“I've seen companies go from poor transparency and not very good accountability to a culture where everybody has self-accountability because they know what the goal is. They know what the score is, and they can take corrective action.” - Brick Thompson, CEO, Blue Margin
If your business is suffering from dysfunction, a likely culprit is lack of data visibility, which causes reactive instead of proactive management and leaves gaps between the business plan and its execution. Without data visibility, conflicting metrics and uncertainty spread across the organization, and culture decays. But perhaps the most damaging effect of poor visibility is weak accountability.
Improve Accountability with Data Visibility
“We have found that accountability is arguably the most powerful tool for driving human motivation.” -Jon Thompson, Blue Margin, (watch the full webinar)
When looking to propel your company’s growth and improve company culture, consider deploying BI dashboards to drive accountability. Research shows that humans generally appreciate insight into their performance against expectations and like keeping score (Coonradt, 2012).
You might ask, “How is BI connected to accountability?” or “How does that connection drive growth and cultural health?” Here are a few quick takeaways:
- Dashboards provide transparency through a simple visual system so employees can see the score, increasing motivation and performance.
- Accountability helps leaders democratize the flywheel, sharing the responsibility of advancing the value creation plan. (Read our interview with Jill Belconis for more insight on this topic.)
- Accountability correlates with healthier team culture and higher levels of employee engagement. “Employees want a greater sense of ownership. They’re staking a claim alongside executives in making an impact... Sharing the company’s vitals establishes the equality and engagement employees seek” (Thompson, 2019).
- Accountability requires organizational alignment on metrics. Employees must be involved in defining their metrics so that they’re reasonable, realistic, and within their span of control.
In this podcast episode, Using BI to Drive Accountability, CEO Brick Thompson and Business Intelligence Consultant Greg Brown discuss how data visibility powers team and individual accountability. They debunk the common negative connotations associated with the word “accountability,” and discuss how accountability drives growth and a healthy culture.
Listen below, or read the full transcript.
For further listening/reading:
- Tactical BI for CFOs: a Blue Margin Webinar
- Data Driven versus Non-Data Driven Companies, Interview with Andy Scott, PE CTO
- How Manufacturers Use Data Intelligence To Increase Accountability
Coonradt, Charles. (2012). The Game of Work. Gibbs Smith Publishers.
Thompson, J. and Thompson, B. (2019). The Dashboard Effect: Transform Your Company. Fort Collins: Blue Margin Media.
Brick Thompson: 0:04
Welcome to the Dashboard Effect Podcast. I'm Brick Thompson, and today I've got with me Greg Brown, who is one of Blue Margin's consultants. Hey, Greg, how's it going?
Greg Brown: 0:13
Hey, Brick, I'm doing well, how you doing today?
Brick Thompson: 0:15
I'm good. I appreciate you joining. So I think what we're gonna talk about today is accountability, and maybe even how using bi can help drive accountability within companies.
Greg Brown: 0:28
Yeah, and you know, accountability can be one of those words, that brings up a whole lot of different connotations for folks. And sometimes it can be a bad connotation. So I think we want to talk about that a bit.
Brick Thompson: 0:37
Yeah, yeah, it definitely can. So, right, if you're applying accountability, sort of like you're applying a whip, that's probably not gonna get you the results you want. But accountability can really just refer to sort of helping people understand how they're performing relative to goals and so on. And in fact, most people like to know how that is.
Greg Brown: 1:01
Yeah, I think when you look at accountability and transparency, it's important to have a system where teams understand how they're performing, and they understand what's expected of them. And despite how simple that sounds sometimes, we just see companies that don't have systems to deliver that to their employees and teams.
Brick Thompson: 1:19
Yeah, yeah. And so I think sometimes you can end up, if you don't have a system for someone to be able to see, you know, what the score is themselves, in order to drive accountability, sometimes you see micromanagement. And I think that's where accountability can really get a bad name.
Greg Brown: 1:36
I think so too. I, you know, I think that in some ways too accountability can get a bad name because we associate with the term, well, I'm gonna hold them accountable, which in my experience, you only really started hearing that term, and things are going wrong, and managers are realizing that they haven't had a system of accountability. And so now it's time we're going to hold people accountable. We're going to get tough on people, as if we didn't do that before, or we didn't focus on it enough before.
