Is More actually More?

Several customers have asked me about adding status colors, such as blue to suggest over-achievement and black for underachievement. But why stop there? What not have over-over-achievement? And over-over-over-achievement? OK, I am being absurd, but it raises the issue: when is enough, enough? How many statuses do we need to effectively communicate performance?

I believe it reduces clarity in understanding performance to use more than two or three indicator colors. I have seen many organizations actually use a binary system: red or green. If you start adding colors beyond the red/amber/green and using blue, my fear is that blue becomes the green, and green is yellow, and so on. Are your employees aiming for green or for blue?  If everyone strives to be best, all the other colors get shifted down the line. If you believe that you need more than three status categories, you might consider returning targets or thresholds.
It is important to remember that the entire concept comes back to managing organizational performance. Perhaps at the individual level, it is more appropriate to recognize over-achievement in a way that is motivating and meaningful.
Perhaps the underlying issue is the performance culture related to how statuses are used in the first place. I see some organizations that use a penalty/reward system, where people are ‘punished’ for their red statuses, and they are to be avoided at all costs. As an unintended consequence of such approach, these organizations tend to set targets and thresholds in a way that inflates performance (ie. everything is always green, and perhaps this is what drives the need for a blue, overachieving indicator). More effective organizations tend to use a system health approach. In these cases, red statuses identify areas within the organization that require assistance, resources, etc.  Red is not necessarily a negative in this case, but rather a call to action.
In closing, I find the best approach is to keep it simple. If you cannot see the overall performance on a scorecard from across the room, it is more of a report than a dashboard.

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