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ADVICE ON HOW TO PRODUCE GREAT STATUS REPORTS
                                Selena Sol
                          selena@selenasol.com
                    http://www.selenasol.com/selena
                   http://www.slideshare.net/selenasol


Because my group in the office had some success this year with defining and
executing a Comms plan, several times over the last few months, I’ve been
asked by business managers from other groups for advice on how to create
successful status / progress reports & newsletters. They are usually looking for
best practices that I can share.

Frankly, although I can certainly propose a few best-practice / tips and tricks, the
reality is that good reporting requires a mindset / organizational philosophy
change more than executing “10 best practices”.

So, in this thread, I’ll try to communicate the mindset that business managers
should be trying to help develop – and, OK, at the end, I’ll suggest a few tricks.

1. STATUS REPORTS SUCK
Nobody likes to write status reports. Common complaints include:

   1. Nobody actually reads what I write
   2. I don’t have time
   3. I write too many reports already

If you are a business manager responsible for reporting, and you want to get the
support that you need from content providers, you must first recognize that all of
these complaints are absolutely legitimate.

1.1 Nobody reads it
You know it yourself. The reality is that many, even most, stakeholders will not
read your reports. Some just won’t have time. Some just won’t have interest. And
some have learning / communication styles that don’t benefit from reports. And
tragically, these tend to be the negatively vocal stakeholders – the ones who
reinforce the frustration felt by content providers, the ones who ask for an update
in a meeting after you have already given an update in the report that they
received yesterday – arghhhhh!

Of course, the truth is that while not everyone reads a given report, it is not true
that nobody reads it. And even if only 10% of the audience actually reads the
report, you can still get clear organizational Return on Investment (ROI) from
reporting - especially for reports that cover big, multi-million dollar projects. If only
one reader per year finds a gem that leads to a project change, or a cross-
divisional insight, or a risk-mitigation, the impact for the firm can be far greater
than the time-cost of reporting.

I’ll come back to this point later on, but the key to reporting ROI is to make sure
that, 1) reporting cost is minimal through process streamlining, 2) benefit per
reader is maximized by having strong, engaging, useful, targeted content and
active readership, and 3) your editorial and distribution process ensures that your
report is engaging enough so that you drive 10% readership to 12%, and then
12% to 20%, and so-on.

So while the frustration felt by report authors as a result of low readership is real,
legitimate, and unavoidable, there is a bigger, albeit subtle, picture and a very
real long-tail benefit that should not be overlooked, and can hopefully help to
ease the sense of justified frustration.

1.2 I don’t have time
You’ve got to have empathy. Our teammates really don’t have time. They are
working like mad to keep up with day-to-day firedrills and driving month-to-month
strategic deliverables – actually delivering stuff - not the cool stuff you want for
reports, but all of the gunk that makes up 85% of everyone’s day. So adding
even a 15-minute per week administrative burden is not as trivial for them as it
might seem to you.

Now, this is a particularly tough reality for business managers because your
content providers are going to be grouchy and they are going to complain about
you behind your back. Such is your life as a business manager.

All you can do are two things:

First, make the process of reporting as easy as possible, and sometimes this
means extra work for you in templating, editorial, collaborating with other report
requestors, or creating streamlined content management systems & processes.

Second, you have to buck up and live with the grouchiness. Sorry, there is no
magic pill here. You just need to have empathy and don’t take it personally when
your content providers vent at you. Their pain is real, and you probably can’t help
much.

Stay positive but persistent. Try to catch yourself when chasing invariably
transforms quietly into nagging. And this process of degradation, from chasing to
nagging, is entropic, so you’ll always, for the rest of your career, have to watch
yourself and adjust, no matter how good you get.

1. 3 Too many reports!
And finally, it is true, especially for a regional staff function (ie: CTO, COO, Risk
and Security, SCM, HR, Legal, etc) which sits within a 4-dimensional matrix of
stakeholders, each with very different MIS needs, that our teammates will be
stuck in a vortex of competing, semi-repetitive, but necessarily and unavoidably
slightly different reporting.

For example, in APAC, each of our heavily matrixed team members needs to
report to the 1) APAC staff organization, 2) Global staff organization, 3) Regional
BU-Aligned organization, 4) Global BU-aligned staff organization, 5) individual
project streams and 6) the Regional management. That means a minimum of 6
reports, often on different publication schedules, often with different formats, and
often with different MIS requirements and required levels of granularity. If it took
30 minutes per week to write, edit, syndicate, approve, and publish each report,
then that would be almost 1/3 of a day per week for each of your content
providers.

