5 Ways to Pep Up Your Performance Reports

Last Updated Mar 9, 2010 12:56 PM EST

How much time do you spend preparing performance reports, and sitting in meetings discussing them? And of that time, what percentage do you estimate gives you a positive return on your investment?

Performance reports give managers and executives the misleading impression that they are in control. If someone in the organisation has gone to the trouble of measuring something and reporting it, then surely it's being managed, right?

Well, not necessarily.

What gets measured doesn't get done; it gets paid lip service. Too many organisations are drowning in data they never use, and too many managers spend time preparing reports that will never be read, let alone acted upon.
For example, a company I worked with produced a monthly 100-page management report, which required each department to comment on their performance and activities. And yet I couldn't find anyone who read anything other than the summary pages.

Worryingly, several important projects in the company were off-track, but because the status reports were hidden in the middle of this unread document no one had noticed that problems were mounting.

In another organisation I know managers spend most of Monday, and part of Tuesday, reviewing the previous week's performance. And, of course, that means that their teams also spend much of their time justifying small variations in performance that they couldn't possibly control.

So what's the solution? Here are my five recommendations:

  1. Don't develop performance measures or performance reports until you're clear on your objectives. Only when you've decided where you're headed is it worth tracking your progress on the route.
  2. Radically cut the size of your performance reports. If possible, get it on one page, and at the very tops, keep it to 5 pages or less if you want it to be read and acted upon.
  3. Use exception reports to highlight where major variations exist. Don't expect people to trawl through a huge report to find the interesting bit, highlight the exception upfront.
  4. If you're a manager, spend your time with customers and your delivery teams. You can't manage by remote control, and the deeper, qualitative understanding of the business you get by spending time on the front line helps you put any performance reports into context.
  5. Transform your performance review meetings from a series of bland updates, to a session where critical issues are highlighted and individuals or small groups are then given the accountability to sort them out. That should allow most meetings to be cut in half, at the very least.
In what ways do you think performance reports and meetings can be improved?
  • Stuart Cross

    Stuart Cross is a founder of Morgan Cross Consulting, which helps companies find new ways to drive substantial, profitable growth. His clients include Alliance Boots, Avon and PricewaterhouseCoopers.