The Behavior Dashboard

An Interview with its Designers

by Tim Cynova, Co-CEO & Chief Operating Officer at Fractured Atlas; Principal, Work. Shouldn’t. Suck.

A few years ago, the Fractured Atlas People team began an ambitious project lead by Jillian Wright and Pallavi Sharma, and greatly aided by our colleague Nicola Carpenter. They set out to workshop a concept for something that we hoped would help us be able to make more objective performance assessment decisions, particularly when it came to promotion decisions. We were trying to figure out if there was a way to assess performance so we would know what differentiated, say, an Associate-level staff member from a Specialist-level one, without the common and error-prone proxy, the passage of time.

After tons of research, piloting, iterating, adjusting, and an organization-wide beta test, we discovered that some parts weren’t going to live up to expectations, but that others yielded a tool we now refer to as The Behavior Dashboard.

I recently sat down with Jillian and Pallavi to discuss how the Dashboard came about, how it’s used, and their still outstanding questions and hope for its future. The podcast episode is linked below, or if you prefer your podcasts in transcript format, that’s also below.

[Transcript from the above podcast interview with Pallavi Sharma and Jillian Wright.]

Hi, I’m Tim Cynova and welcome to Work. Shouldn’t. Suck., a podcast about, well that. On this episode, we’re talking tools. Specifically, we’re talking about a tool called the behavior dashboard. The behavior dashboard was developed by the team at Fractured Atlas to help staff articulate the often murky areas of behaviors and quote unquote soft skills that differentiate, say, what’s necessary for someone to succeed and thrive as a senior director versus someone in a director position. Or what are the behaviors you most need to see from someone in the CEO role and how might those be similar or different from someone in an admin associate role? Spoiler alert, it’s not just the passage of time. I talk with Pallavi Sharma and Jillian Wright about the journey they took that helped lead the creation of this tool, what it is exactly, how it can be used, and what questions and future hopes they still have for it.

If you want to follow along at home, you can download a copy of Fractured Atlas’s behavior dashboard from our website at So let’s get going. Jillian and Pallavi, welcome to the podcast.

Thanks for having us.

Thanks for having us. Yeah.

So you both were the driving forces behind the creation of a tool used at Fractured Atlas called the behavior dashboard. Jillian, do you want to get us started with what is this dashboard and why did you two set out to create it?

Sure. So the behavior dashboard is essentially the articulation of the knowledge, skills, abilities, this sort of sometimes called the soft skills that we feel like people need to be successful at the organization.

And I guess if I had to talk about why we created it, it actually started during a performance review process and as with most organizations, we had a pretty traditional process where we focused more on metrics and key result areas and kind of job based performance. In going through one of those formative evaluation processes, talking to a number of different members of the team, it became quite apparent that we were missing something very critical, and that was stuff beyond just work performance and metrics and things related to how they were connecting with other people in the organization, what their behavior was like, what were the skills and abilities they were displaying that went over and above just work knowledge that was helping them and the team and the organization kind of do better. It also became more important as we started talking about growth and promotions and growth in professional development.

As you move higher in an organization, job knowledge and specific understanding of the work that you have to do starts to become more standard. Most people at a certain level have the requisite knowledge to do a job. What sets people apart then is the so called soft skills, the abilities, the team dynamics, the behavior that makes them stars or superstars in an organization, and it felt like we were missing that piece in our evaluation process.

How did you start to identify what are those things and how do we perhaps map this in a way that people could then use, either with the conversations between someone and their supervisor or to look at and think, “I’m at this level and how do I get to that level if it’s maybe not just the number of years that I stayed in a role.”

I think this is where Jillian’s expertise and just the amount of work that she put into this whole process comes in, because when I started thinking about this requirement through the performance evaluation process, after the performance evaluation process, as I started to talk about it, I mean, what I had literally was a list on a document of some things that I thought were important. And again, these came out while I was having these conversations. It was helpful to capture them in the moment, but clearly what I had was a very rudimentary starting point. And then it was after that that Jillian and I started talking about what happens with this and then I’ll let Jillian jump in, because it went from like a basic, it’s like riding a unicycle to going full Concorde, is the analogy I’d give you, because where she took it from there, it was just like a place I never imagined was possible.