What’s worse is that this complex matrix of reports cannot be streamlined
because of real, unavoidable, legitimate organizational constraints. Each of the
stakeholders really does need a slightly different take on the same material
because they have different roles in the firm. And every stakeholder really cannot
change the scheduling due to dependencies. And finally, every stakeholder
needs a different format because medium and message are linked. So we’re all
stuck with it. That is why matrix management, though powerful and probably
unavoidable for a multi-national company, is expensive.

All this is to say that, at the end of the day, from the perspective of a content
provider, the one who has to write the report, status reports suck.

2. BUT STATUS REPORTS ARE REQUIRED
At the same time, if you sit down with any individual content provider over a
brew, most understand the need for status reporting, both for themselves and
their careers as well as for the team and the firm.

So, while status reports will continue to suck, there should be an understanding
that they need to get done.

In fact, there are 4 real, tangible, organizational needs that justify reporting and
which you should remind your content providers about as much as possible:

   1.   Compliance, audit, and governance
   2.   Organizational learning
   3.   Personal discipline
   4.   Marketing

2.1 Doing things right
More and more, firms need to be able to demonstrate to regulators and to
internal / external auditors that their governance and project execution are well
controlled. As a baseline, this means consistent and meaningful documentation
and communication. Reporting forms a minimum acceptable standard that
auditors and regulators require. Without consistent and complete reporting,
teams expose the firm to fines, or worse.

Any auditor’s first port of call will be communication and decision-making
mechanisms. And this makes sense. If one understands the core function of
good corporate governance and controls, it is easy to understand why regulators
and auditors are looking for this collateral. Proper reporting is key to a mature
organization’s ability to do, to decide, to reflect, and to learn (think CMM,
TOGAF, PMBOK, CoBIT, etc).

Reporting is one of a few foundational mediums needed to create and foster
conversations – they are a mechanism to drive accountability and allow
opportunities for stakeholders to challenge. Without reports, inter-organizational
teams are blind, uncoordinated, and prone to bad group-level decision-making.

Of course, this is not to say that team meetings, townhalls, enterprise social
networks, or other mediums are not also required. Good conversations in any
organizational require a multi-media approach to reflect the diversity of learning
styles and interests of stakeholders.

But at the end of the day, reports must be in place as a baseline control.
Reporting is just a part of doing a good job these days. It is not something ‘extra’.

2.2 Organizational Learning
But communication is not just about accountability and decision-making.
Perhaps more importantly, communication is about making the organization more
effective by facilitating information flow and maintaining organizational memory,
independent of people.

The velocity and quality of information flowing through an organization’s veins is
a powerful predictor of innovation, cross-silo efficiency (leveraging) and
effectiveness (synergy), client focus, employee engagement, and ‘network’
effectiveness.

Simply put, the more we share, the more creative, empowered, and smart we are
in our jobs, and the happier we are doing them.

But, and we’ll talk more about this later, turning communication into
conversations requires active effort from the reporters and the readers. If we
lecture to a sleeping lecture theatre, then we lose a significant portion of potential
value. Reporting only works effectively if we have active and engaged readers.

2.3 Personal Discipline
Listen, writing a report is kind’ve like eating your veggies and doing those 20
more sit-ups. It’s annoying and unpleasant, but we all have this deep-down
realization that we need to do it because it makes us more healthy.

Reporting makes us more healthy because, when done right, it forces us to
reflect.

Reporting requires that we take a moment to pause from doing and ask
ourselves critical questions like, “Of all the things I am doing, what actually
matters the most? Am I spending my time on those things, or on other, perhaps
less important, things? Who are the stakeholders (readers) that I am working for?
Is what I am doing aligned to their goals or have I accidentally strayed? How can
I explain what I am doing to someone who might need to know, but who currently
doesn’t know anything about what I am doing?”

Reflection is key to being a human because once sufficiently fed, animals need
to learn. I caution against an organizational philosophy that says, “Don’t waste
time reporting. Just get on with it!” People cannot simply do. They need to
reflect. They need to reflect.

Now, that does not mean that people become reporting machines, chugging out
volumes of bullet points. But it does mean that some reporting is good. Without
it, and I know you know this is true, we would get caught up in the firedrills and
fail to take time to reflect. As a result, we’d be much less effective as individuals
or as a firm.

2.4 Marketing
Last, but certainly not least, like it or not, all organizations are political
environments. As such, marketing becomes a key tool in developing a team or
developing an individual’s organizational power and opportunities for expansion
or for developing an individual’s career.

When people ask the inevitable question, “So what has team X done for the
business lately,” whether it is time for promotions & compensations or time for
retrenchments, you want to hear loud and consistent cries of, “they are busy
doing meaty, meaningful, mission-critical things” from the throng.

While good stakeholder management is much more than reports, good reports
are a key tool in the activity, especially when it comes to secondary or tertiary
stakeholders.

