How good is the reporting inside your organization? Before answering that, consider the following:
Do you have the right information when you need it? Do events occur inside the organization that require custom reports / queries and analysis? Seriously, it’s a rhetorical question, this probably happens almost all the time in many organizations. The real issue is, are there bottlenecks to get the data and / or do the required analysis? If so, it either delays decisions getting made (potentially bad) or leads to decisions made based on gut instead of facts (also potentially bad).
Is the information accurate, are there debates as to the integrity of the information? For instance, if similar data come from two different sources, there are opportunities for confusion and distraction. For instance, if one set of sales reports aggregates information differently from how it flows in the general ledger, the “financial statements” might not agree with what someone else thinks are the “official numbers.” These inconsistencies can easily derail meaningful conversations about the important issues at hand.
Are reports received timely enough? I have seen clients distribute financial statements to management 3 weeks after month end, because that is the deadline for submission to the bank. While it may be fine to submit to the lender at that point, perhaps management should be reviewing those same statements within a week of the month end, not another 10+ days later.
Do people understand what they are looking at? Not everyone is trained in understanding and interpreting financial statements – it is key that people understand what is being presented in their reports. Having financial ratios that finance types understand, but no one else can follow, are not going to be helpful for anyone outside of the finance department. Sometimes it takes modifications to how the data is presented, for instance, some people prefer charts instead of looking at tables.
Do your teammates have the right information? In other words, can you say for certain whether or not they are getting what they need? If another group has a problem, you should care because it may translate into a problem for you down the road. Just because you only coach the offense, you should be concerned if special teams doesn’t have the right resources, at the end of the day, the team record is most important.
Is there a distinction between data and information in your reporting? A listing of the sales for the month is a bunch of data, but a summary by product, with a comparison to the budget, that provides information. A long list of data points doesn’t spur a call to action. A summary that shows product A is 20% below plan while product B is 15% above plan can elicit a bunch of questions, drive a discussion, and allow the team to manage through problems and opportunities.
Are reports easy to replicate and produce? Information generated automatically, or with a mouse-click, directly from one master ERP is ideal, however, sometimes band-aid approaches are required to get the ball rolling. I witnessed one organization where the top finance person spent 45 minutes every day producing a report for the CEO (and only the CEO). This individual was working 50 hours per week and did not need filler work. This obviously was indicative of a lot of other underlying issues, but that time wasted was an impediment to accomplishing more valuable work.
Are there reports you receive that you never look at? Unnecessary reporting could represent wasted time, higher expenses, and unnecessary distractions. Early in my career, I worked at what is now Chase, when Jamie Dimon was hired. He held a town hall event for several thousand employees and while he was listing various forms of waste, he mentioned that he received a report every day that was over 100 pages long that he did not look through.
If you cannot easily answer yes to any of the questions above (except for the last one), then it might be worthwhile to do an assessment of the reporting inside your firm. Next week, we will look at reporting frequency and various components that should be considered.