In the Boardroom
Date: Friday, May 18, 2012, 6:00am EST
How to Create Business Reports that Will ImpressPremium content from The Business Journal - by Ruth Kinzey, Contributing writer
Updating your board of directors on a product launch? Telling your supervisor how the new labor model is working? Sharing results with the corporate office about a marketing campaign test? Providing data to your banker on how your expansion is paying off?
Any of these situations could require a written report. But, how effective are you in capturing salient information and packaging it in a format that will be helpful to those with whom you are communicating? To ensure your document effectively conveys the pertinent material and positions you as knowledgeable and strategic, try using the following tips:
Be Audience-Oriented. Sounds simple but this basic communication rule can never be overemphasized. Know your readers. Not just the “who” but also understand them. Do these individuals prefer the “50,000-foot version” but like to have the detail attached? Would they prefer critical details in a bullet point format? Then, develop your report accordingly.
Include an Executive Summary. Write a summary, especially if the report is lengthy. In the business world, a general introduction to a report is insufficient. A succinct overview is expected. Remember to keep it simple. The summary should contain the headlines, so don’t over communicate. The detail comes later.
Do Your Homework. Ever find you were “out of your league” because you didn’t understand fully all of the data you were to include in the report? If the report includes detail that originates from multiple sources, it is your job to ensure the contents are understandable. So, if you don’t understand the numbers, pie charts, schematics, or diagrams, ask the source. It is much better to gain an understanding from this individual, so the report - and you – can fully explain the subject matter rather than embarrassing yourself when you can’t respond to questions from report recipients.
Provide Context. You have an opportunity to demonstrate your strategic ability while helping your reader better understand the report. Don’t simply say that Easter sales are down. When did the holiday fall last year? If not in the same time frame, does it impact how the numbers are viewed?
Are your data sources reliable? If you are quoting market share numbers, are your statistics from sources the company values? Or, if you are offering comparisons, do they originate from a credible location? How current is your data? It may be tempting to use material easily accessed on the web, but unless you know the credentials of the source or understand how numbers were derived or information gathered and when, you may be misled and provide inaccurate information.
Delivering Bad News. It is always best to be honest. The report recipient will figure it out anyway, and the truth will surface. Plus, in today’s business world where transparency is valued, you keep your integrity intact by being straightforward.
Also, if you can turn the negative into a learning opportunity, you have the chance to position yourself as an effective problem solver. For example, if you have to say there was a miss on the amount of product ordered or the margin on a project didn’t turn out as planned, can you analyze the situation, see what went wrong and offer guidance as to how this situation can be avoided in the future? If so, you may have been able to show yourself positively, even if the situation itself is less than desirable.
Add Visuals. Use of pie charts, graphs and similar visuals can help to communicate the trends you describe in the written portion of the document. These act as a complement to – not a replacement of - your explanation. So, don’t think an executive summary followed by several graphics excuses you from the written analysis.
Proof. Although you must personally proof the report, enlist someone to review it as well. Another “set of eyes” can help locate transposed numbers, missing words, inappropriate spellings for words inserted by the spell checker and similar errors.
Finally, remember that your report is a reflection of you: your knowledge, your insight, your problem-solving abilities. So, don’t undermine your reputation as a thoughtful, thorough and savvy business person by taking a short-cut on report preparation.
Ruth Kinzey is a corporate reputation strategist, consultant, and professional speaker. Want to hear more about a specific topic? She can be reached at (704) 763-0754.
To read some of her blogs, go to the Resource page