Now, just a note. Be careful that reports do not become a justification for
employment. We’ll discuss this later, but “good’ reports are the starting points (or
continuations) of great conversations with stakeholders. I’d rather have a content
provider give me 3 really interesting sentences rather than a whole slew of
meaningless page-filling bullets. It is perfectly fine for reports to be short, so long
as they are sweet. It is never about quantity of items.

Finally, from a less Machiavellian perspective, reporting is also important
because it allows you to drive out messages, make sure that your function is
understood, solicit feedback, engage the larger firm, and attract collaboration.
Especially for a team like CTO which is almost always misunderstood, reporting
affords the opportunity to make the team real and tangible to all the other teams
out there beavering away at their little corner of the universe. When people
understand you, not only are they less threatened, but they understand when to
engage you and they feel more encouraged to do so.

3. GIVEN ALL THIS, HOW DOES A BUSINESS MANAGER GET GOOD
REPORTS?
At this point, I hope it is clear that while seemingly sucky, reports are necessary,
even, dare I say, good, for an organization. So the real question is how do we
achieve “good” reporting?

Returning to a point made above, good reports are all about Return on
Investment. If we were analyzing the ROI of a business, we’d say:
      Profit = Revenue - Cost.

In the case of reporting ROI, maybe we can say,

       Value = Benefit – Cost

In addition, if we understand Cost as Cost to Produce + Cost to Distribute + Cost
to Consume, then we have:

       Value = Benefit – (CP + CD +CC)

Further, if Cost to Produce is actually the Cost to Write plus the Cost to Rewrite
(as needed) across each content providers plus the Cost to Edit and Cost to
Format and the Cost to Manage the whole production process for the editor, we
have:

       Value = Benefit – [(Σ(CW + CR) + [(CE + CF + CM) + CD + CC]]

Then, if Cost to Consume includes all the consumers, you would have:

       Value = Benefit – [(Σ(CW + CR) + [(CE + CF + CM) + CD +(Σ(CC))]

Now, if we also understand Benefit as a function of quality and a function of
relevance across the summation of all the report consumers, we then have:

       Value = Σ[f(Q) * f(R)] – [(Σ(CW + CR) + (CE + CF + CM)) + CD +(Σ(CC))]
Once you understand this basic formula, you should have a good idea of what
you need to do as a business manager. That is what I meant when I said earlier
that good reporting is a philosophy, not a collection of best practices. As a
business manager, there is no best way to get good reporting. The goal is to
optimize the formula above, and the method depends on your context as the
variables in the formula will depend on your situation.

As such, as a business manager hoping to get high reporting value, you need to
be optimizing the following variables:

 Σ (1) & Σ (3)   The total number of content consumers is a balance between
                 value and cost. You need to find the right balance that gives you
                 maximum returns.
 f(Q)            Quality of submissions. The contributions follow business writing
                 best practices
 f(R)            Content is relevant. It is written at the right granularity, with the
                 right amount of detail and cover strategically aligned content that
                 drives good conversations and decision making
 Σ (2)           The total number of content providers should be minimal while
                 still achieving quality and relevance
 CW              The Cost to Write is minimal
 CR              Cost to Rewrite is minimal
 CE              Cost to Edit is minimal
 CF              Cost to Format is minimal
 CM              Cost to Manage is minimal
 CD              Cost to Distribute is minimal
 CC              Cost to Consume is minimal

However, as promised, I have a few ideas from our experience in APAC CTO
that may, or may not, be of value. 

   1. Report readers must be active
   2. Editors must add value

3.1 Report readers must be active
From my experience, and this is a hard truth for an organization and its leaders,
the reason most reporting is bad is because the readers, not the writers, are lazy
and passive.

Imagine that you are in a conference room, laying your heart and soul on the
table, going through a presentation that you worked hard to complete about a
project that reflects a good chunk of your time at work. Now imagine that as you
speak, everyone in the room is busily tip tapping on their smart phones, totally
ignoring you, at least seemingly. How would you feel? How well would you
prepare for the next presentation?
Well, reports are the same. If the audience is silent and unengaged, report
writers will quickly disengage as well.

So if you tell me that you are having a hard time getting your teammates to
submit content for a report, I will tell you to stop pestering your team, and instead
give your team manager a smack on the back of the head – because the
problem probably lies there.

If management wants good reporting, managers must visibly and consistently
make reporting a priority. Here are some good ways to do so…

   1. Leaders should make good reporting a formal, compable, objective
      of every individual on the team. It may be a small % of everyone’s
      comp, but it needs to be recognized as a priority in people’s formal
      objectives, and it needs to be part of the comp discussions at the end of
      the year. At the end of the day, people are fairly simple creatures. They
      need to know in black and white terms that reporting is a priority and they
      need to see that the organization is not just paying lip service to the idea.

