Whether the executives you report to are your customer or internal, it’s important to be able to provide clear concise briefs. One mistake I’ve seen new managers/directors make in producing executive status reports is that they are simply too long, too wordy and too full of extraneous opinion. Possibly worthy of a Booker Prize nomination, but too much for an executive to have to wade through to in order to find out what’s really going on. How are they to see the forest for the trees, or the important trees for the forest?
Hopefully, in this day and age of learning how to tweet in 140 characters and visual reports (aka infographics), this is happening less and less. Executives are demanding to be “briefed”. And management reporting templates are now focusing on providing snapshots and dashboards.
For me, it speaks of ego and says more about the need of the producer to demonstrate their ability to express, than the concern about the need of the consumer to receive the message. After all communication is only good if it’s heard… that tree in the forest again.
Am I saying to write like this all the time? No. A great communicator demonstrates they have great skill by being able to change their writing based on the audience. I write very differently depending on the type of content I am producing: a status report, a blog post, a proposal, a functional document, my personal journal. For senior managers, this ability to change their writing style should be part of the set of honed soft skills they possess that are needed but not directly the main function of their job.
I like to call this type of report a Jack and Jill report, because in my humble opinion, the ageless nursery rhyme is the perfect example of an executive status report.
Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water
Jack fell down and broke his crown
And Jill came tumbling after
– 18th century nursery rhyme
It tells who was involved, what they were doing, why they were doing it, the incident that happened, and the impact or outcomes.
If you find it easier to write the longer report and then create an executive summary – then by all means do this. It’s good to have the details at hand if you are called upon to provide more detail on any of the points.
I honed the skill myself, when I was first asked as a PM to provide my executive sponsor reports as Powerpoint slides. Believe me, to represent the current status of a multi-million dollar complicated project in just 4-5 slides is an art. It’s good practice on how to be concise.
The way to be able to do this is to focus on the reports having the following characteristics – that they are brief, clear and complete.
As mentioned above, think of it as you are providing the executive with a briefing. You want to produce an overview that contains just the facts and not your opinions. Executives want to be left the room to draw their own conclusions, and like to have just the information laid out in front of them. (That is unless you are asked for an option report, something different from a status report.)
I find this also has the added benefit of doing the same for you. Sometimes when you create this type of objective report, you can often change your own opinions in the process, where if you wrote with pre-conceived outcome then you will never see it. As well, laying out all the facts artfully, can help lead their conclusions to be similar to yours.
It’s also good to practice speaking like this as well. I’ve had various conversations with “experts” who when you ask them a question, provide all the information up front as if they are trying to demonstrate their knowledge on the subject, and in the process never answer the question. It’s better to answer the question at hand, and let the inquisitor ponder and come up with the next question. Funny enough, it’s actually easier this way to lead a conversation towards what you want to say and the person asking the questions becomes more vested in your responses.
I tend to use brief and clear in the same breath, because it’s actually hard to do one without the also doing the other. For me, clarity is sacrificed when we continuously embellish, go on tangents or add opinion. Clarity in a status report comes from presenting the facts as they are.
Years ago, someone once told me in a pre-sales context that a good proposal document should be vague yet complete; high level enough to contain room for implementation, and yet complete enough to cover all the bases. While status reports shouldn’t be vague, I thought this was a good example of what I mean as completeness.
Basically you need to make sure that though things are brief, that you touch on all areas that need consideration. Don’t leave something out just to make the report brief.
So there we have it. In the wordy conversational style of a blog post…. To create a good executive status report, be brief, present the facts clearly and make sure your summary covers all areas that need to be addressed.