Why it’s important to do a regular strategic review of reporting

Every business has reporting

Most businesses will have some form of reporting, whether you’re a cafe or a large ASX listed multinational. We have reports in businesses for absolutely everything and anything, and it’s great! Mostly. It can be financial or non-financial metrics, it can be a standardised report that’s issued periodically or it could be an ad-hoc report to cover something specific.

But there’s a big problem…

Right across the world there are teams of people burning the midnight oil in dimly lit offices at the beginning of every month, pumping out binders full of reports fuelled by Thai takeaway all because someone said at some point way before your time that they are critical to the running of the business.

But deep down you know in your heart that there is absolutely no way anyone is reading all of this, so what’s the point? I mean you discovered a fundamental error on page 57 last month of your month end pack that’s glaringly obvious. It had been there as long as you’ve been doing the role and you’re coming up to your 2 year anniversary.

Are they still being used?

Most businesses today are great at developing new and detailed reports covering every inch of their business, but 6 or 12 month on are your audience still reading those reports if they don’t pick up the inevitable error every now and again? Do they make business decisions based of that report? Is the structure and data captured even relevant anymore? Has there subsequently been new reports created that cover a lot of the same data & insights? Are your days filled with ad-hoc reporting on lot of the same information because your month end binder is too intimidating?

A good rule of thumb in life and not just in the context of work, is if you haven’t used something in the last 12 months then you’re probably not going to use it again. In the wise words of Netflix sensation Marie Kondo, “We should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.” It’s exactly the same for reporting.

If you’re got people developing your reporting, every hour wasted generating a report that isn’t read or isn’t read and utilised by enough people and in a way to adequately cover the cost of its creation, is profit slipping out the back door. If no one is reading it, why are you creating it? Cancel the Thai takeaway and go home for dinner.

When did you last review content of your reports?

Now reports can be generated a few different ways – it could be your accounting or finance team, it could be an operations team, or if you’re lucky enough you may have a business intelligence tool that automatically generates the report and has it ready and on tap for you

Now you may well say, “my reporting is automated, so if people don’t use it, does it really matter?”. And here’s why we disagree.

For a multitude of reasons, whether a report is generated by a human or a machine, you need to regularly review it’s audience and relevance. In the case of audience, it’s making sure the right people are getting the right information at the right time. In some businesses people may only be in a role for a year or two before moving on – do they still need that report in their new role? should they even have access to that data? and is their backfill getting that report?

In regards to the automatically generated report. The danger of set and forget, is that as a business evolves – it could be changes to the organisational structure, or it could be new products and services that have come along in the meantime. If they’re not being picked up in your reporting when they should be, then the report could be doing more harm than good if people are taking that information as fact and using it to make business decisions.

A good practice is to review annually

So depending on the speed of change in your business, we’d recommend doing a full review of your reporting at least every 12 months, if not more frequent. Maybe a task to stick on to the end of the budget calendar, because who needs a holiday anyway – you’re not doing the late nights anymore, right?

How to go about it?

  • Develop list of all reports. Now depending on company size this could be a few lists – maybe one for company level reports (board reports, exec reports etc), another for department, and if needed also by team. The length of the list will probably horrify you
  • Who is the audience of these reports? Is it right?
  • Is there duplication of content across multiple reports? Does it make sense? It may not be one for one, but often the same data & insights pop up on a number of reports.
  • Is there anything on the report today that is no longer relevant, or is something missing? Speak with your audience and ask them what they use the report for. You may find that some stakeholders only take a few key pieces of information from a report and ignore the rest, and there may be another source for that data or an easy tweak to include it elsewhere. Or they may not use a whole report or reporting pack at all.
  • Is the data supplied in the right way? Accountants often love big tables full of numbers, whereas others may get quite confused and disengaged. Maybe that same information could better be represented in a chart?
  • Do you have the right frequency? It may have made sense at a point in time when something was quite topical to review it on a daily or weekly basis. Maybe it’s only now needed monthly or quarterly.
  • If your report isn’t automated. If not, can it be? If it can’t be totally automated using technology, is there a smarter way of preparing it? Do you have the right level resource preparing it – is the the senior manager taking work away from a graduate? Especially if your days are filled with ad-hoc reporting, maybe standardising your reporting and then automating it or passing it to the grad to prepare will free up some time.
  • Are your reports just a sea of data? Is it a classic case of the same comment month after month updated with a few key figures and not much else? Are there enough insights drawn out to spark discussion or is you audience to interpret themselves?

What’s next?

It’s time channel your inner Marie Kondo and find out what reports still Spark Joy 🙂