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3 tips for better financial reporting

Why is active better than reactive or static? In simple terms, it’s because the world around us changes all the time, meaning the environment we do business in can change at any time. It doesn’t wait for your planning process to take place before it shifts. That means you must act on the changing business environment whenever appropriate.

For FP&A teams, financial reporting can present a challenge.

If you share too many reports, business leaders may give up reading them all together. But if you offer barebones financial reporting, stakeholders scream for more relevant data and timely information. So how do you find the balance of not overwhelming your business partners while still getting them the information they need?

Here are three proven steps:

Tip #1: Survey users

Your CEO needs access to different data than the manager of HR. Yet there’s also a good chance that they may be interested in some of the same information as well. And even within the same departments, managers may seek different information than their peers. Managers have varying requirements and goals; some prefer a very high-level overview, while others want specific information and a lot of details.

So what’s a finance team to do?

It sounds simple, but it begins with good communication. Talk to users and find out what they want and why they want it. Delve into how they would like reports presented and how often they need them. From time to time, follow up with a brief meeting or a simple survey to ensure that managers are using reports and if there is any new information that would be useful.

Of course, it’s essential to continue to make ongoing investments in technology that ensure you can deliver the reports that business partners are looking for in user-friendly formats. Technology investments not only save FP&A time—which allows for a more thoughtful and strategic approach to generating relevant reports—they also have a measurable impact on the bottom line.

Tip #2: Customize dashboards

A key strength of technology investments is dashboard technology. Dashboards have revolutionized reporting, dramatically reducing the mountains of spreadsheets that find their way to managers and department heads via email or hard copy. So make sure you are making the most of the technology by working with users to customize dashboards to access the reports they want, delivered in a format that is most useful.

A customized dashboard allows managers to do a better job by measuring performance as well as proactively shaping business outcomes through real-time awareness of financial and sales data. Dashboards are also a powerful tool to track your company’s broader performance against your plans and goals, year to date.

When it comes to dashboards, a quick demo can go a long way. You can show users the power of data visualization presented in a range of formats from standard bar, column, or doughnut charts to more engaging funnel, waterfall, and bubble graphics. And you can demonstrate how they can generate their own reports to gain even further insight into their team’s performance and how it impacts the entire organization.

These visualization tools have proven to be game-changers in terms of making reports accessible and understandable to a wide range of users. As a TechTarget writer recently pointed out: “Without (data visualizations), analytics teams are engaging in a nearly impossible task that’s tantamount to flying an airplane while blindfolded.”

Tip #3: Track results

It’s often said that what gets measured gets done. With that in mind, one way to ensure that relevant reports are being generated is to assess whether they are leading to measurable results.

Have reports resulted in greater efficiency, changes in behavior, or an uptick in sales? Internally, are the reports helping drive collaboration and more insightful conversations? If not, why? You may need a deeper dive into whether the right information is getting into the right hands.

Opening lines of communication with business partners is key. Discuss targeted outcomes and then identify the reporting—or tweaks to reporting—that will provide the real-time data and insights to drive better results. Adaptive Insights customer Cumulus Media successfully applied this approach, instituting self-service reporting so users across the organization can create and run reports on demand. The result: It now takes just seconds—not days—to access and analyze business performance data relevant to each manager.

Finally, celebrate and highlight success. If a certain department is delivering big wins by leveraging insights from the reports it is receiving and generating, then promote that throughout the organization. Success will breed success.

Good reporting leads to better results

Of course, it’s important to remember that when it comes to reports, finance should be a facilitator and strategic partner, not a hand-holder. Managers need to be self-sufficient. But it’s important to put the relevant information in their hands so they don’t have to track down finance every time they have a question.

Ultimately, good reporting leads to better results. By identifying and delivering the reports that leaders and managers throughout your organization need, FP&A can make a big impact and solidify its role as a strategic business partner.

Download the eBook, “5 CFO Tips for Better Board Reporting”

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