Yeah, I feel like I saw a missed opportunity here, but being able to articulate this could be such a great management tool in a way that people could really start to see sort of what the future looks like. I just … I got really excited about it. I started doing a lot of research and I thought, this must be a solved problem. There must be some sort of tools or a set process or something out there that exists that we can just use and adapt and see if we can make it work for Fractured Atlas. I did a lot of research and I found some things, but nothing was quite sticking or nothing felt like, oh that’s really easily applicable. And it made me think even more, gosh, this is really something the field needs or something that the field could use. Yeah, I think Pallavi and I started just kind of thinking who’s been really successful at our organizations and thinking about we have really strong articulated core values, but we don’t have how those show up, and let’s try to figure out how to articulate how those show up at Fractured Atlas.

You identified a need, you identified that there aren’t great tools out there to assist with this. How is the dashboard supposed to work? We’ve talked about a dashboard, but for listeners, what does it look like? How do you use it?

First I want to say that when we built the dashboard, when we were thinking about these skills and knowledge and things that people need to be successful, we really tried to think across the organization, not just specific to a department. When we built it, we tried to think about this should not be a carbon copy of what our different titles of the organization are. It’s not just about associates are this, this is this. It’s really about the growth of your career and how things show up within that context.

Yeah, I think if I had to frame it differently, I think it’s kind of an increasing level of impact in those areas, which is usually something that comes with time and experience and frequent usage of those skills and behaviors, and as folks have more exposure to the opportunities to use those behaviors, they usually become better and better at it and it manifests very differently. It’s kind of width and breadth and depth of impact, I guess in each of those areas, which doesn’t necessarily directly tie into kind of seniority in years, but again, like I said, I think more in terms of how many opportunities the person might have had to exhibit or use those skills and abilities that they had. To Jillian’s other point, it kind of crossed functional areas as well as levels of depth of experience that different team members may have.

I think we also tried to be really mindful of that point too, Pallavi as you were mentioning, about seniority. It’s not a number. It’s not like you have to have done this for X years to be able to meet this sort of impact or have this sort of impact. We really wanted to think more globally about opportunities that you’ve had or ways you’ve been able to make that work show up.

Yeah, which was also an interesting exercise, because as we obviously … As this behavior dashboard was developed, we tested it. I mean, and kind of whether it was internally or just thinking through it, it also becomes a management tool in that if you believe that certain skills or behaviors are necessary or valuable in a role, then you need to create the opportunities for team members to exhibit and learn those skills and abilities. And that actually became one of the interesting conversations we started having, is it’s not just about whether they exhibit certain behaviors or abilities. Do they have the opportunity to? Did we create the opportunity for them to use them? Because that’s what develops expertise in anyone.

The tool that you created actually has four different tiers. One, two, three, four, with one being sort of base level. If you … When you enter the organization, this is what you should be able to do at say an associate level across the board. And then four being an executive leadership you need to exhibit all of the skills in one, two, three and also four. They don’t map directly two tiers at Fractured Atlas. There’s some … You need to do 3.5 or two to 3.5 in this area, and then others depending on what the column is. You have five different columns that cover expertise, what you need to know is number one or listed first, manifestation, how you do things is the second column, collaboration, how you work with others, leadership, how you lead and inspire, and vision, how you see things. Those are the four rows and then the five columns and then you two mapped each one of the roles, associates, specialist, associate director, director, senior director, sort of C level to all of those across the organization. How did you come up with those from your exploration? Why did you choose expertise, manifestation, collaboration, leadership and vision? Was this divinely inspired right out of the gate or did you like, okay, that’s not exactly … We’re missing a hole here or something like that?

During some of the research process, I was able to see other examples of how other organizations were articulating these things. Some of these things are things that really resonated from that, thought were super applicable to things that we think people need to have when they are growing and having growth at the organization. Yeah, it was certainly a many, many, many times revised tool, and it continues honestly to be something that we look at, we assess, we think, hm, is this still what we should have for that?

To put this in perspective, I mean, we have what, 20 boxes, grid boxes in this and the process took us a year maybe, more. It was definitely an iterative process. I mean, it didn’t just like suddenly appear one day. There was a lot of back and forth and a lot of evaluation and review and modification of each element of a grid. Definitely a long, well thought out or thoughtful process. Well thought out, history will tell us whether it was well thought out, but it was definitely thoughtful.

