Meaningful Reporting: A Minimalist Approach

Organizations often talk about driving performance with the context being individuals, teams, units, and itself as a whole. The focus of this discussion is often on the measurement side. Managers and leaders discuss KPIs, or Key Performance Indicators, which are intended to allow them to see the ‘wood for the trees’ with the understanding that “what gets measured gets done.” This is certainly a part of the performance equation and choosing the right areas of focus for examination, measurement, and management can be a significant driver of organizational performance. However, if ensuring that records are kept and measurements taken is one half of the equation, the other is most certainly ensuring that this drive for measurement does not become an all consuming innovation killer. The temptation to record everything in today’s data driven society can create paralysis as managers overwhelmed by a level of detail never before available. This overwhelming deluge of data can drown an organization if it isn’t careful. It is critical for the organization to understand that its performance management system is in part intended to shield it from being overwhelmed by all of this complexity.

By understanding the push-pull of the various factors that make an organization go and measuring them, managers can focus on the right columns in the report instead of on adding columns to the chart. It is tempting for anyone who has ever developed a report for senior management to continue adding components to reports and presentations in order to expose the complexity that went into making them. You want to be recognized for all the hard work that went into developing the analysis or report that underpins an executive decision-making activity. However, particularly for reports that support daily or regular decision making activities, exposing this complexity should only happen when the report is designed or when executives change. Reports should be well documented in the sense that they should clearly underpin decisions, and each field and column should be scrutinized to ensure that it is not extraneous. I like to capture a visual of the report using a tool called Balsamiq. It enables the participants in the report or dashboard design workshop to stay focused on content and away from specifics like colors, etc. as shown below.

The questions answered by the report should be clearly be identified and preserved in order to ensure that the purpose behind the reporting is clearly understood. If an executive has questions or decisions that are not defined somewhere, it is very hard for support staff to ensure that the information necessary to support that activity occurs and is available.

I think that developing a performance management system that is open and clearly documented in this fashion enables each executive and manager to borrow from others in the organization. At the same it also exposes the system as a whole to analysis up and down the command structure in order to enable a review of the system in its entirety. Understanding how to develop and maintain these performance management systems is worth the time and effort, and it can be an enormous driver of organizational performance.

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