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  • Reporting: (not) a game of chance (part 1)

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Reporting: (not) a game of chance (part 1)

Reading Time: 4 Minutes 06.08.2020

More SUCCESS in business communication with IBCS

In many situations in business life, we stake everything on one report. Fundamental matters – from financing commitments and staffing through to investments or a change of strategy – depend on whether the report's key message actually reaches the user. But we still leave much more to chance in our communication through reports than we do in other areas of corporate performance management. You might argue that your KPIs are set in stone. However, a report is much more than the sum of its KPIs. How much more? This is the question that brings us to the heart of the issue.

The more the merrier, right?

The answer is yes… and no. In everyday life at most companies, the managers put a great deal of effort into designing their reports with a high degree of customisation. However, their attempts to find a clear layout and to communicate unambiguously often, unfortunately, fail to achieve their aim: instead of providing concentrated, comprehensive information, many reports cloud their message and confuse their users. But do report writers need a university degree in order to go on their own search for the correct presentation? Luckily, no, as Professor Rolf Hichert has already done that. To standardise how information is conveyed in reports across departments, companies and countries, he has defined universal principles for business communication.

More SUCCESS for senders and recipients

Professor Hichert's SUCCESS formula puts an end to the struggle to display KPIs properly. It removes report design from the emotional realm and puts it on an objective footing. Report producers receive clear guidance. Report users benefit, too. With SUCCESS, the key messages of reports can be taken in without lengthy analyses. Instead of allowing room for interpretation, the formula sets a standard. This standard serves as a key to understanding reports and, as part of the International Business Communication Standards (IBCS), has been codified in a set of rules.

What SUCCESS stands for

Professor Hichert uses the word "success" as an acronym. SUCCESS stands for S(ay), U(nify), C(ondense), C(heck), E(xpress), S(implify), S(tructure). But what do these terms mean for your reporting? We'll answer this question for the first three terms here, and the last four terms will follow in the second part of this article.

SAY – Convey a message

According to the SUCCESS rule, reports differ from statistics and dashboards in that they have a concrete message. Right at the top of every report page, the user should find the most important insight – in a similar way to newspaper headlines. Like a newspaper without headlines, a report without "SAY" would be a flood of information that is difficult to wade through. Therefore, consider the key message of your report and place it right at the top as the heading.

UNIFY – Apply semantic notation

Imagine you wanted to go on a trip to some woodland – but the green areas on your map turned out to be a mountainous area entirely devoid of trees. What would you use for reference now? This is where you can see the value of the UNIFY rule: that which is the same should look the same, and that which is not the same should not look the same. With UNIFY, SUCCESS requires you to use a semantic notation system in your reports like the ones you already know from sheet music or electric circuitry, for instance. This will enable your report users to find their way around easily – and to get their bearings in your report as quickly as they would with a map.

CONDENSE – Increase information density

Let's suppose you'd like to compare the figures of companies in ten countries with one another. Each company is depicted on a separate page with five KPIs. When you have read through all ten pages, the crucial question of outliers – unusually good or mediocre figures – remains open. A comparison only becomes possible when you can take in all the figures at a glance. Heed the CONDENSE principle and show the information arranged by KPI rather than by country. This will put the individual values into a wider context and enable your report users to identify any outliers and variances straight away.

Click here for the second part of this article, which explains CHECK, EXPRESS, SIMPLIFY and STRUCTURE with practical examples.

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