The Epidemic of Low Value Reporting in Corporate America

A report on its own provides little value. It is the analysis partnered with management judgment that holds all of the power.

Sadly, there is an epidemic of low value reporting in Corporate America. Millions of pages in excel reports, large data dumps and endless CRM queries that give us the “what”, but nothing more. Leaders are being forced to work on lower value, number crunching activities, our decision making takes longer and ultimately our business results suffer.

However, we can treat this epidemic. We can coach and develop our team members to move down the spectrum from reporting to analysis: from data to information. Consequently, we will move the recipients of this information from reading to doing: from analysis to action.<-- toc-creator -->

“The goal is to transform data into information, and information into insight”
Carly Fiorina, previous President of Hewlett-Packard Co

Here is a recent example from my “day job”, to demonstrates the difference in value as we treat this epidemic.

A team member worked on some resource planning for vacation weeks. The goal of this activity was to provide information that would guide managers in their decision making around coverage and time off, so we could sustain department performance during these challenging weeks.  I also wanted to prevent the managers from having to collect data on their own from a consistency perspective and to free up their time for the strategic activities.

About a week later I received what I’ll call version one, which although professional and well organized, only contained the data, but not the analysis. It did not answer the “so what” and would not get the managers further ahead in their decision making processes.

We discussed alternatives and I challenged this team member to get us to the next step. About a week later I received version two, which was a completely different animal. It not only considered the vacation week volume, it also considered our average weekly volume, the resource requirements to handle such volume, current staffing levels and recommended future staffing levels.

It included a new summary tab which provided managers with clear direction as follows: The average work volume for your product is X, but on these vacation weeks we expect it to be Y, so considering productivity and staffing levels, we recommend that you schedule Z number of employees.

We went from a bunch of data to more actionable information. Awesome!

When we presented this information or our managers, we explained how to use it in decision making, but also stressed the importance of partnering this information with their leadership judgment.

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Here are several techniques that I recommend to add value to your service and sales reporting activities:

1) Before distributing any new report, analysts should ask themselves these questions:

  • After I present this information, will the recipients be required to complete further analysis and/or pull more data?  (Goal- no)
  • In addition to the data, does this include the trends and headlines?  (Goal- Yes)
  • Have I presented the information in such a way, that it is clear where the reader should look and what is most important? (Goal- yes)
  • Have I presented the information in such a way that it will speed up decision making? (Goal – yes)

2) Assume that the audience will not actually look at the detailed data or report

This is a little disturbing, but the reality is that many report recipients are reading email on a mobile device or suffering from information overload and will not have the time or desire to scan rows of detailed information.Treating The Epidemic Of Low Value Reporting | Image Courtesy Of Photostock

Therefore, make it easy for them to absorb some information and understand next steps by including either a “headlines” section or an “executive summary” in both your email and at the beginning of the document. For best practices in this area, check out two earlier articles, “How to use an Executive Summary to improve your business writing” and “Do your Sales Operations analyses delight or get deleted?

3) Ensure that recipients never act on the data alone. Always add a dose of leadership judgment

Colin Powell once said, “Experts often possess more data than judgment”. What I think he meant was- we often look at data and jump to action without understanding why, which is not recommended.

When presented with even the most beautiful analysis, the reader should still question the information and understand the why behind it.   If you think of decision making as a pie, the data should provide one slice of goodness to help make decisions, but leaders must also bring in experience and judgment to get to the next step in the process. For more insight, check out an earlier article “The devil is in the details”.

A report on its own provides little value.

It is the analysis partnered with management judgment that holds all of the power.

What are you doing to help treat the low value reporting epidemic?

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About Marci Reynolds