Thursday, 19 December 2013

Our obsession with reporting

There’s a great deal of importance in getting the right information to the right people at the right time and effective reporting is vital in successful modern businesses… but why do we generally do it so badly?  For example, we market tools that offer real-time and accurate reporting in an instant yet for the most part we still insist on our senior leaders and managers producing weekly, monthly, annual, hell even daily reports on this information.  When you print or export your report form whatever data source it comes the report instantly becomes dead data.  What this means is that the moment it becomes a ‘report’ it is out of date.  If something happens in the instant between printing it and reading it - or often the hours, days etc - then the report is inaccurate as it doesn’t include the latest data.

What’s perhaps even more daft than our obsession with reports on dead data is the effort required to produce it.  The madness is that we usually get our senior management types to spend their time compiling these weighty documents whilst actually adding very little to the data.  This usually means they need to constantly badger members of their teams to get the up-to-date information that is already expired.  We get a roll-up effect with junior managers producing out of date information for senior managers who add their own expired information to the increasingly inaccurate information from their staff to the leadership team who make decisions based upon the ‘quality’ of the expired report or present further reports to the board/owners.  When you put it like that doesn’t it sound like madness?

Fortunately there is a solution and believe it or not it’s really simple.  The solution is in the systems we use and the way we run our meetings and decision making processes.  Whilst our leaders and senior managers may claim they don’t have time to access our systems (or often we make that assumption for them) we should actually be making sure that this is where they get their data from.  That means if you’re discussing the impact of training or the numbers being put through a certain programme you should in that meeting pull up the live data.  Anyone requesting a written copy should be shot on the spot.  Okay, that’s too extreme, but rather than shooting them give them the access to the systems to see of themselves not just right now, but any time they want the latest figures.  This is empowering our leaders to make leadership decisions with the live data (the only way you should be making decisions).  With the right type of systems you can show trends and compare to historical data of course, but in the pace of world we live in today, the data should always be live not dead.

If you have a vast number of systems (such as LMS, performance management, HRIS etc) then a wise investment may be a tool that can take feeds from each of those sources directly (yes, live) and present this information into some form of balanced scorecard or dashboard that gives instant access to the information required.  The advantages to this are pretty obvious, real data right now and any time you want it; a perfect enabler for making the right decisions.

Of course that means a lot less wasted effort for your senior people and managers in general - but it also means working significantly smarter.  The success of such a system now lies in the upkeep of the data in all the live systems.  That means your managers jobs are about managing their people and the data they are responsible for - in other words keeping up-to-date on their people and their outputs, and that’s kind of where you want your managers spending their time isn’t it?

In short, I know this simplifies the whole data and reporting thing a little and there is often a need for dead or historical data in the decision making process; but being informed should be about knowing what is really live data and what is not and making decisions based upon that.