Using Scoreboarding to Measure and Advance Your Goals

“Money is a scoreboard where you can rank how you’re doing against other people.” — Mark Cuban, American businessman and owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team.

“It is an immutable law in business that words are words, explanations are explanations, promises are promises but only performance is reality.” — Harold S. Geenan, American businessman and former CEO of ITT.

Scoreboarding by Laura Stack #productivityIt’s harder to fix what you can’t measure, because it’s harder to know if you’re improving. All business leaders require a decent understanding and consistent knowledge of basic performance metrics, like last quarter’s sales figures or the week’s labor percentage. But how often do all team members see figures telling them how they’re doing or how their work contributes to the bottom line? Very rarely—except when trouble looms. While there’s no need to share everything, knowing how the team and department are faring as they work toward their goals can create stronger feelings of empowerment. And empowerment is a key driver of employee engagement.

One way to measure progress and ensure team-wide accountability is through scoreboarding, which presents performance metrics in standardized report formats. Scoreboarding offers an even simpler, more easily assimilated set of measurements, usually in the form of a computer-based graphic interface you can read at a glance.

Some companies use off-the-shelf business performance programs like Discover Analytics, Host Analytics CPM Suite, or Prophix for scoreboarding, though these programs weren’t specifically created for that use. Some programs claim to made for scoreboarding, but at first glance appear much more complex than necessary.

Other organizations adapt existing programs to provide scoreboarding functions. With specialized tweaking, for example, you can use Microsoft Excel or Lotus 1-2-3 to provide both scorecards and scoreboards, though again, their creators didn’t design them with those uses in mind. Still other organizations have programmers create proprietary scoreboards to order. When I was the president of the National Speakers Association, our CEO would send me monthly emails with key statistics in graphical format for our success factors: membership retention, new members, event participation, financial performance, etc.

Whatever its origin, here’s what any good scoreboard program needs:

1. A simple interface. Computer skills vary widely, so create a program anyone can open with the click of an icon. Accessing the relevant data once the interface opens should also be super-easy. If you want people to know how much the team earned for the company last month, that data should either be on the first page, or easily accessible with a click. Most organizations have both top-level and basic scoreboard versions. Lower level managers or team members may have access to a simple interface that supplies the metrics of direct use to them, while the “Executive Information System” typically includes more detail, additional metrics and views, and drilldowns on specific datasets.

2. Easy-to-read graphics. Simple charts, gauges, bright colors, and symbols make it easier to absorb information at a glance. For example, you might include a pie chart comparing your team’s earnings to the earnings of other teams also contributing to the organization’s “profit pie.” Don’t crowd too many graphics on one page; if you need multiple pages, use them. Click here to see a generalized example of what the graphics on a team interface might look like, courtesy of Learning Point, Inc.

3. A limited number of KPIs. Before investing in a scoreboard, decide what Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) you want to display. These metrics can include anything from the number of products produced per day to the percentage of training dollars left in your budget. By their very nature, KPIs vary from business to business. For example, important metrics for a company that makes and packages cotton candy might include budgeting information, the tonnage of candy spun per month, number of packages shipped per week, weight of sugar used per day, profits per quarter, costs per quarter, labor percentages on a weekly basis, average poundage of product produced per employee per day—anything that might be important to a manager, executive, or team monitoring business performance. As you can see, you can potentially cram dozens of KPIs onto a scoreboard. Instead, keep your KPIs to a manageable handful. Think of a sports scoreboard, which includes little more than the team names, score, remaining time in the period, and a few important metrics like RBIs, total yards, or errors (depending on the sport). Too complicated means too hard—and that translates as “useless” in real-world terms.

The Low-Tech Option

If you still use paper, you can also create a static scoreboard on a bulletin board in one of your team’s common areas. Basically, this involves using a commercially available scorecard program or a good spreadsheet application, like Excel, to create tables, charts, and displays that lay out your team earnings and other business performance metrics for a particular period. Several years ago, business writer Chris Anderson of Bizmanualz laid out the basics of a good low-tech scoreboarding process, based on the procedure then used in his company.

A Final Note

While a business scoreboard acts as a type of instrument panel, don’t mistake it for a “dashboard,” a similar utility. Dashboards typically provide real-time information, which can change in a flash; whereas scoreboards really do resemble game scoreboards in that they present totals for a particular period as well as either average or cumulative measures. While some scoreboard programs may let you drill down to obtain information for a brief period, the data will always be historic and static, rather than changing “on the fly.”