One of the recent new buzzwords is “Big Data” and as technology progresses, all forms of data will continue to play a bigger and bigger role in our lives, especially in business. While the ability to access data and use it to make informed decisions is exciting, it is also challenging. It is getting easier to reach data overload and the dreaded “paralysis by analysis” – the state where you have so much data you just don’t know how to make a decision. As business owners, it is our responsibility to sift through all the data and identify the key points that drive our business. This is especially true if you have a management team in place that will also be reviewing the same data. What’s important to you will be important to them.
Financial reporting is critical to every successful business and a frequent, in-depth analysis of your income statement, balance sheet, and statement of cash flows should be happening. I am assuming that this is already happening in your business and we will not cover it. I am focusing on management reporting and how we should be using it to operate our business. I am going to look at three areas from a high level and hopefully create some thought-provoking items for you.
What should be in my reports?
Maybe the better question should be, “What shouldn’t be in my reports?” As we get access to more and more data, there is a tendency to continue to create more and more reports to capture that data. More is better, right? Not always. Like other things, there is a point of diminishing returns. If you have 20 reports available to your team, each with 5-20 different data points, how often do you really think they are using it effectively to evaluate the business? I encourage you to sit down with your team and identify the Key Performance Indicators for your business and design your reports around them. My recommendation is to keep your KPIs around 8 to 10 or fewer. More than that and my concern would be that some of the important data is not being seen. If your business has multiple divisions, you would probably have a unique set of KPIs for each division. Remember, your KPIs are the measurements that illustrate how your business is doing and the direction it is going.
Who Should Look At Reports?
I’m a fan of sharing data, so I would be in favor of everyone in the organization having access to management reports. What a great way to make sure everyone is focused on the same goals. This may not be comfortable for all business owners. I would suggest that, at a minimum, you provide relevant reports all the way up to the team members that are providing the service. It’s important for them to get feedback on their hard work. The other benefit of sharing reports with everyone is that it helps create a team environment. Also, take the extra step and have a training session with your team to make sure everyone understands what the reports say and how you can use reports to help the business. Don’t assume everyone understands the reports the way you do.
We’ve looked at the reports – now what?
Once you have reviewed your management reports, what do you normally do? Do you identify areas to focus on? Do some data points prompt you to look deeper? If you see a negative trend do you create a refresher training session? When you see a positive result, how often do you send out an email high-five to the team? Many times we are looking at data for negatives, when it could be used as a powerful motivator when results are good. It’s important to remember that data is just that – data. It’s your interpretation of the data that prompts action. How many times have you looked at results and come to one conclusion and then, after talking with your team, come to a different conclusion? Before taking any actions based on report data, you should ask yourself and your team if you have all the information needed to make the best possible decision. Only then should you consider making a change.
I encourage you to take a hard look at what reports you are currently using and talk to your team. Do your existing reports cover your KPIs correctly? Do you have reports that no one is looking at? Does your team understand what the reports are saying? This is a great opportunity to take a hard look at how you are measuring your progress and successes. It’s an even better time to align your entire team and make sure you all are focused on the same items. Management reports should encourage analysis, communication, and action. The other step I would encourage you to take is to start learning more about data analytics and how it can help your business. This is an evolving area of business that, if implemented correctly, will give some businesses a competitive advantage. Don’t get left behind.
If you would like a fresh set of eyes and perspective to help you and your team review your management reports or identify your KPIs, don’t hesitate to contact us. We are here to help you.
“My success, part of it certainly, is that I have focused in on a few things.” — Bill Gates