I remember specifically you two were wrestling with, during that year as you’re testing and seeing where the holes might be, the distinction between a director and a senior director. In a lot of organizations, it just means time. The difference between a director and a senior director is that the senior director has been working in the field for 15 years and the director has been working for five. And you two were really wrestling with, no, that’s not. It’s not just time. Some people jump right into their careers and have the behaviors, the knowledge skills and abilities to be a senior director. That’s not necessarily time. Can you talk a bit about maybe that example or other things that you wrestled with that were particularly thorny to boil down to? What are the behaviors that make that distinction?

Well, something I’d like to say too is that, so visualize in your mind each of these boxes and each of them have sort of a subheader. As you’re talking about that, Tim, it made me think of this one bullet point that we have. We went around on it Pallavi, and I think we came to a good place. Under manifestation, which is how you do things, a level three we have advising, and the bullet point that I’m thinking about specifically is this point that says, “You are not afraid to dive in and make mistakes when faced with the unknown.” And we felt like that was a pretty critical skill that people needed to be successful. People can make a lot, maybe it could be this way, but actually just diving in and doing it and not being afraid to make a mistake and just do the work. We felt that was a really important point.

And the way that kind of showed up to kind of answer the question about senior directors versus directors is when it comes to opportunities, again to exhibit behavior or having had the chance. And sometimes it really is about how long you’ve been working, because the opportunities don’t all show up in one year. They show up over the course of time and as you spend more time in a working environment, you get more opportunities to exhibit that behavior. And so that ability to dive into the unknown, kind of this comfort with ambiguity, seemed to be really critical, because some of them at a senior director level or a C-level, not only has to be comfortable with that for themselves, but be able to drive the team to be comfortable with that. And that experience often does not come early in folks career, or not the experience, but the ability to manage that experience and handle that experience and show success in managing that experience outside of yourself.

Managing ambiguity for yourself or within your role could be easy, but managing it for a larger group of people is where the challenge comes in. And folks who would have had that opportunity tend to be folks who have been, unless you’ve been in a startup environment or something where this kind of stuff gets thrown at you all the time. But even then, that tends to be more of an individualistic kind of achievement. I think that’s a very specific example, but it kind of speaks to the back and forth we had to put in in order to make sure that we were not only recognizing skills and abilities that are somewhat unique and maybe don’t show up that often, but also are critical to the organization and we need to be aware of as folks come into the team.

I remember one of the challenges that you’re wrestling with was both the frequency of being able to do that thing, but also the calibration maybe of what that thing is when you’re in an associate role versus what that thing is when you’re in a director role. You may actually be doing that thing, but it could be different. And so there was this, how do you actually articulate it in a way so that it’s properly, I guess calibrated so that there is a progression.

I think that’s where the subheaders actually come in and again, without actually seeing the dashboard or having it in front of you, and I would say please go to our website and check it out. I think it’s on there, the Fractured Atlas website, the subheaders actually do talk about the progression. If you take leadership, for example, as one of the columns, which is how you lead and inspire, level one talks about the self. Talks about how you show leadership for yourself, you hold yourself accountable for your own decisions, you share, you raise questions, et cetera. Then you get to team, where it’s just not you, but it’s maybe your immediate team that you’re working with. Then you go to community, which is a little bit broader. And then finally, at level four, you’re impacting the whole sector. It really is not necessarily about how much you manifest it, but as I said, right in the beginning, it’s about impact. How many people … What breadth of impact are you having with that behavior or in what you do and the kinds of decisions and choices you’re making. And I think that was a very, very critical part of how the progression was defined.

How is this tool actually used then? Everyone in Fractured Atlas has access to this. What does it look like when it’s being used?

