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In this week’s In-Ear Insights, Katie and Chris discuss unnecessary reporting. Why does this happen? What can we do to streamline our reporting processes and make sure we’re focused on the most valuable reporting and analytics first? Listen to this episode to learn about change management, KPI identification, and reporting as a security blanket.

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Machine-Generated Transcript

What follows is an AI-generated transcript. The transcript may contain errors and is not a substitute for listening to the episode.

Christopher Penn
In this week’s In-Ear Insights we are talking about reporting specifically, what do we do when we’re creating reporting? We are the reporting vending machines as it were in our organizations.

But we’re not sure anyone’s actually reading them.

So way back in the day, we work for this very large telecom company that the CEO had these 680 page reports that were you know, these gigantic things.

We had to print them out at one point we had to print them out every hour on the hour for this company.

And the question was that we always just who’s reading this and in the end, it turned out that it really get read.

I think we’ve seen it.

Many different organizations, people saying, look, we need this report, we need this report.

Two weeks a month go by later.

Hey, did you read that report? No.

So Katie, what do we do? When we have executives and stakeholders, we’re asking for reporting, and then just not reading it not doing anything with it.

Katie Robbert
We cry and set things on fire.

No.

So, you know, it’s, it’s a very common issue that we all have run into, at some point.

We’ve either been on the delivery side of all of the reports, or we’ve been on the receiving side and just like, Oh, yeah, I meant to get to that I never got to it.

You know, and so ultimately, it sort of starts with that conversation of what decisions are you trying to make with this now? In the course of your career, Chris, I’m sure you’ve run into this a lot because I have as well.

A lot of it comes down to the person on the receiving end.

It’s almost like a security blanket like the more data that they’re given, the more confident they feel, even if they don’t understand it, but they just sort of feel like they’re in that power seat of give me all of the data, I want all of the data, I just want to know that we can pull the data collect the data, even if I don’t understand the data, I want to see that the chart is going up into the right even if it is meaningless, because then it’s like something that if someone questions like no look, data, look, we’re doing the thing.

You know, and so I feel like a lot of it is it’s sort of like working out and exercising, it’s actually more of a mental game than it is a physical game.

So the physical act of pulling the reports is not nearly as intense as the mental exercise of trying to get someone to understand.

You don’t need to drown yourself in data in order to see that things are working.

Christopher Penn
I’ve never heard reported discuss the talk about as a security blanket, but that is is a really good analogy because yeah, it doesn’t actually serve any function like you don’t need it for warmth, you don’t need it for shelter.

It’s literally just a, a emotional support object.

So reporting as emotional support objects.

Katie Robbert
I, you know, I really do think that’s a lot of what it is because it’s this is this might be a little bit of a tangent, and you know, we’ll make sure that I pull it back into the recording and how we audit them.

But, you know, a lot of times as people move up through the ranks in their professional career, they’re not often trained properly, it’s just sort of like you’ve been sitting in the seat.

Therefore, now you get to move on to the next seat, but there’s no proper training in terms of what that next hire thing looks like.

And a lot of times there’s not someone to teach them.

Here’s what it’s supposed to look like, here’s what you’re actually responsible for.

And so they pull those security blankets with them in the In the context of lots of reporting, because at least if you’re surrounding yourself by reporting and data and busy work and those things, then you look busy, you appear busy and, you know, data and data makes people feel better, even if it’s not doing something

Christopher Penn
that that makes sense.

I mean, if that is really as long as more perception than it is the actual reality, because if you were, if you’re good at something, it actually doesn’t look like much like when you watch someone who’s like a master craftsman, like oh, yeah, bang, bang, done.

Like, how did you do that? Is that took you 30 seconds, it would take me like five hours like that’s because you know, I’m an expert, and you’re not.

But it’s interesting, because that then conflicts with the perception we have in our culture, have you got to look busy to look important, as opposed to being masterful in your techniques.

So when it comes to reporting then what is masterful reporting look like? Because to me In that analogy, masterful reporting looks like two or three simple metrics on a dashboard, like, Hey, here’s the things that you’re actually gonna make decisions on.

You need to know more, you know where to go get it.

But it doesn’t look like someone’s cartoonish attempt at understanding a drawing like you know, us a spacecraft control panel, which, even that when you look at, like the control module of the SpaceX Dragon rocket, there’s not a lot out there.

And by design, it’s only the essentials that you actually need to make decisions on there’s nothing superfluous because don’t cannot afford distractions.

Katie Robbert
Well, and that’s exactly it.

So I don’t know what the dragon x dashboard thing is.

But I can only imagine because we’ve all seen those reports that have like, you know, the half rainbow chart and then a pie chart and then a graph that goes up and then numbers and colors and Blinky keys and arrows and all kinds of things.