Brick Thompson: 2:05
Yeah, yeah. So, that's not the kind of accountability that I'm referring to when I talk about how to use BI to drive accountability. I'm talking more about, and I know you know this, but talking more about providing transparency, so people really understand sort of, how am I doing? You know, what levers can I pull to do better to make my goals, that type of thing. And I think really good BI can facilitate that a lot. You can end up, I've seen companies go from really poor transparency, and not very good accountability to a culture where everybody sort of has self-accountability, because they know what the goal is. They know what the score is, and they can take corrective action.
Greg Brown: 2:50
Right. And I think the research and certainly what we've seen in our partnerships is that that creates a better culture at those companies, and that employees really actually want that. But they need a system. They need a scoreboard, a way to see that and to monitor their own accountability and how that's been measured in the organization.
Brick Thompson: 3:09
Yeah. And the easier you make it, and the more intuitive you make it, I think, the more effective it is. I mean, you can ask people to track things by hand. And, you know, in the old days, I'll show how old I am, but I remember in my first job out of college, back in the early 90s, I had a boss who would track a lot of things on graph paper. And he would take a ruler and draw a line between the points and color under the line red, or green, depending on if it was over the goal. And it was very effective. But I realized, actually, it was sort of where I got my first taste of, oh, I think I'm a data guy, because I really liked this. But I immediately started trying to figure out how can we automate that process?
Greg Brown: 3:53
Well, and take it off of graph paper. Part of that?
Brick Thompson: 3:59
Exactly. So you said that businesses thrive when accounting accountability is built in. It makes me think of a book, again, kind of an old book, it's still around, the company is still around. There was a guy named Chuck Coonradt, who wrote a book called The Game of Work. And he sort of called, I think he calls himself the grandfather of gamification now. He's an older older gentleman. I think that book came out in the 80s, if I recall. But his whole thesis, which I loved was, if you give people the score, if you give them a way to understand how it's going, they will self correct. It's amazing how people will, you know, do what they need to do to beat the goal, or to beat the other team. And, and he really hammers that home in that book. It's a good one. If you haven't read it, you might want to check it out.
Greg Brown: 4:48
Well, yeah, and I think the key there is that you have to make the right scoreboard and then you have to make it visible in the right way for the organization. I think we've seen in some cases where companies have great systems to track performance and to track accountability. But if it's not visible to the right teams and individuals, it's not going to create that effect, and some of that healthy competition that I think you'll see sometimes.
Brick Thompson: 5:10
Yeah, and I mean, I think visibility, I mean, we can talk about that in a conceptual sense, but also, there's very tactical things you can do. You know, around our office, we have TV sets with reports on them. We have Power BI reports that are delivered by a subscription every morning to different teams, depending on what they're doing, they'll get different reports. You know, there are all sorts of things you can do. I mean, it could be as simple as you're looking at a scorecard once a week in a team meeting, that type of thing. But the easier you make it, the more transparent you make it the more accessible you make it I think the better it is.
Greg Brown: 5:46
Yeah, absolutely agree.
Brick Thompson: 5:47
And I think that one of the beauties with modern BI is that you know, all of our transactional systems that we use, CRMs, and ERPs, and HR systems, and so on, almost all of them have an ability to extract data and put it into a data warehouse or a data mart, and to automate that whole process. So the business is running and doing its functions. And almost as, like data exhaust coming off of these systems, you capture all this data. And then if you're smart about how you organize it, and present it and really understand the goals and simplify the reporting so that people can attach to it easily. I think you can have huge impact.
Greg Brown: 6:29
Yeah, absolutely agree with that. And, you know, it might be a good idea to kind of go over, why is accountability important? You know, what are some thoughts that come to mind for us there? You know, of course, some basic stuff that comes to mind for me is, it's really tough to manage poor performers, when you don't have a system to track their contributions and to track what they're contributing each day. You also have examples and situations that I've seen where companies don't even recognize that they have poor performers, or they catch that too late when there's already been damage done to the business or to the culture. You know, when you have an environment where everyone is clear on the goals, and they understand their part, and where their contributions are contributing to the overall success of the business, it really encourages a higher level of performance, and really encourages more accountability. I think it also relates to the idea of transparency, which we all know has a positive effect on employee morale, and the culture of a business. If you don't have a transparent enough way to show who's accountable and what they're accountable to, then it can kind of hurt your overall culture, because it's lowering by definition, almost, the transparency of the business. And so I think there's a strong connection there. And again, we all understand the benefits of transparency in terms of a work culture.