   2. Leaders should hold middle managers accountable for the quality of
      their reports. I’m not personally a big fan of scolding those who don’t
      deliver. Instead, good reports need to be publically praised, often.
      Leaders should be publicizing good reports because it re-clarifies what
      we’re all trying to achieve with practical, tangible examples of what a good
      report looks like. It also makes the authors feel really great and motivated
      to continue doing things right. Note also that the publicizing activity needs
      to be done in the trenches, with content providers, not just with middle
      management.

   3. Middle managers should actively challenge. There needs to be a
      review process that is executed religiously. During this review process,
      every week, middle management should be sending updates back to
      authors for clarification / improvement. Content providers need to be
      reminded month-to-month not to slip into triviality or bureaucracy. Middle
      management should be responsible for messaging and a consistent team
      voice and needs to take its editorial role seriously.

   4. Leaders need to listen and ask smart, informed questions. It’s not
      just about proving that reports are being read, and we don’t want to turn
      this into a time-consuming inquisition. But the purpose of reporting is a
      conversation that leads to a more honed, strategically-aligned operation.
      That conversation must be two way or it doesn’t work. Leaders and other
      stakeholders need to play their parts by reading reports critically and
      reaching out to use the information.
5. Leaders and managers should personally forward, liberally. Of
      course, the report in question will be sent to stakeholders as part of the
      standard process of syndication. However, to reinforce the import, and to
      facilitate a more meaningful discussion, leaders and managers should be
      personally forwarding the report, with commentary, to relevant individuals
      who might not have read the report the first time around (cc’ing relevant
      content providers). We need to respect the fact that in today’s information
      ocean, it is natural that people put up barriers to protect against
      organizational SPAM. A personal approach such as, “Hey John, I wanted
      to draw your attention to the 2nd bullet in Section 2. Is this something you
      can help with?” has dramatic power to break through the natural defenses
      against email that lead to the false negative habit of “delete without
      reading”.

In short, don’t ask for a report unless you are prepared to spend the time
required to engage and make use of it in a dialog.

3.2 Editors must add value
As the business manager, it is your job to make sure that the leaders, managers
and other stakeholders reading reports are critically digesting them and engaging
in meaningful discourse as a result. For that to work, you cannot allow yourself to
become a nag to content providers or a mailman to stakeholders. You need to
be a conversation facilitator.

In that role, you have a few important tasks:

   1. Edit, cull, and challenge. The business manager is the immediate editor.
      Far from being a dumb collator, the business manager is the on-the-
      ground shepherd of the team’s messages. In this role, business
      managers should be making choices about what is publish-worthy and
      what is inappropriate as well as what is ready for prime time and what
      requires another round of word-smithing. If a content provider submits a
      report that doesn’t make sense to you or doesn’t have a clear value, send
      it back and ask for a better update.

   2. Be clear about quality expectations. You should publish your
      expectations for the team and include examples of good reports as
      reference material. The key comms messages should be defined in a
      publically available Comms Plan that includes a description of
      stakeholders and an analysis of what we want those stakeholders to
      “think, feel, and do” as a result of our communications with them. If
      possible, make sure you send all of your content providers to a good
      business writing class.
That said, although I think everyone should be fluent in business writing
       techniques, my personal view is that content providers can write “well
       enough” by just following 2 simple rules:

       1) Make sure that you report only what really matters. Create
          conversations that need to happen in the organization. Don’t fill up the
          slide with bullets to prove that you are working hard. Explicitly explain
          why the reader should care about the update. Reference actual
          business value.

       2) Assume readers have no idea of what you are talking about, Avoid
          acronyms and take a bit of time to explain basic background so that
          the update is stand-alone.

       Oh, one more thing. As a business manager, you should be a master of
       business writing and editorial yourself. Buy a book, go on a course, just
       master the art and craft (98% craft) of good business writing. It’s not
       actually that hard.

   3. Remove barriers. For one, have a clear, transparent, and unchanging
      schedule and format. People need to plan around communication. They
      need to juggle other communications streams, they need to schedule time
      to syndicate with the right people, and they may be so far downstream
      from you that you don’t even know they are doing this! Same goes for
      reporting templates. If possible, remove style sheet decisions so content
      providers need only worry about text and can repurpose their text without
      a bunch of formatting work. Remember, your job is to remove barriers.
      Take away anything you find that gets in the way of fluid conversations.

