What no one talks about is how hard it is to create one—the thousands of hours spent behind the scenes annually, gathering and inputting data, doing calculations, making charts, and producing dashboards by the outsized number of skilled employees dedicated to the task. (How many MBAs does it take to produce a strategy report??)
The truth is that the strategy report itself is just the tip of the iceberg. The strategy reporting process required to create it presents a “hidden” danger that threatens to sink your strategy efforts. It’s those complex processes that overwhelm organizations to the point where they either can’t keep up (and abandon their efforts) or are forced into a permanent state of inefficiency, which threatens their competitiveness.
To have a successful reporting strategy, you need to change your point of view: It’s about more than just the report; it’s also about effectively managing the other four fundamental activities that make the report possible. When you have a system in place that simplifies report production and produces better reports to boot, you’ll know you’ve mastered the art of strategy reporting.
In this article, you’ll learn about the various stages of the strategy reporting process and hopefully see them in a new light—each as a crucial cog in the wheel. We’ll also talk about why the tools most organizations use for strategy reporting aren’t serving them well, and why ClearPoint is unique in its ability to help you excel at every stage, from beginning to end.
Ready to get started? Let’s dive in!
Strategy reporting—also referred to as management reporting, enterprise performance management, and business strategy reporting—is the process of taking performance data and turning it into actionable insights that can be used to drive your organization forward. Did you make progress toward your goals in the past month or quarter? Why or why not? What might be standing in the way? The answers to these questions, which are gleaned from the reports, provide a big-picture perspective that helps you map out plans for the future.
Business strategy reports are incredibly valuable for leaders, but (as you well know) reports don’t magically create themselves. Your organization must complete certain activities during each reporting cycle if you hope to produce accurate, useful reports.
So what are all the activities involved in creating an insightful strategy report? We divide them into four steps: data collection, data synthesis, analysis and insight, and report generation and distribution.
What makes an effective strategy report?
There’s no standard view on how to write a strategy report; it depends on the insights your audience is looking for. (Learn about three popular types of reports here.) Different audiences need to see different data, or they need the same data positioned in different ways. No matter the data you’re presenting, the best strategy reports: Convey relevant information and insights. Reports should contain all the information necessary to facilitate decision-making, including:
• A strategy overview—This reminds readers of the overall objectives and helps put the information in context. If you can link data points and efforts to objectives, all the better.
• Data visualizations—Presenting data visually increases comprehension. Make good use of charts, grids, color-coded icons, heat maps, dashboards, and more.
• Qualitative analysis—To help readers interpret the numbers, include explanations and hypotheses around them. Qualitative data helps tell the full story and provides rationale for strategic decision-making.
Look attractive and professional. Use custom branding and colors to create attractive reports that match your organization’s branding guidelines. Include a branded cover page to explain the information contained in the report.
Are easily accessible by all parties involved. Share information internally across an entire organization, or selectively share strategy information with external stakeholders. Offer several ways to view the report—for example, as a briefing book PDF or an HTML document.
Strategy reporting is essentially about organizing your performance data so it can be used to help you meet your goals. It is part of a larger reporting cadence that includes the strategy meeting, report reviews, and decision-making—all of which keep you on track and increase the likelihood that you’ll reach your organization’s objectives.
What should your reporting cadence look like? High-performing organizations meet monthly, quarterly, and yearly. (You can read more about planning and conducting effective strategy meetings here.) Departments should have a similar cadence, with meetings taking place a week earlier than those at an organizational level. This timing ensures that executive-level meetings have up-to-date departmental information to discuss. To make the most of your reporting strategy, we recommend:
Every company that engages in strategy reporting must complete this cycle repeatedly—sometimes monthly, sometimes quarterly. However, most of the steps above have traditionally required a substantial amount of manual work. In addition, these activities take place across multiple teams and various systems.
When it comes down to it, the fundamental challenge is managing it all—coordinating different resources and people to ensure everyone is continuously working towards a common goal.
Today, technology helps alleviate many of the burdens associated with the complex reporting cycle, and some organizations are starting to take advantage of these tools. But in some ways, the technology explosion has created a new problem: The cobbling together of multiple software tools—most of which focus on just one individual pain point in the process—has added a new layer of complexity, making the management process as a whole even more challenging.
Before coming to ClearPoint, one state agency was tracking all its KPIs in Excel, routinely ending up with multiple Excel spreadsheets they couldn’t manage. They were also tracking all their projects (3,000+) in Oracle and using a dedicated project management system as well. This mix of software tools led to a lot of manual data chasing, copying and pasting, and version control issues every month; it also produced a different reporting experience for different leaders.
Very often, organizations that find themselves using these specialized tools wind up trying to build management reporting views into the things they’re tracking. For instance, they might be using a project management tool and creating an Excel export out of that; then, they build data in Excel and copy and paste it over to PowerPoint.