Brick Thompson: 7:48
Yeah, I mean, I know for myself, the more I understand, you know, what the goal is and how I'm doing, the better. I think you can if you're not careful, have it backfire a little bit. So if people feel like it's punitive, or if they feel like it's not fair, like if you're judging them on some metrics, or you're putting them on a dashboard on metrics that they can't actually affect, it can backfire on you. So you do have to think about that carefully.
Greg Brown: 8:16
Absolutely. And I think that, as with other things in business, it's important to design and develop a system of showcase and accountability that comes with input from the right individuals in the organization. You can have a user group or a management group decide, well, here are the benchmarks, here are the targets. And they're not talking to the line managers or to the individual associates about what is actually achievable and realistic. And then it can backfire on you. You set targets that are way too high. No one's achieving those targets. You start taking a punitive approach, or there's a reaction when the basis of all that was that you set the wrong targets. So I think you have to have the right folks involved in the design of that accountability system.
Brick Thompson: 9:00
Yeah. And you may be setting the wrong targets in terms of a specific number or metric you're trying to hit. You can also be setting the wrong targets in terms of what you're measuring. And so I know part of your job as you meet with our clients and prospective clients, is to really dig in to, okay, what are the what are the metrics and outcomes we're trying to affect in the business by providing transparency and hopefully accountability? And then really thinking carefully about, alright, how do we do that in the simplest, most transparent, most obvious way we can. I sort of joke with people sometimes, my mom is, I think he's 83 (she'll probably hate me saying that on here). And she's, you know, really smart and very active, but not very technically minded. I sort of say to myself, if I could show this dashboard to her and she could tell me, yeah, it looks like that's going pretty well, I've probably hit the mark even if she doesn't know the business or what we're measuring. I've probably provided enough context and made it intuitive enough, where it's a good report. Whereas if I show someone a report, and I have to explain carefully how to use it, and here's how you drill through, and here's how you cross-filter to get to what you need to know, we've probably missed the mark. And I know you spend a lot of time talking about those higher level things. And then our engineers get into that detail of how to make that happen. But I know that can be challenging.
Greg Brown: 10:25
Well, yeah, and the last thing you want to do is kind of bury the lead within the reporting, you're designing so that folks have to dig through multiple layers or to search for the actual insight they need. And I like your example of showing a dashboard to your mom, and if she can get it, then you know that users are going to be able to get it obviously, but to use it easily to get the insight. And then almost more importantly, then to go take action and make adjustments in the field and have conversations. That's really what you want that reporting and system of accountability to lead to, is the ultimate action and improvement to the business. Which doesn't mean you're going through a report spending time searching for what you need. It means you get it, you see it, and then that translates into action.
Brick Thompson: 11:08
Yeah. And I think one of the real benefits that can come from that, if you do it well is a huge improvement in culture. So I can think of jobs I had when I was younger, where, you know, it seemed like the boss wasn't happy. And I knew things were off. But I didn't really know how they were off, and I wasn't sure what to do to fix it. And, you know, good BI, and good transparency and a good scoreboard would have gone a long way with that.
Greg Brown: 11:33
Yeah, you know, and Brick, it always continues to surprise me when I hear stories of friends of mine or associates of mine that have started a job and have no idea what they're actually accountable for, the actions and the contributions, the performance that they're accountable for. I had a friend of mine that started a job recently and very excited, ready to go. And she does love the the culture and the company itself. But even after four weeks of working that job, she's still struggling to understand exactly what's required from her each day, and how that's being measured. And it creates a certain level of ambiguity around a job that is not comforting to anyone. I don't think that managers are even comforted by it. But they may not even be thinking, are we actually building a system of accountability, or may just be thinking, well, that person will pick it up when they've been here long enough. But especially for a new employee, I don't think it's a reassuring sign to go into an environment where you're struggling, even from the first couple of weeks, to understand what's expected of you. That might be in a job description, which in my experience, a lot of folks sign and read on day one, and don't really look at that, again, very much. So that's not a system of accountability or a way to outlay that for folks. You need something better. And it just surprises me that I continue to see that and hear that from folks as they start jobs. And like you said, it's not reassuring, when you sense that.