   4. Be patient and positive, but persistent. People are going to miss
      deadlines, forget about you, not read the comms plan, ask FAQ questions
      despite the big FAQ link on the team reporting website, get cranky, slip
      quickly into trivial bullets, and do any number of other fairly frustrating
      things. Give them a break. They are human and they are really, really,
      really busy. At the same time, don’t let your content providers push you
      around. Make sure that they know that the best way to get you to stop
      chasing them is just to deliver the work. And, be very careful with name
      and shame. Use it only when it is absolutely necessary as it is a powerful
      weapon that can easily backfire.

Alright, that’s all I’ve got to say for the moment. Remember, it is not about any
particular tip or trick, but about a change in mindset that involves more than just
you. Good luck.

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Advice on producing_great_status_reports

  • 1. ADVICE ON HOW TO PRODUCE GREAT STATUS REPORTS Selena Sol selena@selenasol.com http://www.selenasol.com/selena http://www.slideshare.net/selenasol Because my group in the office had some success this year with defining and executing a Comms plan, several times over the last few months, I’ve been asked by business managers from other groups for advice on how to create successful status / progress reports & newsletters. They are usually looking for best practices that I can share. Frankly, although I can certainly propose a few best-practice / tips and tricks, the reality is that good reporting requires a mindset / organizational philosophy change more than executing “10 best practices”. So, in this thread, I’ll try to communicate the mindset that business managers should be trying to help develop – and, OK, at the end, I’ll suggest a few tricks. 1. STATUS REPORTS SUCK Nobody likes to write status reports. Common complaints include: 1. Nobody actually reads what I write 2. I don’t have time 3. I write too many reports already If you are a business manager responsible for reporting, and you want to get the support that you need from content providers, you must first recognize that all of these complaints are absolutely legitimate. 1.1 Nobody reads it You know it yourself. The reality is that many, even most, stakeholders will not read your reports. Some just won’t have time. Some just won’t have interest. And some have learning / communication styles that don’t benefit from reports. And tragically, these tend to be the negatively vocal stakeholders – the ones who reinforce the frustration felt by content providers, the ones who ask for an update in a meeting after you have already given an update in the report that they received yesterday – arghhhhh! Of course, the truth is that while not everyone reads a given report, it is not true that nobody reads it. And even if only 10% of the audience actually reads the report, you can still get clear organizational Return on Investment (ROI) from reporting - especially for reports that cover big, multi-million dollar projects. If only one reader per year finds a gem that leads to a project change, or a cross-
  • 2. divisional insight, or a risk-mitigation, the impact for the firm can be far greater than the time-cost of reporting. I’ll come back to this point later on, but the key to reporting ROI is to make sure that, 1) reporting cost is minimal through process streamlining, 2) benefit per reader is maximized by having strong, engaging, useful, targeted content and active readership, and 3) your editorial and distribution process ensures that your report is engaging enough so that you drive 10% readership to 12%, and then 12% to 20%, and so-on. So while the frustration felt by report authors as a result of low readership is real, legitimate, and unavoidable, there is a bigger, albeit subtle, picture and a very real long-tail benefit that should not be overlooked, and can hopefully help to ease the sense of justified frustration. 1.2 I don’t have time You’ve got to have empathy. Our teammates really don’t have time. They are working like mad to keep up with day-to-day firedrills and driving month-to-month strategic deliverables – actually delivering stuff - not the cool stuff you want for reports, but all of the gunk that makes up 85% of everyone’s day. So adding even a 15-minute per week administrative burden is not as trivial for them as it might seem to you. Now, this is a particularly tough reality for business managers because your content providers are going to be grouchy and they are going to complain about you behind your back. Such is your life as a business manager. All you can do are two things: First, make the process of reporting as easy as possible, and sometimes this means extra work for you in templating, editorial, collaborating with other report requestors, or creating streamlined content management systems & processes. Second, you have to buck up and live with the grouchiness. Sorry, there is no magic pill here. You just need to have empathy and don’t take it personally when your content providers vent at you. Their pain is real, and you probably can’t help much. Stay positive but persistent. Try to catch yourself when chasing invariably transforms quietly into nagging. And this process of degradation, from chasing to nagging, is entropic, so you’ll always, for the rest of your career, have to watch yourself and adjust, no matter how good you get. 1. 3 Too many reports! And finally, it is true, especially for a regional staff function (ie: CTO, COO, Risk and Security, SCM, HR, Legal, etc) which sits within a 4-dimensional matrix of
