Clearer Reports will help you make better decisions

Lack of clarity is the number-one time-waster.
Frank Lloyd Wright

Every Week you create Reports – but is your message clear?

Clarity is the quality of being easily understood, completely intelligible, or comprehensible; freedom from indistinctness or ambiguity.
Clarity matters in every report, not just financial ones, because:

  1. unclear strategy communication leads to misaligned actions
  2. unclear customer communication leads to unsatisfied clients
  3. unclear risk communication leads to misunderstood threats
  4. unclear crisis communication leads to reputation damage

This week, while preparing an executive presentation I stumbled across a paper from 2009 from the Global Accounting Alliance (GAA). The GAA was established to promote quality services, share information, and collaborate on important international accounting issues (the Australian Institute of Chartered Accountants is a member). The paper is entitled Making Financial Reporting Simpler and More Useful.
In their paper this alliance made one good suggestion:

Concentrate on people providing less, but more useful, information.
There were an awful lot of debates about what can be added in but no one ever had discussions about what could be deleted.

Yes it is 5 years old – and the last press release on this site is dated August 2010…Personally, I haven’t seen “deleting” as being very much on the increase of late???
However they seem to have somehow spawned the “newish” International Integrated Reporting Council but the best it could come up with so far was:

  • find out what others are doing and the lessons they are learning
  • look at the content of the report from the perspective of what the audience needs and their interests
  • differentiate stakeholders and enable them to access different information in ways that suit each group

I have to admit I didn’t find this a particularly impressive list, either…which simply goes to support my suspicion that good clear reporting is very hard to achieve.

Clearer Reports

The university of St Gallen, in Switzerland, has been working to improve clear communication – their process is designed for use within large corporate environments – where there is a real need for standards, training etc. But even in a micro-business the principles hold sound: avoid the complexity in any reports by reviewing your documents and checking for:

  • Context
  • Logic
  • Essence
  • Ambiguity
  • Resonance

There is also a very informative and extensive explanation as to why and how “clarity” can be achieved, which is handily summed up below:



Questions for Checking

ContextProvide the context or background
of a message upfront.
Is it clear who should read this and why?
Is it clear how and when this should be used?
Logical StructureStructure the message in a logical
and accessible manner.
What is the overall logic of the message?
How do the elements build on each other?
EssentialFocus on essential elements and
show them in overview before going into details.
What is the most important part?
What can be left out?
How can it be said more simply?
Ambiguity FreeRemove vague terms or sentences
and use terms with clear, specific
Could any part of the message be misunderstood?
Can the message be made more specific?
ResonatingUse a style and format that
resonates with the audience and
stimulates it to engage with
the content.
Does the communication address the receivers directly?
Are there stimulating examples questions illustrations etc?

Applying this construct has already improved the presentation twice since I read it!

Do you have any other suggestions that ensure Clearer Reports?

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About the Author

Why own a business post - Eve Blackall Smart Accounting image
Often described as the small business answer to The Supernanny, our principal Eve Blackall owned a Tax Accounting Practice for 15 years, worked as Financial Controller and is currently an advisor to various ASX listed companies and large non-profits.
With Smart Accounting you get to work one-to-one with Eve and not many consultants have her experience and expertise. For over 25 years she has been helping businesses be more efficient and effective, and ensuring business owners sell for the highest prices.[/box]