We feel strongly that professional development conversations and opportunities should not just be stagnant to once a year. You only talk about it at one time and it’s queued up right with your self assessment and in the new year starting. We’ve implemented it in a number of different ways. We do use it during the annual self assessment process, which happens for us every summer, but we also have embedded it into when we bring new people on board. When new staff start, they go through a core curriculum program that we’ve developed at Fractured Atlas, and they really start to learn about this tool, and we hope that they have set conversations as they begin their tenure with us at the one and three and six month marker, and we have created some sort of targeted questions that help managers sort of talk through the dashboard with new folks, talk about where they’re fitting on the dashboard, what skills and opportunities can come up to help them sort of grow in areas where they need to grow. We also use this tool in our performance improvement plan process, otherwise known as PIPPs. When somebody is having a challenge with one of the behaviors that we think are really critical, we can really point to this tool and say, “This is where we can help you develop. How are we going to do that?” And kind of rally around some really clear guidelines on what those things are.

Yeah. The other thing, I think we encourage managers to use behavior dashboard more frequently. Again, to Jillian’s point, this shouldn’t be something that comes up only at formal check-ins or formal evaluation timeframes. It’s something that should be used on an ongoing basis. Whenever behavior either manifests itself or doesn’t manifest itself when it should, this should be a conversation, and the behavior dashboard is a great tool to use to say, “Okay, this is what we’re looking for and you either manifested it or didn’t.” And then helping team members learn from that experience, give them the guidelines, the guidance, the help, the support they need to start exhibiting the behavior or become better at exhibiting the behavior or create more opportunities for them to exhibit that behavior. There’s a number of different ways, so it’s not just performance improvement, but if we find someone who’s a budding star, because they’re showing signs of using some of these skills and abilities at a level where maybe it’s not expected of them, then the idea would be how do we create more opportunities so we can help them grow and develop and maybe contribute to the organization more as well as just grow in their own development and understanding of their professional behavior and life.

I know when this tool was originally envisioned, there was an additional piece to this that was going to … Hopefully, the idea was I believe, objectively assess performance in sort of a Myers-Briggs type, staff member completes this survey, a supervisor completes this survey based on where the person is in the role. It maps both of those things to the behavior dashboard, and then while we could see it’s perfectly calibrated, everyone … They are where they need to be for their role and their understanding of what they do is the same as what the … Or their abilities and behaviors are directly in line with their supervisors. That is not a currently a piece of this.

Yeah. One thing that we really tried to address with the dashboard, with this questionnaire that we were building, was bias. Everybody has biases. Let’s try to figure out a way to much more objectively assess where people fall across the organization. It’s a challenge. It’s a challenge to calibrate results of that sort of questionnaire, it’s a challenge to articulate a soft skill in a way that’s going to be read the same by everyone. And I think that’s kind of where the challenge … Where we came up against some challenges.

I can see Jillian’s trying to find a very dramatic way to say it. But I mean, it’s in the name. I mean, how do you put hard numbers to a soft skill? I mean, that’s effectively the place we ended up. Not even hard numbers, but hard data to a soft skill. And by definition, all of these traits and behaviors, and the fact that they were filled in by individuals, there was a difference in understanding. I mean, folks just read the questions differently. They interpreted how they had used it or manifested differently. I mean to go back to what something that we talked about earlier, which is kind of the incremental impact of what you’re doing, until we started to get more clear on the importance of the breadth of impact that someone was having in manifesting this behavior, a lot of folks thought they were at the highest level of manifestation.

I mean, everyone was ending up at level four, because they were doing great. That was true, but it was true for the context of their role and the work that they were doing, and it was hard for individual team members to calibrate what their impact was in the context of the overall organization or the sector at large. And so even though we tried to figure out ways that we could find some way to differentiate between those impact levels, again there didn’t seem to be a quantifiable way to do that. It also felt like that’s where the expertise we needed maybe was different. What was built was built by business leaders, human resources and people ops leaders. And then this questionnaire kind of gets into the ultra high level market research type question.

The people analytics.

Yeah. Yeah. And I don’t think … We didn’t think it was a necessary component at that point to kind of invest in building out the super sophisticated tool. We first wanted to make sure the behavior dashboard, as it was created, was useful and helpful for everyone in the organization. But you never know. Maybe that’s something we can explore in the future.

You two spend a lot of time with this, thinking about it, piloting it, iterating on it. What are some of the behaviors on this list that you were able to articulate that you’re like, these are core to people being successful in their roles and maybe just their professional careers?

