Strategy Reporting: The Ultimate Guide

Is your strategy reporting process taking too much time?
Strategy Reporting: The Ultimate Guide
Is your strategy reporting process taking too much time?

In business, everyone talks about the importance of the strategy report: We can all agree it’s an essential document that provides an analysis of past performance and insight into the organization’s main objectives, strategies, and risks.

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!

Chapter 1: What Is Strategy Reporting? 4 Steps To An Effective Report

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.

4 Steps Of The Strategy Reporting Process

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.

  1. Data Collection: The first step in bringing order to the chaos is to collect the necessary data—that which will help you draw conclusions about your performance. For many organizations, this data may be scattered across legacy on-premise financial systems, SaaS customer management platforms, shared spreadsheets, or even email chains. Some data continues to live in mainframe systems that only one person knows how to access. Manually gathering data is challenging and time-consuming, especially if it involves interacting with multiple data owners across departments.
  2. Data Synthesis:  At the end of the previous step, you have a mass of data in no meaningful order—now, you need to make some sense of it. Data synthesis is about pulling together the data from your various sources to paint a picture that will help you draw conclusions. You may want to do some calculations (differences or averages, for example), or create charts and graphs to see trends or outliers. You may even want to create some metadata (data about data) to help provide context—for example, describing who created it, what type of data it is, or when it was generated.
  3. Analysis & Insight:  Next, it’s time to analyze your data to understand the story it is telling. For instance, you need to understand what has already happened (i.e. did you meet targets or not?), why those things occurred, and make some predictions about what’s likely to happen in the future. You may also need to explore relationships between data to make connections and solve problems. You can have all the pretty charts in the world, but analysis is key to creating insightful strategy reports that help with decision-making. A thorough analysis includes gathering feedback from all the various departments whose data is included in the report.
  4. Report Generation & Distribution:  You’ve got a lot of good insights; now, it’s time to share them! In this step, you create a report that your leadership teams can view and discuss for decision-making purposes. The report could be a PDF or even an online dashboard. Once it’s created, you’ll send it out to the teams that need it.
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 Reports & Their Role In The Performance Management Process

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:

  • Creating a meeting schedule and accompanying reporting calendar
  • Creating standardized reports for consistency
  • Establishing a decision-making process to make meetings as productive as possible

Chapter 2: Challenges In Strategy Reporting

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.

Imagine: 3000 Projects in Excel and Oracle

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.

  • Excel, Teams, Tableau, and other software tools have a narrow focus within the strategy reporting process, so it becomes a puzzle to manage them as a whole.
  • Asana, Jira, or Trello, and Microsoft Project are great at tracking projects, but what about when you need to tie those projects to your strategy?
  • Tableau, Qlik, and PowerBI are great at slicing and dicing data, but what about when you need to add some analysis and present it to your boss?
  • Slack and Teams are great for ad-hoc communication, but are you really going to manually send out messages each time something changes?

So what happened when that state agency started using ClearPoint?

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...

There is a better way: It’s called ClearPoint.

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:

  • Seamlessly integrate with your on-premise and SaaS software applications for data collection
  • Perform sophisticated calculation, aggregation, evaluation, and charting for data synthesis
  • Facilitate the analysis of both qualitative and quantitative data
  • Easily generate and distribute reports containing timely information

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.

Chapter 3: How To Improve Your Strategy Reporting

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?

Mastering Strategy Reporting From Beginning To End

Data Collection

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:

  • Data is scattered across the organization in many different tools (a data warehouse, legacy systems, Microsoft Access, Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, etc.).
  • Data needs to be manually copied and pasted from various sources into one report.
  • There’s a lack of accountability with regard to managing data.
  • The data collection process is lengthy and requires a lot of back-and-forth between data owners.

The ClearPoint fix:

  • Automatically pull your data from the many data sources you have into ClearPoint. Our Data Loader application automatically pulls data from your various repositories (including Excel, CSV, or SQL queries) and uploads it to ClearPoint, so you don’t have to copy and paste information from one file to another. Plus, you can use the ClearPoint API to integrate with a myriad of data sources and other systems you’re using to easily import and export data between ClearPoint and your other applications.
  • Connect with your favorite apps to seamlessly move data to and from ClearPoint using webhooks, Zapier, and ClearPoint Sync.

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.

Data Synthesis

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:

  • Data is in different formats and calculations are broken, leading to inconsistent and incorrect data.
  • Technical knowledge (or an IT team) is required to make updates to data calculations and visualizations.
  • It’s difficult to tell at a glance whether goals, measures, and projects are on- or off-track.
  • Data visualizations take a long time to create and require frequent updating.

The ClearPoint fix:

  • Use calculations to manipulate data into the format you need. You can perform any calculation on your data in ClearPoint that you could in Excel, plus more.
  • Leverage aggregations to roll data up and down your organization so you can view it at every level.
  • Create charts that automatically update with new data so you can visualize your progress over time.
  • Quickly and expertly evaluate your goals, measures, and projects by setting RAG rules and automatically assigning RAG status icons.

Analysis & Insight

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:

  • It’s difficult to see how projects align with strategy.
  • There’s no easy way to track qualitative analysis and quantitative data together.
  • Gathering analysis and updates from multiple people and departments is a challenge.
  • Analysis is incomplete because data and discussions are separated across systems.

The ClearPoint fix:

  • Send automatic emails to team members asking them to update the elements for which they are accountable.
  • Present qualitative and quantitative data together in management reports and attach relevant documents for context.
  • Link strategic elements with projects and data points to understand how everything fits together.
  • Look at all the information for your elements in one detail report.
  • View summarized information in filtered reports for easy analysis and drill down for the details.

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.

Report Generation & Distribution

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:

  • Everyone has different versions of the same report.
  • It takes a lot of time to format and edit reports.
  • You have to manually update all reports when one piece of information changes.
  • Every stakeholder needs/wants different information.

The ClearPoint fix:

  • Export reports in PDF, PPT, Excel, and HTML.
  • Use custom styling templates to brand your reports.
  • Schedule reports to automatically generate and send to your stakeholders.
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.

Ready to apply the ClearPoint fix to your strategy reporting?

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!

Strategy Reporting: The Ultimate Guide

Ted Jackson

Co-Founder & Alabama Native

Ted is a Founder and Managing Partner of ClearPoint Strategy and leads the sales and marketing teams.

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