Reporting: Are you getting what you need from it?

06/15/17

Reporting is unquestionably a necessary activity for most businesses. Unfortunately, it’s often viewed as a tiresome requirement rather than a product that you can – and should – expect to benefit your business. Whether it’s a required annual report to your board of directors, or a voluntary corporate social responsibility report, you’re likely investing significant resources in its creation. Yet after it’s been created, reviewed, revised, updated, and delivered to your target audience, most reports just gather dust on a shelf (or on a cloud server). Current research tells us that such an outcome is a significant missed opportunity. Rather than treat it like a necessary drain on your resources, let’s look at some of the things that may be preventing you from getting a quality return on your investment.

  1. Into the void – One common mistake is forgetting to tailor your report to your target audience. Not having a specific audience in mind when creating a report often results in a scattered document that doesn’t effectively communicate your message. This issue can be compounded by not having a clear plan for delivering your report to your target audience.

    What we’ve learned:
    Keeping your intended audience front-of-mind from the outset, along with your plan for engaging them, can help you deliver an effective and focused message that resonates with the people you need to reach.
     
  2. Generation of skeptics – Today’s world is over saturated with white-washing, green-washing, and every other color in the washing rainbow. Millennials in particular can be acutely aware when they are being sold something that is “too good to be true.”

    What we’ve learned:
    A little honesty goes a long way. Be candid with your audience, both about your accomplishments and your areas that still have room to improve.
     
  3. Lost in translation – You probably have intelligent, knowledgeable people writing your reports, and your audience is probably knowledgeable as well, but those two groups don’t always share the same background knowledge. Research shows that one of the top reasons readers disengage with reports is that they simply don’t understand the content. It may be too complex, too dense with information, or simply not delivered in an easy-to-absorb format.

    What we’ve learned:
    Less can be more. Highlighting digestible bits of information in an engaging way can make your reader feel welcomed rather than overwhelmed. Avoiding overly technical language when plainer language would still get your message across will also help ensure that your key points don’t get lost in industry jargon.
     
  4. Memory of a goldfish – In a world of Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram, distributing a report once and then never mentioning it again until next year can result in a dilution in the impact of the message you worked so hard to distill.

    What we’ve learned:
    Continuous engagement campaigns that point your audience back to your key messages can be much more effective than one-time distribution. Whether it’s through email, social media, or physical newsletters, it’s a good idea to reinforce your key points over time.
     
  5. Who are you to talk? Finally, establishing credibility with your audience is critical. Building a reputation for your organization goes beyond making a statement once a year. Brands like Patagonia, Stumptown, and Novo Nordisk continually invest in updating their audience on the progress they are making toward their goals.

What we’ve learned:
Walking the walk will get you much farther than talking the talk. Share your progress toward the goals you set out in your reports with your stakeholders, and also let them know where you have more work to do. Being candid is an excellent way to earn trust, continue engagement, increase credibility, and ultimately build loyalty.


You should expect your reporting to be a useful and meaningful communication tool to keep your stakeholders informed and engaged in all the great things your organization does during the year. Focusing on your audience rather than just the information to be captured will ensure you receive a great return on your investment in quality reporting.

Rebecca Nelson
Rebecca Nelson

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