A couple things that I think are really interesting is when you think about leadership, you always think about otherness, like how you’re impacting other people, but I really liked how through the conversation in the vetting, we came to this idea of self-leadership. How can you really show up and inspire sort of at an individual impact level, if you will. Being a positive influence, sharing your thoughts clearly, even when they’re not popular. Holding yourself accountable for your decisions, like these are just things that are really valuable and might not be having a sector wide impact, but are really key to a positive environment in the organization.

I would say much of this is contextual. When we look at Fractured Atlas as an organization, we are an entrepreneurial organization. We are always challenging ourselves. There’s a lot of change that happens with that. I mean, we challenge what we do, we challenge how we do it, which was how we ended up at the behavior dashboard. Change is an important piece of what happens in the organization, and with change comes ambiguity, uncertainty. And one of the things that I felt was really hard to kind of quantify or put into words, articulate … Thank you, I’m having trouble articulating that, are things around comfort with ambiguity. As we mentioned earlier, you’re not afraid to dive in and make mistakes when faced with the unknown. You also have to motivate teams. I mean, it’s not just about you. You motivate teams in the organization, you facilitate safe and constructive communication.

And again with change and ambiguity comes stress and discomfort with lots of people. I mean, everyone’s … Nobody loves change. How do you kind of bring the team with you? How do you manage conflict? How do you get people on board with the idea? There was a number of things around that that I felt like were really relevant to Fractured Atlas as an organization and we hadn’t articulated that in a way or checked in with team members during that time with us on how they were handling that or how they were helping others handle that. And I think bringing that piece in really helped in some of the conversations we had after.

One of the things we haven’t mentioned yet is how this helped in the job interview process. Things like comfort with ambiguity and constant change, we knew those things were part of sort of the Fractured Atlas environment, but … And we had ways of asking questions or doing scenarios around them, but it wasn’t mapped specifically to, in a specialist role, this is going to be key so that we could then create scenarios around that specific thing or questions or figure out how to dive into that, to then go a little bit deeper when we were interviewing people to get more understanding, more data, if you will, around does this candidate have those things that we know you need to be successful in this role?

I totally agree, and I think that you have such a small window of time in an interview process to really learn about somebody and if you can be really clear about yes, these are the behaviors, you can’t see their work product. What you can see is how they might embody these behaviors based on scenarios.

Yeah. In fact, one of the things that happened very quickly, not just after we finished the dashboard, but as the dashboard sort of started coming together in a much more cohesive way, is we started changing questions along the interview process. I mean, the programs team had a number of hires that happened after the dashboard was created and with every round, we got better and better at modifying the questions and making them more tailored to the specific role that we were hiring for, and there were a lot more questions around what if scenario planning or giving them examples of situations that they might face in the organization and in a certain role and giving them the opportunity to explain how they would approach it with the hope of kind of eliciting out of them the kinds of behaviors we might be looking for. We changed questions I think across the board all the way from associates to senior director level, we added in more questions that allowed us to kind of hone in on the things we believed would be most important in that role. Not just, did you achieve your results, key results in your job, but did you ever struggle with the team? And that really helped. That was, I think, a huge advantage in the hiring process overall.

Are there any other things you still want to explore with the tool?

I’d say I think that we need to be using it more. I would really say … One, it’s a new tool. Folks are not used to using it. We’ve definitely gotten better at going back to it when the time is right, but I think we need more active usage of it on an ongoing basis at all points, like we talked about earlier, in the hiring process, in every kind of evaluation along the way, in any conversation with team members, I’d say that’s probably the biggest piece of it.


We’re constantly iterating, so maybe taking another sort of fresh … Continuing to take a fresh look at how we’re articulating things and making sure that they still really mean what we want them to mean and are articulating as clearly as we can, what we still think is really important.

Yeah, the ability to change this … The usage of this into a habit. That’s not like, oh, we have that and then, oh, where is that? It’s like, no, this is just something that in regular courses of conversation, as we do with our programs and services, there is constant iterating. How do you make professional development and growth just a habit of the conversations that you have so that you’re setting people up, yourself included, for further growth inside the organization and outside the organization, but also making sure the things that we need to do are not being forgotten in the urgent versus the important rush of the usual day.

