Although business reports can be valuable in helping your company to keep track of progress and stay on top of the numbers, way too often companies waste excessive amounts of time building them and compromising the attention paid to other areas of the business.
Think about it – how much time does your team spend on reporting every month? Days? Maybe even weeks? Well, this could be having some serious impacts on your company's success.
In this article I will clarify the issues surrounding a focus on report writing, to shed light on how you can better your company's future by shifting your priorities to the present and future, and moving on more quickly from the past.
The first big question to tackle is why focusing on report writing can be so counterproductive to the progress and success of your business, and I've got three main answers.
1. More time spent on reporting = less time reaching your goals
The main answer is the huge amount of time dedicated to producing these documents. To reiterate my above point, there are only four weeks in a month, and if you spend three of them buried under last month's numbers that leaves very little time to focus on the present and future.
This unproductive balance of priority will leave you in a never-ending cycle of report writing that won't actively contribute to the future of your company; you may be clued-up on your company's progress, but you won't have enough time left to focus on the areas of your business that really matter.
Put it this way – reports don't influence your customers, they're simply pages of data you produce for your own reference. Is it, then, really worth sacrificing three quarters of your time to produce these documents if it means neglecting the needs of your customers? Definitely not.
Your customers do not care how amazingly in-depth your reports are. Think about this.
2. Reporting is a waste of time in modern businesses who have little need for it
On top of this, regular reporting is also something of an antiquated practice. When organisations were more vertically structured, reporting was a useful way to keep top execs informed about business progress and setbacks.
But today, with company hierarchies becoming flatter and flatter, senior execs are much more integrated in the day-to-day activities of their team. Open plan offices, all hands meetings and other modern ways of working mean that interaction with information and exchange of thoughts happens on a daily basis rather than once a month for 2 hours.
3. Your reports have to be smart and automated
It's also worth considering whether your employees actually read and understand said reports. Skimming through a complicated business document can be confusing, and doesn't allow questions to be asked or feedback to be given.
In most cases, each employee only wants to see two slides from a 3-hour presentation. What's the point of having them sit in a meeting room waiting to see those slides?
Moreover, in the modern age of technology, how is it that companies are ok with their smartest employees wasting time on drawing powerpoint slides? Your reports need to be automated and when I say automated, I don't mean a 1,000 graph printout (I've seen those examples in some big big firms)
Be smart with identifying what your key metrics and objectives are. Set up your tech to give you these in a seamless automated way. Buy yourself time.
Moving away from monotonous reporting is hands down one of the best things you can do for your business this year.
The ultimate goal of your business is to gain long-term success, right? Well this lies in predicting the best steps to take next rather than being stuck in a rut of past facts and figures.
Companies (particularly small ones) must constantly grow and evolve in order to be successful, so reporting on last month's numbers shouldn't be your main priority if you're looking to develop.
Technology is probably the best example to emphasise this idea: if tech companies didn't look towards the future and predict upcoming trends and innovation, their progress would stagnate and they'd be overtaken by competitors who have managed to successfully occupy the space.
BlackBerry's downfall is probably the most obvious example. Famous for their once hugely successful qwerty-keyboard smartphones, BlackBerry were forced to stop producing their own phones in 2016 after they failed to keep up and compete with the adapting market.
The company failed to look ahead and cater for the consumers' desires for the sleek, touch screen phones being produced by Apple and Google, and instead continued to push for sales of their products, despite the drop in demand.
BlackBerry focussed on their past sales figures and popularity rather than keeping up with current trends and envisioning future changes in customer preference, leading to the downfall of their business.
While this example doesn't relate directly to focusing on business reports, the basic idea is the same: predicting the future, like Apple and Google were able to do with touch screen smartphones, will give you a much better shot at long-term success than dwelling on past numbers.
Channel your inner Apple and devote your time and brainpower to what's going on now – last month's pie charts won't make you into the market leaders in your field.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not blind to the fact that business reports can be a valuable tool to pull together a full, comprehensive idea of the performance and progress of your company, however it's obvious that there are better ways to stay on top of the data than wasting 75% of your time on reporting.
The solution, then, is all about ways to get around this lengthy process to make more space for you to focus on the present and the future, and allow you to wave goodbye to tedious reports.
I have three main solutions for you:
1. Produce shorter reports and automate
This might sound like a no-brainer, but if you don't think you can part with business reports completely, ditching those chunky documents for shorter, simpler alternatives will reduce the time needed to produce them.
This will make your reporting occupy a much smaller space in your monthly workload, leaving ample opportunity to focus on the here and now and work towards your goals.
If you're smart about it, your reporting time will become zero as your automated systems tell you the answers to your most pressing questions.
It's also worth putting more weight onto predictive data. By this I mean factor in changes you are looking to make to move towards your goals and how these changes might affect your business in the coming weeks or months. This will give any reports you do make more of a purpose, so you can use them to help, rather than hinder, your future success.
2. Replace your endless committee meetings with product workshops
One huge problem for large organisations is the sheer number of very important committees and groups that have to have monthly meetings, each requiring an extensive white paper, monitoring pack or analysis deck.
I'm talking about the Credit Committees, ExCo packs, Board packs, White papers, Marketing Committees, Product Committees, Commercial Team meetings and whatever else happens in your organisation.
You go through the month just about making the deadline for each of these meetings and once you're done, the next month starts and you're back in the hamster wheel.
How much duplication of work takes place? How much time does preparation for each of these take? How much difference does your customer feel after you've had these?
3. Take a step back from your routine and think about what your business actually needs
Chances are you're churning out business reports because every other company does it and you think it's what you're supposed to do, so my final piece of advice for you is to take a step back and ask yourself what you're actually gaining from your reports.
What does more for your company: your monthly business report, or that dedicated push by your employees to reach a goal you've been aiming for for weeks?
The short of it is that, whilst business reports can be useful, they're certainly not conducive to the success of your company, so gain a little perspective and don't be afraid to ditch this outdated practice.
The moral of the story is short and sweet: give your company space to prosper and grow by ditching, or drastically reducing, your business reporting.
By investing the time you'd usually spend on the reports on reaching your goals, you'll be on a much more direct path to long-term success. Easy.
Sasha is the Managing Director of Strategy Desk. His favourite food is the New Orleans gumbo and he has launched over 20 new banking products in the last 10 years.