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Data Snacks | Jul 30
John Bonini on March 21, 2019 (last modified on March 25, 2021) • 9 minute read
It’s the end of the month. You’ve just spent the last 30 or so days heads down on the work, executing projects, putting out fires, and now, well, now it’s time to answer the question–‘how are we doing?’
To answer this question, you’ll engage in this primitive exercise of cramming into a meeting that literally no one in the room wants to be at–the reporting meeting.
And afterward? Yeah, nothing much will change. Everyone will mostly put their heads back down and resume work on whatever they were working on before this exercise.
But hey, let’s do this again next month, am I right?
Head, meet desk.
The worst part? We know it. Heck, everyone in the room knows it, and yet no one dares say it out loud…
Reporting meetings are awful.
They’re stale. Reactive. Unproductive. They require a ton of time and resources to put on.
Reporting meetings once served a purpose–to report on the data in aggregate from campaigns that were otherwise hard to measure in real time.
But now? In a time where I can see how an ad campaign is performing, right now, and make adjustments, right now, to influence performance? Well, they’re relics of another era.
One where we all couldn’t track and influence campaigns right now.
This has changed everyone’s expectations for how we should work, including everyone attending this aforementioned reporting meeting.
You? Well, it’s not uncommon for you to refresh the performance dashboard of a tool (multiple times, amirite?) in order to see the latest update.
Your bosses? They ask you how that latest campaign is performing, or why upgrades are down this month.
Your clients? Well, they parachute in with urgent suggestions mid-month all the time, right?
So, everyone in the reporting meeting has expectations of monitoring and adjusting campaigns as they happen, yet we’re all relying on this relic of a meeting as a conduit for action?
We’ve got it all wrong.
Here’s more on why reporting meetings are awful and what we can all do about it.
“I don’t like waiting until the end of the month to find out that we missed a goal, especially if we knew we’d miss it in the first half of the month,” said Sarah Bedrick, co-founder at Compt. “That’s not helpful for the business and likely doesn’t feel good for the team working toward the goal.”
Can you imagine a coach waiting until the end of a game to provide feedback to her players?
Instead, she’s constantly reading the defense and communicating adjustments from the sidelines or during breaks in the game.
Reporting meetings are not designed this way. Instead, they set a cadence across your whole team of analyzing and improving performance on a monthly basis rather than instill a culture of continuous learning and improvement.
This matters. As when you’re meeting with your boss, team, or clients, you’ll either be looking back (why did these things happen?) or looking forward (how can we make these things happen?) instead of maintaining focus over what you can control right now.
And, even though reporting meetings are standard practice in most companies, everyone in those companies has on-demand expectations.
Why are sales down? How is our spring email promotion performing? Should we invest more in our Facebook campaign?
No one wants to wait until the end of the month for these answers, but in a world where most teams still rely on static tools like spreadsheets and slides, it’s just what happens.
So, how can we enable our team to make adjustments throughout the month to positively influence performance?
By killing reporting meetings altogether.
Think about it––the word “report” itself suggests finality. Students turn in reports when they’re completed. Investigators issue reports upon the completion of an investigation. Scholars publish reports once they’ve completed their research.
But, performance is never complete.
Performance is fluid and can and should be monitored and adjusted as things happen.
In the old way of reporting, performance improvement was linear.
The work happened, followed by the analysis by a select few people within the company at the end of the month (or worse) quarter.
But in order to improve performance in a predictable manner, monitoring and improvement both need to happen in a cyclical manner. (More on that later.)
So, what if you ended reporting as a habit at work?
“If you want your team to solve for revenue (or insert your metric of choice), then that means they need access to data on how the company is achieving those targets,” said Ellie Mirman, CMO at Crayon. “First-hand access to data is critical to empower each member of your team to measure their work, find what’s working and what’s not, and jump on opportunities to help the business grow.”
Often times, the data presented in reporting meetings are accessible to a select few–executives and/or members of the leadership team.
Individual contributors, the ones with a desperate need to see how their work is influencing the bigger picture, are often left out of these meetings altogether, or, they’re left with spreadsheets and/or slide decks to comb through in order to find relevant information.
Aside from logging into the actual tools themselves, there’s no easy way for managers and individual contributors to quickly gauge how their work is performing and how that influences the company and its goals.
Consequently, the vast majority of people doing the work within your company aren’t sure how to improve the work they’re doing.
You can spin data any way you’d like.
This is a common refrain against marketers that rely on data in order to make decisions. And you know what? It’s accurate.
Spin happens when the people responsible for the number, not necessarily the work, are the only ones with a voice in a reporting meeting. (This goes back to our point on accessibility across your whole team.)
But, when the data is accessible to everyone, so too are everyone’s insights and points-of-view.
Most reporting meetings are not spent analyzing trends and making timely adjustments. No, most of the meeting is spent explaining and validating the actual data itself.
(I mean, if a reporting meeting takes place and no one is around to question the data being presented, did the meeting really take place?)
“How did you get that?”
“Do these numbers account for [X]?”
“What’s our definition of [insert funnel metric] again?”
(All questions that should be answered prior to a reporting meeting, I might add. But, again, when your team’s cadence for reviewing and improving performance is set to monthly, these things happen.)
“At any point when the data is questioned–then it’s over,” says Andrea Lechner-Becker, CMO at LeadMD. “Especially in a cross-functional forum. There must be fundamental trust in the data being presented and that trust needs to be built in detail outside the “reporting” meeting.”
But, how can a manual process that includes pulling data from dozens of sources, manually copying that data into spreadsheets, and finally, visualizing that data in a slide deck, ever be free of error, and as a result, gain the level of trust necessary for having productive conversations?
“We would literally come in on the first business day of the month and spend the entire day pulling numbers and putting them into spreadsheets,” says Kelsey Meyer of Blue Frog Marketing. “It would literally take up our entire day and then end up sometimes not even being right. It was a mess, it was very, very stressful.”
In order to build and maintain trust, two things need to happen:
“The data itself shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone in the meeting,” said Remington Begg, founder of Impulse Creative.
As I mentioned earlier, monthly reporting sets a cadence throughout the whole company of only measuring performance once a month.
This negatively impacts the whole team, as they’re not developing the habit and skill of proactively connecting the dots between the work and the results.
Instead, these bloated, high-level reports are shared at the end of the month when, once again, it’s already too late for your team to double down on something that’s working.
If they’re not trained to be looking for these things as they happen, your team is far less likely to have the ability to make adjustments that create an impact when it matters most––right now.
By being more proactive and giving your team the tools they need to better understand the significance of different activities, you’ll be able to build a more data-driven and autonomous team.
Reporting meetings serve a purpose that no longer really exists–one where performance data wasn’t available in real time.
So, how can you act on the right data when it matters most?
How can you make that data more accessible to your team in order to empower great work?
How can you meet the real-time expectations of your team, bosses, and/or clients?
Align, Analyze, Adjust: A new framework
Today, we have access to more data than ever before, but we still don’t know how to use it.
Why? Because the data isn’t accessible to most people within your company. And it’s not actionable. (For many of the reasons mentioned throughout this article.)
In order to compensate, most companies have a monthly reporting meeting that no one wants to attend and where nothing changes.
We think there’s a better format. So, we started with a simple framework:
We’ll be publishing more on this framework very soon, but for now, watch as my colleague Tory Sher outlines effective ways for ditching reactive reporting.
Ready to join us on our mission of making performance data more actionable and accessible for everyone?
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