How to Construct an HR Dashboard That Will Wow the C-Suite

October 18, 2013 Darcy Jacobsen

Companies today run on metrics. You’ve surely sat in enough meetings to know that most departments in most companies keep dashboards to highlight their performance and to red-flag their issues. That’s not just because charts are pretty. (Although it certainly doesn’t hurt if they are.) Dashboards shine a light on your successes and your challenges—a light that often illuminates a path to the future. That’s because data is a language most senior leaders speak fluently. And if you want their attention, the best way to get it is usually to put metrics to your message.

It’s surprising , therefore, how few HR organizations actually publish a robust dashboard of their activity. I was in a conference recently where a group of about 150 HR execs was asked if they keep a dashboard, and only about ten hands went up. And sadly, even those who have some metrics often aren’t taking advantage of half the data available to build a nuanced picture of all that HR has to offer, or to help guide the company’s decision making around human capital.

It’s easy to feel like much of our most important work is un-measurable—done in “soft” or “squishy” areas that don’t lend themselves to metrics. But you’d be surprised at the detailed picture you can draw of your culture through data you may already have laying around.

Of course, not all metrics are created equally. Here are a few guidelines to use in building an effective HR dashboard for your company.

Consider Your Audience

Who will be looking at this dashboard? What is it they care about or would find actionable? Don’t collect data just to collect it. Collect it because it is meaningful to someone in your organization. If you’re not sure about what they would find actionable, ask them to choose the metrics for themselves.

Don’t Overdo It

You could easily assemble a monster dashboard of 100 metrics to report on. SHRM offers a comprehensive collection of calculators that measure all manner of people metrics, and one could definitely get carried away playing with their list. (I may or may not have spent half a day playing with this list…) But Dr. John Sullivan from ERE suggests limiting your dashboard to 8-12 metrics. He writes: “Because collecting data and calculating metrics is time-consuming and expensive, it’s important to focus your energies on the ones that really matter.”

Look Forward

Many metrics are backward-looking, telling a story of what has happened. Others are more useful in predicting and mapping the future. Your dashboard should contain some of each type to show not only where you’ve been, but where you’re going. Every metric you collect should be linked to some future course of action. If it isn’t actionable, consider dropping it. The world can do without another headcount-to-revenue ratio.

Think Creatively

Think beyond simple turnover and recruitment stats. What sort of insights about your human capital can you glean from data you are already collecting?

Presentation Matters

This will depend a bit on your executives (back to point #1 about knowing your audience). But by and large you should make an effort to present your data in a clear and concise way. Infographics can be an excellent method for presenting this kind of data—but even if you are graphically challenged, a clean set of charts can make a big difference in getting the attention your data receives.

Stay tuned Monday when we’ll dive into a few specific HR metrics we recommend to add value to your dashboards!

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