  • 3. stakeholders, each with very different MIS needs, that our teammates will be stuck in a vortex of competing, semi-repetitive, but necessarily and unavoidably slightly different reporting. For example, in APAC, each of our heavily matrixed team members needs to report to the 1) APAC staff organization, 2) Global staff organization, 3) Regional BU-Aligned organization, 4) Global BU-aligned staff organization, 5) individual project streams and 6) the Regional management. That means a minimum of 6 reports, often on different publication schedules, often with different formats, and often with different MIS requirements and required levels of granularity. If it took 30 minutes per week to write, edit, syndicate, approve, and publish each report, then that would be almost 1/3 of a day per week for each of your content providers. What’s worse is that this complex matrix of reports cannot be streamlined because of real, unavoidable, legitimate organizational constraints. Each of the stakeholders really does need a slightly different take on the same material because they have different roles in the firm. And every stakeholder really cannot change the scheduling due to dependencies. And finally, every stakeholder needs a different format because medium and message are linked. So we’re all stuck with it. That is why matrix management, though powerful and probably unavoidable for a multi-national company, is expensive. All this is to say that, at the end of the day, from the perspective of a content provider, the one who has to write the report, status reports suck. 2. BUT STATUS REPORTS ARE REQUIRED At the same time, if you sit down with any individual content provider over a brew, most understand the need for status reporting, both for themselves and their careers as well as for the team and the firm. So, while status reports will continue to suck, there should be an understanding that they need to get done. In fact, there are 4 real, tangible, organizational needs that justify reporting and which you should remind your content providers about as much as possible: 1. Compliance, audit, and governance 2. Organizational learning 3. Personal discipline 4. Marketing 2.1 Doing things right More and more, firms need to be able to demonstrate to regulators and to internal / external auditors that their governance and project execution are well controlled. As a baseline, this means consistent and meaningful documentation
  • 4. and communication. Reporting forms a minimum acceptable standard that auditors and regulators require. Without consistent and complete reporting, teams expose the firm to fines, or worse. Any auditor’s first port of call will be communication and decision-making mechanisms. And this makes sense. If one understands the core function of good corporate governance and controls, it is easy to understand why regulators and auditors are looking for this collateral. Proper reporting is key to a mature organization’s ability to do, to decide, to reflect, and to learn (think CMM, TOGAF, PMBOK, CoBIT, etc). Reporting is one of a few foundational mediums needed to create and foster conversations – they are a mechanism to drive accountability and allow opportunities for stakeholders to challenge. Without reports, inter-organizational teams are blind, uncoordinated, and prone to bad group-level decision-making. Of course, this is not to say that team meetings, townhalls, enterprise social networks, or other mediums are not also required. Good conversations in any organizational require a multi-media approach to reflect the diversity of learning styles and interests of stakeholders. But at the end of the day, reports must be in place as a baseline control. Reporting is just a part of doing a good job these days. It is not something ‘extra’. 2.2 Organizational Learning But communication is not just about accountability and decision-making. Perhaps more importantly, communication is about making the organization more effective by facilitating information flow and maintaining organizational memory, independent of people. The velocity and quality of information flowing through an organization’s veins is a powerful predictor of innovation, cross-silo efficiency (leveraging) and effectiveness (synergy), client focus, employee engagement, and ‘network’ effectiveness. Simply put, the more we share, the more creative, empowered, and smart we are in our jobs, and the happier we are doing them. But, and we’ll talk more about this later, turning communication into conversations requires active effort from the reporters and the readers. If we lecture to a sleeping lecture theatre, then we lose a significant portion of potential value. Reporting only works effectively if we have active and engaged readers. 2.3 Personal Discipline
  • 5. Listen, writing a report is kind’ve like eating your veggies and doing those 20 more sit-ups. It’s annoying and unpleasant, but we all have this deep-down realization that we need to do it because it makes us more healthy. Reporting makes us more healthy because, when done right, it forces us to reflect. Reporting requires that we take a moment to pause from doing and ask ourselves critical questions like, “Of all the things I am doing, what actually matters the most? Am I spending my time on those things, or on other, perhaps less important, things? Who are the stakeholders (readers) that I am working for? Is what I am doing aligned to their goals or have I accidentally strayed? How can I explain what I am doing to someone who might need to know, but who currently doesn’t know anything about what I am doing?” Reflection is key to being a human because once sufficiently fed, animals need to learn. I caution against an organizational philosophy that says, “Don’t waste time reporting. Just get on with it!” People cannot simply do. They need to reflect. They need to reflect. Now, that does not mean that people become reporting machines, chugging out volumes of bullet points. But it does mean that some reporting is good. Without it, and I know you know this is true, we would get caught up in the firedrills and fail to take time to reflect. As a result, we’d be much less effective as individuals or as a firm. 2.4 Marketing Last, but certainly not least, like it or not, all organizations are political environments. As such, marketing becomes a key tool in developing a team or developing an individual’s organizational power and opportunities for expansion or for developing an individual’s career. When people ask the inevitable question, “So what has team X done for the business lately,” whether it is time for promotions & compensations or time for retrenchments, you want to hear loud and consistent cries of, “they are busy doing meaty, meaningful, mission-critical things” from the throng. While good stakeholder management is much more than reports, good reports are a key tool in the activity, especially when it comes to secondary or tertiary stakeholders. Now, just a note. Be careful that reports do not become a justification for employment. We’ll discuss this later, but “good’ reports are the starting points (or continuations) of great conversations with stakeholders. I’d rather have a content provider give me 3 really interesting sentences rather than a whole slew of
