A business update — or management report — is one of the most common reports that a leader will be asked to write, and it’s your chance to instil confidence and build trust. But the trap that some people fall into is writing a “busyness” report — that is, an account of all the things that are keeping them busy, which is not what your board or your boss is looking for.
What they want to know is whether you have a grasp of the key issues in your part of the business and whether you have the smarts to propose how best to tackle them. Your ability to pull the signal from the noise and plot a course through it, well, that’s great leadership — and that’s what your reader will be looking for.
The 4 simple (but powerful) questions that hold the key to a successful management report
Management reports go by different names — operational updates, performance reviews, or MI reports. Done well, they will build your readers’ confidence in you. And you know what? It has very little to do with how much good news you’re bringing to the table.
Most reports trip up on the same things. They don’t mention the flag on the hill they’re trying to achieve; they’re either too backwards-looking or it’s just a good news story. And, finally, they’re inconclusive — they don’t spell out whether you believe you’ll meet your goals or whether you need to course correct. To avoid these pitfalls and ace your report, there are four simple questions to address.
1. What are we trying to achieve?
Start by recapping your goals and how they support your organisation’s higher-level goals. Your reader will be interested in the big issues, so explaining how your area relates to them will motivate your reader to read on.
This sounds obvious, right? But, too often, it’s overlooked. As well as orienting your reader, it’s also your chance to connect with the “Why?”, with that flag on the hill that your hard work is striding towards.
2. How are we performing against our plan?
Split this into two areas:
- Where are we performing better than planned?
- And where are we performing less well than planned?
Just three to five key points for each area is enough. Don’t drown your reader, and don’t shy away from bad news; your reader will go searching for it if you don’t address it upfront. Confidence comes from talking about what you’re doing to address what went wrong.
And, with each of these points you cover, ask yourself, “So what?” What does it imply? And what are we doing in response?
3. What is our outlook?
Look to the future and talk about the opportunities and challenges. This is where the conversation is of most value to you. Engaging your reader by asking for their ideas, advice, and experience on your outlook can be really valuable.
4. What are the implications?
So, net-net, what is your confidence in the plan? Ask yourself, are there things that we should start, stop, or do differently?
All too often, leaders lean on the facts and leave out what they really think. But there’s no shortage of information these days; in fact, we’re drowning in it. So, what sorts the winners from the losers? Our ability to pull meaning from the noise and to identify the best way forward; you’re the expert and what you think matters.
And, because you’ve been balanced, you’ll inspire confidence; because you’ve expressed judgment in building on those facts, your audience will respect you.
If you found this useful, check back for other videos in this series and take a look at Lucia, our management reporting platform that helps you write brilliantly clever reports that spur your business to action.