At the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, a smaller British fleet routed a larger French one, destroying 22 French ships without a single British vessel being lost.
For French Admiral Villeneuve, there are many reasons why he lost, but one in particular strikes our attention as management scientists – his fleet was slow out of the harbor at Cadiz.
Getting out of the harbor
It’s a common problem for any business – time is that most precious commodity. Successful businesses get things done in time, or “just in time” if you prefer. Yet going faster is never easy. “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go with a team” says the famous aphorism.
Creating a team that can go both far and fast is rare indeed.
Inspiration from games
In console games, like Halo, teams do work together, and fast, despite little management and face-to-face time. What can we learn from these games and the way gamers join forces as a team to win in them? (learning from games and applying it to business is the art behind gamification)
I would argue, apart from simplicity of tasks (console games isn’t like solving a tricky customer issue) a key factor is the availability of a common scorecard. The instant feedback that is summarised in a single score (how many kills, how effective, levels completed and so on) both for each player and the whole team is quickly shared and digested. Each player knows whether they have done the right thing.
Great companies already know this and many link key activities back to a single score we all care about – the profit margin. But for some departments this is hard to achieve – after all, often it’s not clear how any one particular activity affects the bottom line
Indeed, many activities are so fine grained; “micro-tasks” if you like, that assigning a value to each is not worth the effort. Was that tweet worth doing? Did that meeting deliver value? Did I engage my customers in that webinar?
Milestones are too far apart
Feedback is the missing ingredient. And for a new generation of knowledge workers, brought up playing games like Halo, they crave this frequent feedback. They want to track their “inchstones” not milestones.
To serve this demand, managers must offer them dashboards that report on the myriad of micro-tasks that make up the day job.
Creating a report of micro-tasks used to be nigh on impossible, but the increasingly digitized nature of our lives now creates a “data shadow” that can also be used to offer this micro-feedback. Whether that’s a new record in the customer database or a new tweet posted online, many of the actions we do, are now digitised and suitable for reporting back.
Tools designed to report back on the minutiae of daily tasks are finding their way into the workplace:
- At a client office last week, I saw the Google Analytics realtime dashboard in the reception showing every employee what was happening on the company website.
- At my own company, Leaderboarded, we use a Leaderboard so each employee can optimise their personal social media performance to achieve company social media goals. The Bill & Melinda Gates foundation use a similar leaderboard for their “social media superstars”.
- Dell have created an entire office dedicated to the social media command centre while traditional business dashboard tools are no longer the preserve of senior management and are appearing on the shopfloor, aided by customisable dashboard companies such as geckoboard.
For the successful workplace then, let us applaud this reinvention of the dashboard – no longer is it a forgotten tool for managers to check the pulse of the business. No, the new “dashboard 2.0”, shows each of us how we are doing on our bit of the business and expects us to optimise our performance ourselves.
What are the benefits of this flurry of dashboards? Faster correction and optimisation. Like an armada of ships, the quicker each gets its bearings right, its sails optimised for the direction of the wind, the faster the individual goes, and with each faster ship so a faster, fleeter armada.
So, with fast feedback and an leaderboard, perhaps the French Fleet would have been a bit quicker in 1805, and who knows maybe that would have turned the battle. Glass of burgundy anyone?