  • 6. meaningless page-filling bullets. It is perfectly fine for reports to be short, so long as they are sweet. It is never about quantity of items. Finally, from a less Machiavellian perspective, reporting is also important because it allows you to drive out messages, make sure that your function is understood, solicit feedback, engage the larger firm, and attract collaboration. Especially for a team like CTO which is almost always misunderstood, reporting affords the opportunity to make the team real and tangible to all the other teams out there beavering away at their little corner of the universe. When people understand you, not only are they less threatened, but they understand when to engage you and they feel more encouraged to do so. 3. GIVEN ALL THIS, HOW DOES A BUSINESS MANAGER GET GOOD REPORTS? At this point, I hope it is clear that while seemingly sucky, reports are necessary, even, dare I say, good, for an organization. So the real question is how do we achieve “good” reporting? Returning to a point made above, good reports are all about Return on Investment. If we were analyzing the ROI of a business, we’d say: Profit = Revenue - Cost. In the case of reporting ROI, maybe we can say, Value = Benefit – Cost In addition, if we understand Cost as Cost to Produce + Cost to Distribute + Cost to Consume, then we have: Value = Benefit – (CP + CD +CC) Further, if Cost to Produce is actually the Cost to Write plus the Cost to Rewrite (as needed) across each content providers plus the Cost to Edit and Cost to Format and the Cost to Manage the whole production process for the editor, we have: Value = Benefit – [(Σ(CW + CR) + [(CE + CF + CM) + CD + CC]] Then, if Cost to Consume includes all the consumers, you would have: Value = Benefit – [(Σ(CW + CR) + [(CE + CF + CM) + CD +(Σ(CC))] Now, if we also understand Benefit as a function of quality and a function of relevance across the summation of all the report consumers, we then have: Value = Σ[f(Q) * f(R)] – [(Σ(CW + CR) + (CE + CF + CM)) + CD +(Σ(CC))]
  • 7. Once you understand this basic formula, you should have a good idea of what you need to do as a business manager. That is what I meant when I said earlier that good reporting is a philosophy, not a collection of best practices. As a business manager, there is no best way to get good reporting. The goal is to optimize the formula above, and the method depends on your context as the variables in the formula will depend on your situation. As such, as a business manager hoping to get high reporting value, you need to be optimizing the following variables: Σ (1) & Σ (3) The total number of content consumers is a balance between value and cost. You need to find the right balance that gives you maximum returns. f(Q) Quality of submissions. The contributions follow business writing best practices f(R) Content is relevant. It is written at the right granularity, with the right amount of detail and cover strategically aligned content that drives good conversations and decision making Σ (2) The total number of content providers should be minimal while still achieving quality and relevance CW The Cost to Write is minimal CR Cost to Rewrite is minimal CE Cost to Edit is minimal CF Cost to Format is minimal CM Cost to Manage is minimal CD Cost to Distribute is minimal CC Cost to Consume is minimal However, as promised, I have a few ideas from our experience in APAC CTO that may, or may not, be of value.  1. Report readers must be active 2. Editors must add value 3.1 Report readers must be active From my experience, and this is a hard truth for an organization and its leaders, the reason most reporting is bad is because the readers, not the writers, are lazy and passive. Imagine that you are in a conference room, laying your heart and soul on the table, going through a presentation that you worked hard to complete about a project that reflects a good chunk of your time at work. Now imagine that as you speak, everyone in the room is busily tip tapping on their smart phones, totally ignoring you, at least seemingly. How would you feel? How well would you prepare for the next presentation?
  • 8. Well, reports are the same. If the audience is silent and unengaged, report writers will quickly disengage as well. So if you tell me that you are having a hard time getting your teammates to submit content for a report, I will tell you to stop pestering your team, and instead give your team manager a smack on the back of the head – because the problem probably lies there. If management wants good reporting, managers must visibly and consistently make reporting a priority. Here are some good ways to do so… 1. Leaders should make good reporting a formal, compable, objective of every individual on the team. It may be a small % of everyone’s comp, but it needs to be recognized as a priority in people’s formal objectives, and it needs to be part of the comp discussions at the end of the year. At the end of the day, people are fairly simple creatures. They need to know in black and white terms that reporting is a priority and they need to see that the organization is not just paying lip service to the idea. 2. Leaders should hold middle managers accountable for the quality of their reports. I’m not personally a big fan of scolding those who don’t deliver. Instead, good reports need to be publically praised, often. Leaders should be publicizing good reports because it re-clarifies what we’re all trying to achieve with practical, tangible examples of what a good report looks like. It also makes the authors feel really great and motivated to continue doing things right. Note also that the publicizing activity needs to be done in the trenches, with content providers, not just with middle management. 