite.”