If you ever look at a snowflake dangling from the window at your local Macy’s or Bloomingdales, realize that this snowflake is only a piece of marketing, there to draw your eye, but not an accurate representation of reality. You see, most marketing snowflakes have either five or eight sides to them. Nobody seems to know how or why this happened, but I suppose some marketer out there thinks that it is more aesthetically pleasing to have a five or eight sided snowflake.
The reality of the snowflake is that they almost always have six sides. Sometimes they may have three or twelve, but those are relatively less common to the six sided variety. The reason for the multiples of three is simple, snow is made up of water, or H2O molecules, and chemically have so many bonds to offer to other H2O molecules. The end result is that water molecules can create snowflake structures with three, six or twelve sides.
The beauty of the snowflake is a wonderful thing. Certainly it does draw our eye and our attention. Certainly the thought of beautiful fresh white snow brings to mind a white Christmas, skiing through fresh power, kids and snow angels, or whatever else you have in mind. But at the core, it is still just a marketing figment of our imagination, inaccurately portrayed.
Manager and executive dashboards are quite the same. Often, we have planned and conceived for months or years about how to best capture the attention of our executives and bring them thoughtful HR data. We’ve given them tools and pretty graphs, and indeed, these dashboards carry the flare and flash that can draw anyone’s attention with a state of coolness and color. But at the end of the day, the dashboard is just the dashboard. VP’s of HR and other executives often don’t really look at the dashboards we’ve worked so hard on. They might glance at a particularly high turnover rate, but rather than digging through the detail themselves, they might instead pick up the phone and call they nearest HR director with an inquiry about what’s going on. At the end of the day, they still rely on the same old mechanisms for information. They want us to create reports, and have meetings.
The cause of all of this is particularly simple. Executives have no use for data. The best representation of an HR analytic, whether it be a trended graph, or some sort of drill-through crafty piece of eye candy, is still just data. What executives want is information, and our dashboards still don’t interpret data for them. That’s why they still need the rest of us, our reports, and the face time in meetings.
I don’t think I’m being critical of dashboards – in fact I rather love them. But we have to understand the gap if they are to get better. Dashboards can give execs a glance at the health of their organization, but they don’t provide understanding and diagnosis. We need to be able to provide information, not data.