Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Reports, reports, reports

In a previous blog post (here) I asked a question: are reports written in your business which are no longer read?

This is a very good question. I have seen it time and time again where reports are written, and one of two things happen:
  1. Questions come back asking for the information in the report again. And again.
  2. The information in the report is never, ever referred to again.
In the first instance, it would appear that the information already contained in the report is not seen. Perhaps this is the only marker which needs to be supplied, so perhaps that alone should be supplied, which would more clearly highlight it. Another consideration may be that the narrative elements of the report could become an informal appendix of sources, reducing writing - and reading - time, with the report's focus being more on the metrics. Further, it may be that other information alongside this metric 'hides' the key information, meaning that a change of format might be a better option, such as  a dashboard or infographic. If a good template was developed to provide that information, it may cut down work. Additionally, if the template was online and the data feed automated, a daily update of position would be available for the time that this particular element is a strategic focus. All of these would reduce workload over time.

In the second instance, the material may not be (a) not being read, and / or (b) may be no longer required. Reports are often supplied because we have habitually supplied them. It is possible that no one has asked the "do we need this anymore?" question. There was an interesting case included in the Leadership Experience (Daft & Pirola-Merlo, 2009, p. 30) about a new engineering manager who came into an under-performing engineering department. As part of the department review, the new manager found that engineering time was significantly eroded by having to supply - as it seemed to the manager - a ridiculous number of reports. The new manager decided to continue to have his team write reports, but reports would only be forwarded to senior management when they were specifically asked for. This was in the days of printing reports on paper, and a mound of pages grew on the floor of the manager's office. Once senior management copped on to the paucity of information and requested some reports, the teetering pile was wheeled through the engineering department amidst cheering engineers on a trolley to the management meeting.

While I find the tactics in the second instance cavalier, the idea behind it has validity. We need to check in from time to time to find out what is really needed, and what we can do without.


Sam
  • Reference: Daft, R. L. & Pirola-Merlo, A. (2009). The Leadership Experience (Asia-Pacific Edition 1). Australia: Cengage.

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