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Business Dashboard
By Gary Lockwood

When you are driving down the road, a quick glance at your car's dashboard gives you a lot of information. In an instant, you know how fast you're going, how much fuel you have remaining and whether the engine is overheating.

Your dashboard tells you the total miles the car has been driven and often, the mileage of this particular trip. Your peek at the dashboard allows you to see the time of day, whether your lights are on (or bright) and if the turn indicators are flashing.

All this information is available by a fleeting look at the dashboard. Many new car dashboards offer even more useful data and indicators.

One of my clients, Bruce, is CEO of a very efficient manufacturing company. Bruce has created a dashboard for his business.

With one quick look, Bruce can see total sales this month and year-to-date. He gets a reading of his backlog, amount of overtime consumed and his on-time-delivery measurements.

At a glance, Bruce's business dashboard shows him his up-to-the- minute profitability figures, the percentage of production capacity scheduled for the next 30 days, and a dozen other key performance indicators.

Bruce can drive his company by using the information on his business dashboard.

What are you looking at as you're driving your company? Do you drive your company (or your car) blindly? How easily (and quickly) can you get crucial information on all your key performance indicators?

One of my clients (let's call him Mike) was telling me how important it is to him that he sells long-term maintenance contracts, not just ad hoc projects.

Makes sense. The long-term contracts provide some stability and predictable cash flow. They assist in getting closer to his clients. They also help him to borrow funds more easily.

So far, so good.

When I asked him how many of these long-term maintenance contracts he has already, he couldn't tell me. He didn't know! He said he's been too busy to track the number of such agreements.

Wait a minute! If this type of agreement is so important to Mike's growth strategy, how can he not know the status?

The fact is that most owners and CEOs know what's important to their enterprise, but can't (or don't) measure those things.

You've heard the old maxim: "You can't manage what you don't measure."

Here's my suggestion: Identify the five to ten key measurements and key performance indicators that are important and essential for your business.

Set up an active system to measure and track these indicators. This could consist of a couple of pages of printed reports or it can be as sophisticated as a web-based, interactive, real-time display.

The important thing is that you get this data daily. It should show only the key performance indicators (with details easily available elsewhere). Ideally, the data would be color-coded to show which of the indicators are in the "red zone" (needs immediate attention), in the "yellow zone" (caution) or in the "green zone" (OK and as-budgeted).

Use your business dashboard each day to decide which areas of your operation you should be concerned about and which are candidates for longer-term strategy. Look for the indicators that suggest a delegation of enhancement projects. Watch the trend lines.

Chances are, you'll get what you're looking for - improvements in these areas.

With your business dashboard, you will drive your business with confidence.

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