Working with a new client recently has hammered home a few key points about how any team can take their business reports from good to great. This is especially critical if you have a new team, new report writing responsibilities in an existing team, or a team that is located around the globe.
As part of the project to improve their report writing abilities, I analysed the reports this new department had published so far. In parallel, I had in-depth conversations with management about the department’s role, their stakeholders and the desired impact of their reports on the organisation.
What I realized was that the same limitations and roadblocks that affect well-established teams as they write and publish business reports affected this department. Very often:
- A report template exists, but it is being used differently by the teams or team members within the department.
- Report writing guidance in the form of a manual doesn’t exist, or it exists but isn’t being used actively by members of the team.
- No official report writing ‘quality control mechanism’ exists within the department, except for the ‘chain of command’ review when a team is finalizing a report.
As a result, there is no consistent content, style, language or formality in the reports published.
This can be further complicated by having strict limitations on the length of reports. One recent conversation with a client went like this:
Me: “How long are your reports on average?”
Client: “Up to 30 pages, two pages maximum is allowed per topic, and the executive summary can only be one page long.”
Me: “I notice that risk to the business isn’t addressed in the executive summaries of half of the reports.”
Client: “That’s because we ran out of space, so we left it out.”
Me (in my head): Ouch.
Does any of this sound familiar? If it does, there are 3 easy steps that you can take to ensure your team’s business reports go from good to great:
1. Document internal guidelines
Document internal guidelines for business report writing that define the content required in each section of the report, common terms that should be used in your specific context, and style and formality requirements.
It’s okay to include desired length of sections, chapters and the full report, but these should be a guidelines. If team members are struggling to meet these limits, the underlying cause may not be report length, but critical thinking skills.
2. Conduct team training globally
Conduct team training globally to push out the new report writing guidelines. Such training is much easier these days because of the wonders of technology. Gone are the days of having to bring your entire team together physically.
It can also be helpful to provide the team with a report that is already written using the new guidelines. That way, your team has a model so they can see how the new guidelines work in practice. When the team is aware of and understands your expectations, they can meet them!
3. Get buy in from the top.
It’s important that the team’s top managers support the guidelines and contribute to having them taken on board. This might mean an encouraging email sent to all team members or a short introduction at the beginning of the training session.
Feedback will ensure the new guidelines are followed. I propose that as a team manager, you edit less, and instead, meet with your team member who wrote the report. Highlight where the report hits the mark, and where the report misses the report. Then send the team member off to make the necessary adjustments.
In no time at all, your team will be writing more consistent, professional, value-added reports. Your stakeholders will notice the improvement (remember, no news is good news, but positive feedback is great). And you’ll save time, because you aren’t the one actually making the revisions. Win, win, win!
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