There is an absurdity in being simultaneously overwhelmed with data and yet struggling to access the information we need to do our jobs. Our experience shows that there are some relatively easy fixes.
Organisations spend a lot of time creating and reading reports. In the most complex organisations, managers spend up to 40% of their time writing reports1. And the number of reports being produced is growing – 40% more than 15 years ago1. This is not through stupidity or recklessness. We naturally create more reports as our priorities change, our leaders change, and as access to information continues to improve.
The trouble is that we are reporting a lot of information that people no longer need, or never needed in the first place. Store managers at a leading UK high-street retailer we worked with were suffering from an overload of head office reports. The worst part was that board members had to tape together various reports to make sense of them. We managed to reduce store reporting from 206 reports to 48, and the reports sent to store managers from 50 to 3. The time spent on creating and reading reports fell by over 50%. It was not through rocket science.
Following these 5 steps will clear out a large chunk of unnecessary reporting:
- Firstly, experiment. Stop sending reports and see what happens. You’ll quickly get a sense for what is essential (clearly be ready to send people the reports they do need!)
- Ask receivers what data or insights they actually need to do their jobs
- Compare their needs with the current collection of reports
- Stop those that are no-one needs at all. Simplify the others. For example, remove redundant data, focus on insights over data, format onto one visual page, focus on the 3-4 key data points
- Finally, coach people to create simple, easy to consume reports
To create an organisation that continues to report only high value information, you will need to challenge the underlying causes of the proliferation of reports. In our experience, this is usually due to a lack of trust. And this often leads to a desire to see every data point, and for creators to cover their backsides by sending everything. Instead, reporting needs to focuse on enabling us to better make decisions and manage risks.
But in the short-term, there is much time to create for more meaningful work. Just by following steps 1 to 5.
Not convinced that it is worth it? Spend five minutes calculating the cost of the time your people are spending creating and reading the reports you know of (hours spent by average person reading/writing x number of people x hourly pay).
Takeaway: We can address the challenge of being both drowning with data, and struggling to access the information we need to do our jobs. Clean up the reporting you currently have with 5 simple steps. And if you are brave, look at what is causing it to prevent it reappearing over time!
1 Six Simple Rules: How to Manage Complexity Without Getting Complicated, Morieux, Tollman, 2014 (book, and summary article)