Friday, January 22, 2010

Overcoming the Tyranny of the Urgent with a Performance Dashboard

One of the great dangers of running a social enterprise or a business as mission organization is that on any given day you can get lost working in the business and forget about working on the business. The tyranny of the urgent overwhelms other more long-term tasks that have greater impact on the health of the business.

Over the last 10 years, I have found this to be certainly true at Bud’s Warehouse. Every day, urgent “problems” have a tendency to crowd out other more strategic tasks. And when your faith venture’s ultimate purpose is to hire and job-train individuals rebuilding lives from addiction, homelessness and prison, this reality grows with the addition of special situations arising from our clients’ particular lives. You have to be firm about setting time in your schedule to work on the business or else you risk becoming stuck in unproductive patterns.

This week, I had the opportunity to work with my leadership team on developing a dashboard of indicators for our Bud’s Warehouse home improvement thrift store operation. Like a dashboard on a car, the idea is to have one spreadsheet updated on a daily basis that helps management to take a quick temperature of the organization. This is something that is commonplace in the for-profit business world. But in the arena of faith ventures and social enterprises, I have found it to be rare.

At Belay, we’ve always had accessible accounting data that provides a valuable picture of the financial performance of the organization at any given moment. This has always been helpful in answering whether we are succeeding as a business. But I wanted to dive in deeper and identify key factors that lead to the success of the business and then include all the staff in the active measurement of those ingredients. And I don’t want to stop there. We want to also include measurements related to the performance of program mission so that we don’t forget to focus on both of our bottom-lines: profits and mission.

After several meetings, we have decided on the following as components of our dashboard:

  • Monthly sales- This is the one factor that we’ve always measured. Monthly sales are important to the financial success of our organization.
  • Web page hits- The number of people visiting our web site gives us a picture as to the effectiveness of our marketing strategy.
  • New Buddy Cards- Individuals signing up for our customer club identifies how many customers are visiting the store and how effective we are being at customer service.
  • Donation Call In’s- People calling us wanting to donate home improvement items gives us an idea on how much material we can expect in the future.
  • Corporate donor contacts- How many companies we are calling also helps predict future product donations.
  • Weekly program meetings- The number of meetings with program participants helps us to gauge whether we are accomplishing our job-training goals.
  • Being a place of grace- As a place that seeks to mirror God’s undeserved love towards us we want to measure our acts of grace towards customers and clients.
  • Program graduations- The number of participants graduating our program is a final indicator of our job-training performance.

It goes without saying that our dashboard items reflect the special characteristics of our organization. Other businesses and social enterprises would create dashboards that are very different. But I can’t overstate how excited my management team is to have this new tool. We have identified key ingredients to the success of our business and mission. And everyone now has a clearer idea how their individual tasks fit into the bigger picture.

As with any business analysis, this is a work in progress. Stay tuned for more on our dashboard as we see how it performs over the next year.

1 comment:

Cathy Cutrell said...

Jim - I enjoy reading your blog, your journey with Bud's and God on His mission. These articles always provide a lot of good insight for anyone and their business/ministry. Thanks so much for visiting with Deveri and I the other day. It was very helpful. Best wishes for you dashboard initiative.