Water cooler talk: BI's missed opportunity
Water cooler talk is practically an institution in office life. It provides an opportunity to take a "breather" away from work and interact with colleagues while grabbing some refreshments. A smart manager knows that water cooler talk and office chatter is a barometer of the health of your organization. By listening carefully, you can get a sense of employee satisfaction within the company.
I personally think that water cooler talk is an important part of office life and helps to foster a sense of comradery in the office - the value of which is hard to overstate. But, we've all heard of managers who take a dictatorial stance towards office chatter and go to almost comical lengths to stop it. Controlling water cooler talk is like trying to cup a glass of water in your hands - any sense of control is an illusion at best. If you grasp the water too tightly, it will fly in your face; if you grasp the water too loosely, it will spill all over the floor.
I see water cooler talk as an untapped opportunity for businesses to align organizational priorities, encourage mutual respect between departments, and increase transparency (data democracy). Instead of trying to control office chatter, why not provide your employees with talking points about your business performance that will pique their interest?
One way to do this is to put web-based dashboard on a wall-mounted television beside your water cooler (or coffee machine). You'd be surprised how quickly the conversation switches from NFL referees to your business performance. This isn't just wishful thinking either - we've implemented this in our office with positive results, and I know of a few customers who've done the same with great results (Aviva's UK help desk for one).
Here are some best practices for creating a compelling dashboard that will provide your employees with all the talking points they need to keep your performance in perspective.
Operational, real-time data
People get thirsty and need to drink water. They may go to the water cooler up to half a dozen times a day, so if your wall-mounted dashboard shows static data and metrics that don't change throughout the day, your employees will eventually tune out. But if every time they get a glass of water, there's a chance the metrics on the dashboard will have changed, they will be compelled to give your dashboard a glance. Before long, it will become habit and they will be constantly aware of business performance. Operational, real-time data tells a story that everyone will be interested in and give your employees a reason to check their dashboard.
Benefit: Increase the visibility of performance metrics and generate interest in your business performance.
Compelling, easy to "get" metrics
This point aligns with the previous one in that your employees need a reason to check the dashboard. It's not just enough to slap together a dashboard that displays some KPIs. Each KPI on the dashboard needs to be easily understood at a glance. One way to achieve this is to provide overview metrics for each department. The importance here is to understand that dashboard consumption will occur in a common area, so everyone needs to be able to "get" the story the data is telling them and be able to converse about that data in a meaningful way.
Benefit: Give your employees a reason to check the dashboard and make it easy for them to understand what they are seeing.
As I pointed out in the previous best practice, overview metrics for each department are easily consumed and understood. This also has the effect of encouraging understanding and respect between departments. If you can instantly see how your comrades' department (say IT) is performing, it helps puts your contribution to the organization in context. In some companies, departmental rivalries can be a real problem, so anything that helps to create an atmosphere of mutual respect is a bonus. After all, each department is like a piece of a well oiled machine - for the whole company to move forward, each part needs to work together (even if they have widely different roles).
Benefit: Encourage employees and departments to see themselves as part of a whole to foster better communication and mutual respect.
What would this dashboard look like?
Here's an idea of what this dashboard may look like. Each KPI on this dashboard is defined by your organization. They cover a different departments, and provides an overview of performance that is straightforward to understand. While each organization is different, this dashboard is a rough guide for what you could do for your company.
The truth is that cloud BI is a great way to provide everyone in your organization with dashboards and metrics that are relevant and compelling. By putting the dashboard in a central location (water cooler, lunchroom, etc), you can help shape behaviour and cultivate a performance oriented culture. Not only that, but by exposing data and KPIs to the entire organization you increase transparency and trust in upper management.
Water cooler talk is an untapped opportunity for your business, and one that directly relates to your BI objectives. You want to increase the visibility of relevant data and encourage action at all levels of your organization. The next step is to start formulating overview KPIs for each department that adhere to the best practices mentioned above.
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