Yeah. I remember when we were talking about how to encourage folks to use this more often, I recommend it to the programs team that they make this their screensaver or windows or the background, their laptop background. I’m pretty sure nobody did that, but … Including me. I’m as much at fault on that as anybody else. But yeah, I think really making this … That’s also how we would be able to evolve it. I mean, it’s … With usage is when we’ll be able to get more regular and consistent feedback, which will allow us to evolve it. I think the usage is not only helpful to make sure that we’re constantly reminding ourselves and each other about the behaviors that are needed to be successful that would allow folks to grow in the organization, but it would also be really helpful in ensuring that we have all the right abilities and skills captured and if any changes need to happen, that’s how it’s going to happen, from feedback.

What advice do you have for other organizations who might be listening and think, oh, that’s a really interesting thing. I’d like to explore that, see that, maybe not the year and a half that went into developing this for us, but with the organizations who are thinking those are actually really great questions for us to wrestle with and to articulate, and maybe we don’t have this tool, but what kind of advice do you have for them?

Well, as they say, smart person learns from other’s mistakes. Learn from our learning, not from our mistakes. I mean, the tool is there and it’s been shared and other organizations should definitely look at what’s available out there, because there may be something that comes close to what they need, but guaranteed that nothing outside there is going to meet their need exactly. I think modification and application to the specifics of your own organization is really key, so even if you find something that you think is close to what you need, take a very good, hard look at it and make sure it really maps to your core values, what’s important in the different roles within your organization and what you’re trying to achieve. Don’t assume that it’ll work as is. And again, as we do, iterate. Start somewhere and then build on it so you don’t have to take a year and a half. You could jump in with something that’s available, maybe tweak it a little bit and start sooner, and then build on it as you go along. Know that it’s an experiment. It doesn’t have to be something that’s set in stone from day one.

Yeah, and I would just add that, I mean, we started with a list that Pallavi just kind of wrote on the back of a napkin. I don’t … If you just started thinking like, okay, what are successful people at our organization doing differently than other people? How do we articulate those things? And just really went from there and yeah, I think that would be sort of a good starting point. People were looking for ideas.

What are your closing thoughts on the topic? Closing thoughts on professional development and growth and tools that work and organizations working to support people where they are and where they need to be and where they want to go and what they want to be when they grow up.

I would say, on a purely intellectual level, this was a really fun exercise. We don’t often get to do things like this. Mostly your life is just consumed by tactical things that you’re doing on an everyday basis, you’re focused on your job and this was something completely new and not done before and so it was an exciting process to go through. It gave me an opportunity to work with Jillian on something completely different. For a change, we weren’t looking at finance numbers, and that was really great, because it also gave us a chance to get to know each other in a very different way. From that perspective, it was just a fascinating process to go through. But I think for me it also just reinforces, and I don’t think anyone should … I think a lot of folks as they’re entering their professional careers, and even along the way, they’re always thinking about, oh, what course should I do? What further degree should I do? And where’s this Excel class and where’s this writing class that I want to do? And there’s not enough talk put into what are the soft skills or the behaviors or values that I want to hold and exhibit in my professional life?

And I would say, it’s never too early to start. I mean, the sooner you start, the more experienced and expert you’re going to be at these skills and abilities. I would say, I just wish more folks would be thinking about it early in their career and work on it at every step along the way.

Yeah, I totally agree. I feel like this was a really exciting opportunity to help people think about their career path that they’re on. And really, it makes a lot of good organizational sense, because when people feel like they have an understanding of what’s expected and where they’re growing and how that aligns with the organization, they stay much more engaged and then I think that makes the work better, people feel better. Just a win-win.

Jillian and Pallavi, it’s always a pleasure getting to spend time with you, working with you. Thank you so much for being on the podcast.

Thank you.

Thank you for having us.

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Tim Cynova focuses on people-centric organizational design. He is a certified Senior Professional in HR, trained mediator, principal at Work. Shouldn’t. Suck., teaches on faculty at New York’s The New School and Canada’s Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, and is currently the Co-CEO & Chief Operating Officer of Fractured Atlas, a nonprofit organization that helps artists with the business aspects of their work.

I’m a Co-CEO of Fractured Atlas; Principal