3. Middle managers should actively challenge. There needs to be a review process that is executed religiously. During this review process, every week, middle management should be sending updates back to authors for clarification / improvement. Content providers need to be reminded month-to-month not to slip into triviality or bureaucracy. Middle management should be responsible for messaging and a consistent team voice and needs to take its editorial role seriously. 4. Leaders need to listen and ask smart, informed questions. It’s not just about proving that reports are being read, and we don’t want to turn this into a time-consuming inquisition. But the purpose of reporting is a conversation that leads to a more honed, strategically-aligned operation. That conversation must be two way or it doesn’t work. Leaders and other stakeholders need to play their parts by reading reports critically and reaching out to use the information.
  • 9. 5. Leaders and managers should personally forward, liberally. Of course, the report in question will be sent to stakeholders as part of the standard process of syndication. However, to reinforce the import, and to facilitate a more meaningful discussion, leaders and managers should be personally forwarding the report, with commentary, to relevant individuals who might not have read the report the first time around (cc’ing relevant content providers). We need to respect the fact that in today’s information ocean, it is natural that people put up barriers to protect against organizational SPAM. A personal approach such as, “Hey John, I wanted to draw your attention to the 2nd bullet in Section 2. Is this something you can help with?” has dramatic power to break through the natural defenses against email that lead to the false negative habit of “delete without reading”. In short, don’t ask for a report unless you are prepared to spend the time required to engage and make use of it in a dialog. 3.2 Editors must add value As the business manager, it is your job to make sure that the leaders, managers and other stakeholders reading reports are critically digesting them and engaging in meaningful discourse as a result. For that to work, you cannot allow yourself to become a nag to content providers or a mailman to stakeholders. You need to be a conversation facilitator. In that role, you have a few important tasks: 1. Edit, cull, and challenge. The business manager is the immediate editor. Far from being a dumb collator, the business manager is the on-the- ground shepherd of the team’s messages. In this role, business managers should be making choices about what is publish-worthy and what is inappropriate as well as what is ready for prime time and what requires another round of word-smithing. If a content provider submits a report that doesn’t make sense to you or doesn’t have a clear value, send it back and ask for a better update. 2. Be clear about quality expectations. You should publish your expectations for the team and include examples of good reports as reference material. The key comms messages should be defined in a publically available Comms Plan that includes a description of stakeholders and an analysis of what we want those stakeholders to “think, feel, and do” as a result of our communications with them. If possible, make sure you send all of your content providers to a good business writing class.
  • 10. That said, although I think everyone should be fluent in business writing techniques, my personal view is that content providers can write “well enough” by just following 2 simple rules: 1) Make sure that you report only what really matters. Create conversations that need to happen in the organization. Don’t fill up the slide with bullets to prove that you are working hard. Explicitly explain why the reader should care about the update. Reference actual business value. 2) Assume readers have no idea of what you are talking about, Avoid acronyms and take a bit of time to explain basic background so that the update is stand-alone. Oh, one more thing. As a business manager, you should be a master of business writing and editorial yourself. Buy a book, go on a course, just master the art and craft (98% craft) of good business writing. It’s not actually that hard. 3. Remove barriers. For one, have a clear, transparent, and unchanging schedule and format. People need to plan around communication. They need to juggle other communications streams, they need to schedule time to syndicate with the right people, and they may be so far downstream from you that you don’t even know they are doing this! Same goes for reporting templates. If possible, remove style sheet decisions so content providers need only worry about text and can repurpose their text without a bunch of formatting work. Remember, your job is to remove barriers. Take away anything you find that gets in the way of fluid conversations. 4. Be patient and positive, but persistent. People are going to miss deadlines, forget about you, not read the comms plan, ask FAQ questions despite the big FAQ link on the team reporting website, get cranky, slip quickly into trivial bullets, and do any number of other fairly frustrating things. Give them a break. They are human and they are really, really, really busy. At the same time, don’t let your content providers push you around. Make sure that they know that the best way to get you to stop chasing them is just to deliver the work. And, be very careful with name and shame. Use it only when it is absolutely necessary as it is a powerful weapon that can easily backfire. Alright, that’s all I’ve got to say for the moment. Remember, it is not about any particular tip or trick, but about a change in mindset that involves more than just you. Good luck.