In the end, they’re using three tools to track project information. Or, for organizations with information in two databases, they task two people with building an Excel report from each one; then, they’re trying to manage the version controls between those to create a PowerPoint.
We imported their important strategic data into the software and migrated their entire project management process into ClearPoint as well. They stopped using all the spreadsheets to track KPIs because they could now pull information directly from the source systems into ClearPoint. And while they still originated projects in their Oracle system, they leveraged ClearPoint’s API to pull data automatically from Oracle. There was no longer a need for them to create a separate mechanism for tracking projects.
Having this central hub for projects, project statuses, and KPIs allowed the agency to become much more effective in how they tracked projects and viewed information. In the end, they saved time on the strategy reporting process and had all the information they needed at leadership meetings.
“Copy & Paste”: The Lowest Common Denominator
Many organizations start the downslide into “copy and paste” strategy reporting after too many years of trying to make old systems work and introducing new technology to bridge the gaps. Over time, Excel spreadsheets lose their linkages (or even worse, the one person who knows how to use Excel). Emails get lost in the shuffle. Adobe Acrobat is abandoned after licensing changes.
A legacy Oracle app can only run on Internet Explorer 8 or below. Managers, in frustration and desperation, become masters of copy and paste, integrating all this data into PowerPoint—a tool without an audit log. All this leads to an expensive, time-consuming, and error-prone strategy reporting process that becomes more and more brittle over time.
Sound familiar? Keep reading for a solution...
ClearPoint was designed from the ground up to solve the challenges associated with the strategy reporting process. For over 10 years, ClearPoint has worked with leading private and public sector organizations to transform their strategy reporting processes, making them more effective and efficient.
One ClearPoint customer was able to reduce the cost of its monthly management board reporting by 70%.
These kinds of incredible returns are possible with ClearPoint because it is the only system designed to manage the process from end to end.
Only ClearPoint can do everything associated with strategy reporting:
Simply put, ClearPoint was built by managers, for managers, to help organizations increase their management productivity. Looking for some specifics? Of course! Let’s take a closer look at how our integrated strategy reporting platform actually helps transform the way you manage strategy.
As we said earlier, to master business strategy reporting, you need to change your point of view: It’s not just about the report. It’s about managing the entire process that supports it.
The sections below outline specific pain points in each stage of the strategy reporting process and explain how ClearPoint eliminates those problems. Do any of these scenarios resonate with you?
The goal: To gather all your data in one place. It’s important to gain control over this part of the process so you can trust your data.
Common pain points:
The ClearPoint fix:
Using ClearPoint for data collection creates one version of the truth—all your data sources are sharing information so that they all align.
ClearPoint Data Loader
The City of Olathe, Kansas uses the ClearPoint Data Loader to tap into several different databases, all of which run on automatic schedules and upload with little-to-no human involvement. Using ClearPoint to gather data for just one of its 20+ data packages saves the performance management leader an entire day’s worth of work each quarter.
The goal: To calculate, aggregate, and evaluate data quickly and easily. It’s important to gain control over this part of the process to eliminate errors in calculations, enable detailed and high-level views of data, and decrease subjective evaluations.
Common pain points:
The ClearPoint fix:
The goal: To tell a story about your data by adding qualitative context and analysis. It’s important to gain control over this part of the process so your leadership team has the information and insights they need to make great decisions.
Common pain points:
The ClearPoint fix:
Get out of Excel Hell
Before using ClearPoint, the leadership team at one of our client companies had trouble interpreting their Excel spreadsheets—they couldn’t easily compare the data to previous years or identify trends. After migrating to ClearPoint, they could build charts showing changes in data over time, add RAG statuses for quick analysis, and provide qualitative information about their data for better interpretation.
The goal: To format your data, visuals, and insights into a report and distribute it to your stakeholders. It’s important to gain control over this part of the process so everyone has the same version of the report, and you don’t need to spend time reformatting a report every time it changes.
Common pain points:
The ClearPoint fix:
Slash your reporting time by 70%
After implementing ClearPoint, one client company’s strategy meetings became more productive: Attendees now read about the data and use the discussion fields to ask questions of data owners in advance of each meeting. The meetings themselves are now focused on how to advance strategy rather than on data interpretation.
Our software—and our team—is ready and waiting to help! Not only is ClearPoint the only software tool to address the “big picture” of reporting, but our team has extensive experience improving strategy and management processes. We’ve helped organizations in every industry, as well as nonprofits and local governments, to eliminate process inefficiencies and ensure they have a reporting system designed to help them reach their goals. Your success in using ClearPoint is our primary focus—our stellar service metrics and our customer stories stand as proof.
So, what are you waiting for? Don’t let reporting sink your strategy execution efforts. Take the first step and see for yourself how ClearPoint can impact your strategy execution efforts. We’d be happy to show you around!