Who Reads Your Report

With the EOFY comes ‘reporting season’ and for finance professionals that means preparing and delivering an array of reports. How many times do we think and hear that line ‘ I wonder if they ever read it?’ When you unpack this thought there a number of issues here, firstly who are ‘they’, secondly and most importantly, is the ‘it’ – just what is ‘it’ your audience wants? And when you break this right down it is simply about one thing – effective communication.

It is surprising how many reports do not end up being read. Why is that? A key observance I have found is that report writers forget their audience – they end up writing the report for themselves and in many cases simply as ‘just another task within the reporting cycle’. Look at it from the other side – you are a busy executive and sit on a Board. Many directors have full time roles outside of their Board duties…and that means not a lot of spare time! How would you feel when you only have a two hour review window and firstly the report is late and secondly it is ten plus pages with a mass of detailed figures? My guess is that before you even begin to read this paper you approach it with disdain!

The one key rule is to make it concise, ask any director – the reports they read are usually the short ones. A short report that delivers the key messages is a skill that I assure you will carry you in high regard. I remember a boss who used to declare that ‘the thickness of an audit file is inversely proportional to the auditor’s intelligence’ – this rule translates so well to writing and delivering reports. Who wants to read endless paragraphs of waffle? Just get to the point. Effective reports use a combination of text, images, tables and graphs to communicate the issues. Reports that are text heavy will always struggle to obtain enthusiastic attention. Conversely a report that is full of figures and tables without any explanation will also struggle for attention and draws the obvious question; – ‘What does this all mean?’ So your first rule – keep it short, keep it sharp and stick to the key messages.

The next question is content – i.e. the message – just exactly what is our message and what should we be reporting on? A trap for young players again is not to appreciate your audience and write from your immediate perspective. Remember the key is to know your audience – who is your audience and what are they looking for? In many cases you will be writing for your board. Remember the Boards are the custodians of strategy. They want to know how the business is progressing with their strategy. Sure it is important to communicate operational matters of significance but don’t fall into the trap of reporting operational performance exclusively. A good report translates operational performance to strategic performance. A great report will provide answers to the progress and effectiveness of the strategy.

Effective report writing is a skill that is essential in the corporate warrior’s toolkit – if you aspire to that C suite role and beyond you need to be able to communicate and deliver your messages so that your audience appreciates, respects and acts upon them. Otherwise you are really treading water. And that means your report is probably going unread. There are many more tips and tricks of effective reporting the above are just two of them. If you are interested in more you should check out our effective reporting course here >