Brick Thompson: 12:57
Yeah. And you know, I don't blame the businesses for being there, exactly. It can be challenging, but that's where water BI comes in. There are so many good tools to go after that. I think you were telling me about an experience in a previous job where you were managing a group, and you didn't have the tools from the corporate office that you felt like you needed to provide good transparency and accountability.
Greg Brown: 13:22
Yeah, and, you know, this was a an example, where a company had a lot of reports, but they were scattered amongst a lot of different source systems. And in the end, I mean, there were reports from those source systems. There were other Excel reports that you could dig through, and then sort of compile your own version of the truth and what is going on every day. But it was tiresome. And it wasn't really a way to create that transparency and visibility for other managers, I could do that in my office. But to share that insight was a massive hurdle. And it certainly wasn't available for other leaders to just go access and see what is actually going on. In that setting, you also had some of our associates really being held accountable or reporting their performance on paper, which created a whole lot of issues. You can lose that. It didn't really create visibility unless someone thumbed through all the different pages showing what was completed each day. It didn't lend itself to transparency. Eventually, that company did develop dashboard solutions and ways to bring in visibility. And you know, and that was towards the tail end of my experience there. But I can say that we still worked to have a level of accountability and to share with the team what was appropriate to share as far as how the team is performing, how the overall business was performing. But the work that was required to share that and to deliver those insights made it very difficult to do on a consistent basis.
Brick Thompson: 14:57
Yeah, okay, so that that's where good BI comes in, I think. If, you know, if you're wanting to provide transparency and provide accountability, being able to get the data out of those various transactional systems, so that people don't have to log into all the different systems.... I was talking to a CFO at one of our clients who confessed that (they had just bought a few companies) and he was having to log into all of these virtual machines to look at their accounting systems. We're changing that. We're fixing that. But that's where you don't want to be. You want to take that data, you want to centralize it into a data warehouse. And you want to centralize it in reporting cubes so that you can build good dashboards and good reports that go to the right people, so that they know what's going on and can provide good accountability for themselves and the folks that are working for them.
Greg Brown: 15:48
Yeah, and you touched on earlier Brick, but you know, using Microsoft Power BI, we have a lot of different options to deliver those insights. Things like subscriptions, where it's coming to your email every single morning. You're not logging into anything. You're simply opening an email. You have different ways to access dashboards that are provided either through mobile devices, or, of course, through desktop computers. So there's many different ways once you bring those different sources of data together and organize it, provide the right platform to develop reporting upon with a data warehouse, that you can then say, okay, well, depending on my business model, and if employees are out in the field, or if they're in the office, or even some mixture, we have different ways for them to consume that, that fits into their workflow in their daily lives.
Brick Thompson: 16:34
Yeah, it's amazing the options we have and you know, you can have reports pushed directly to phones and to email and so on. There's almost no excuse for not getting the data into people's hands.
Greg Brown: 16:47
Yeah, absolutely. I would agree, especially with the kind of platform that we develop on. And the different examples of things that we've seen work in the field for some of our partners.
Brick Thompson: 16:57
Yeah. All right. Great. Well, it's been great chatting with you about this. Love to have you back soon and we can talk about some of the other things that you talk to our clients and prospective clients about. Any final thoughts?
Greg Brown: 17:10
You know, the final thought for me is that.... It's kind of where we started the podcast. Accountability can can carry sometimes a negative connotation. But I think it carries that connotation, sometimes in organizations where there hasn't been a good system of accountability. And so it's developed a bad name over time. It's maybe been invoked only when things are going bad, or managers need to put some scrutiny on their employees, for example. But the sooner a business puts a scalable, transparent system of accountability in place, the better they will be and the more positive of a connotation that word will carry for the business. And so, again, you know, we look to deliver that through some different solutions. But I think with the different data sources and systems that companies are using nowadays, you really do need a way to centralize that, to choose how you create that visibility into accountability. And when you do that, and when you do it in the right way. It's a positive thing for everyone.
Brick Thompson: 18:07
Yeah, totally agree. Well said. All right. Well, thanks, Greg. I'll talk to you soon.
Greg Brown: 18:12
Yeah, thanks for having me, Brick. Appreciate it.