Five Steps to Create Meaningful, Visual Reports

Special Contributor Danielle Moga, Barker Associates

If a picture paints a thousand words, the charts and graphs being compiled for reporting packages should tell a very colorful story; however, the dashboards and scorecards being created, though visually appealing, are lacking a strong story line and worse yet…a plot.

Accounting and financial professionals spend hours compiling data from disparate systems to provide an “at a glance” view of information, but often times the rainbow of colors is the best part of the document. The information is typically flat, one-dimensional, and lacks actionable data to help the audience improve financial and operational goals.

Two ladies standing looking at visual charts

By following these steps, you can create meaningful visuals that tell a story and provide actionable insights to your team:

1. Begin with the end in mind

Determine if the time creating visuals is worth the time and money it takes to compile. Most leaders don’t understand the hours it takes to pull data together and create meaningful visuals; rather, they see a pretty cover page leading to traditional financial reports. If the visuals are not connected with actionable goals and socialized with leadership and the teams responsible for the measure, they are a waste of time and add no value to the final product.

2. Define what you want to measure

If leadership wants to use visuals to tell a story, then they should use the correct tool to tell that story. “Dashboard” and “scorecard” are tools used to deliver periodic metrics. The two terms are often used interchangeably, but they are different. A dashboard is typically linked to multiple systems, provides real time data, and has flexibility in design, depending on the person or team using it. A scorecard is a snapshot in time, of a specific measure to a pre-determined goal. Leaders who are actively engaged in selecting the measures to be used and the delivery tool can ensure the measure is tied to a specific organizational goal as well as gain the buy in and support for achievement from their staff.

3. Discuss the strategy

I’ve seen too many organizations go through painstaking efforts creating a strategic plan, only to have the completed document sit on the shelf to collect dust. Strategic initiatives, if designed properly, should propel an organization forward and those are the items that should be measured and reviewed regularly. Ideally, senior leaders should review progress towards goals with internal teams and leadership quarterly; review goals semi-annually with the board.

4. Tie results to performance

“What’s measured improves.”

Peter Drucker

It doesn’t make much sense to design a measure if you don’t have accountability tied to results. The individuals and the teams responsible for achievement must have the ability to successfully complete goals without barriers that prevent performance. For instance, I’ve seen organizations tie cost savings initiatives to the accounting team without including the purchasing or sales teams that actually spend the money. One of my favorite examples of poor planning and misaligned goals is an organization that had a goal to use new software for the organization; however, no one consulted with the IT team or the project management office to ensure resources were allocated to support and implement the project. All parties that can impact the successful outcome of a project should buy in to the project outcomes and performance goals attached to those outcomes.

5. Enable the change

Create a culture that supports and enables change when introducing changes to repetitive reporting packages. Initiate change with a concise project plan that includes metrics and milestones, team accountability and ongoing engagement from leadership help ensure success. Uncover what measures and milestone leaders need to make informed decisions and then incorporate them into reporting packages in visually informative ways.

Leaders who intentionally communicate with visual measures will have a greater success rate at achieving their goals. Use the rainbow of ink for visuals that tell a compelling story of your progress and actionable opportunities.

Barker Associates works with leaders to understand and identify meaningful and actionable goals for their organization. We can design indicators to measure progress and actionable tasks to keep your organization on track for achieving goals and executing successful projects.

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