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Mission Control

January 18, 2019

Posted in: WATSON Views

How Can the Board Really Know What’s Happening with Culture, Leadership, and People Risk Inside the Organization?

“We’ve made a commitment to inclusion and diversity. How are we truly doing, beyond demographic stats?”

“We need innovation everywhere, at every level – how do we know if we are creating the right conditions and seeing impact?”

“If we’re going to still be relevant in 5 years, we need different kinds of leadership and talent today. Are we getting there?”

Boards are increasingly aware that people, leadership and culture are critical to success in achieving their strategy, while also being a source of risk.

As advisors to those boards, we hear them asking the right questions. The challenge is that it’s tough for them to get good answers.

Directors either get too much data or vague reassurances from executives, who may themselves not know how to get trusted insight. In some instances, organizations get locked into an overly-scientific approach, delaying sharing data until they have a provable causal model. Or they discover that in order to provide “perfect” insight, they need new systems, metrics, and practices – which gets bogged down in cost and delays.

Boards need to understand the health of the business with respect to people and culture. Increasingly, we find ourselves recommending the use of people dashboards – not just the handy interface that your management systems make available, but something specific to the priorities of your organization.

How do you get there without getting bogged down?

  • Start by aligning the board and management on what is relevant and important in terms of people and culture – prioritize and invest effort in the top 1-3 things needed to drive your strategy and achieve your purpose
  • Take a cue from the world of “Agile” – get something out there quickly into the hands of the “customers” (in this case, directors), get their feedback, and learn
    • Don’t wait until you have perfect data, the ability to measure every indicator you’d ideally want, provable causality, or perfect graphics – share what you can, with whatever caveats a reader needs to know, and then learn and improve
    • If you don’t have a perfect metric – or if there is too much lag time – consider what indicators or signposts you could look for
  • Keep the focus at the right level; directors need accessible insight they can understand quickly so they know what the right questions are, and when to ask for more detail

Our metaphor is Mission Control: not in the driver’s seat but able to monitor the health of the mission and be alerted when something is off track. You won’t build the whole control room right away, but let’s get those first few critical sensors and displays up and running.