But they don’t tell you anything and so Chris, to your point, a proper helpful report probably only has a couple of metrics on it.

But then that then ask the question of, well, if I’m only pulling two metrics, what the heck am I doing with the rest of my time? And that’s sort of that’s where I’m trying to get into with the psychology of it.

Because, you know, if you’re a masterful, it shouldn’t take you that long.

Therefore, you can do other things.

If you don’t know what else to do.

That’s a whole separate issue.

So, you know, this is something that you know, I always joke about with my friends, it’s like, I can get a lot of my job done in an hour, one hour a day, if I really buckle down and focus but I procrastinate, I get distracted.

I work from home, my dogs need stuff, whatever.

So it does take me you know, more like five or six hours.

But if I really buckle down, it only takes me the one hour and then I’m like, Oh crap, what do I do with the other seven hours? Have my workday? Well, we’ve built a culture where, once you get your work done, you’re good.

Just move on with yourself, like move on with your life.

A lot of companies don’t operate that way.

So I think that reporting becomes that default busywork thing will go pull more numbers, go pull more data, and really good efficient reports.

You don’t have multiple pages, and you don’t have to look at everything.

six ways to Sunday, because you have that one number that says, it’s working or it’s not.

Christopher Penn
Right.

So how do we start tackling this problem? How do we start figuring out because there’s two aspects, there’s the reporting itself, which reporting is necessary and which isn’t.

And then there’s the psychological aspects for the stakeholder.

I need my security blanket.

And for the producer, if the producer as you were saying with with level of competence that the proof producer isn’t super competent, if they’re not masterful, they may be creating reporting just to look busy.

So So where do we Start.

Katie Robbert
So we start with, I know this will come as a huge surprise to you, we start with, what’s the question you’re trying to answer, we start with a plan.

Because what we’ve seen over and over again, is that a lot of times an organization or a team will start with one report, and then someone somewhere else will say, Oh, can you add on this metric? And then someone somewhere else will say, Oh, can you add on this metric as well, and it’s sort of snowballs into, you know, months later, you’re then doing 10 versions of the same report.

But you’re so buried in the day to day that you aren’t even aware that that’s what’s happening.

And so it really takes a disciplined concerted effort to step back and say, What is the question that we are trying to answer with all of these reports? And are all of these reports absolutely necessary? And are there redundancies in those reports where I can create it once and then send it to multiple people? Or I can create it once and do different versions of the insights depending on the outcome? But I spend more of my time with the actions versus pulling the data.

And that’s just something that I don’t think enough organizations and teams are doing is actually stopping.

And taking a step back to say, what the heck are we trying to accomplish with all this data?

Christopher Penn
So what you’re saying is we need the vanilla ice approached, stop, collaborate and listen.

Katie Robbert
You know, I quote, you know, ice a lot.

Because it’s, if you got a problem, yo, I’ll solve it.

But no, I mean, but that’s exactly.

You have to stop, collaborate, and listen.

And the stopping part is the part that I think that scares people the most.

Because, well, if I stopped doing this, then I’m not getting my job done.

Or I’m missing something or I’m not collecting data.

I can’t stop.

I’m too busy.

I can’t stop this is going on.

I can’t stop whatever.

And so it’s the actual stopping part that I think a lot of people struggle with,

Christopher Penn
is when we think about existing webinar on Friday with the folks over at marketingprofs.

And one of the questions I was asked was, you know, in the realm of marketing technology, now, how do we evaluate dashboarding and reporting problems, such as I have these problems communicating these things, and I was like, you don’t have a technology problem that’s, you know, you have either sounds like either a people or a process problem.

Which is a greater problem in this case to, to deal with, because the stopping problem is both a people and a process problem.

How do you how do you cut out that?

Katie Robbert
Nine times out of 10, fixing a people problem is more challenging than fixing a process problem.

You know, the sort of the benchmark that I always use for reporting is if I can’t figure out what this thing is saying in 10 seconds, it’s too complicated.

If I can’t make a decision with this immediately, it’s too complicated.

And that takes a lot of self awareness on my part of do I even understand what the problem is that we’re trying to solve and Am I over? And so there’s a lot of internal work that I had to do first to be able to get to that place where I said, You know what, what I’m doing isn’t good enough.

It’s not efficient enough.

Let me try it again.

That’s a people problem.

The process problem, once you identify should be fairly straightforward of how are we collecting this data? How are we reporting on this data? What is the output look like? What is the frequency and consistency of it? Those are things that you should be able to tweak along the way.

It’s the people, it’s a little bit more challenging, because again, you’re talking about the psychology of it.

And changing behaviors is a really difficult thing.

So if you have executives who are used to getting, you know, 80 page reports, even if they don’t read the whole thing, you’re going to be you’re gonna have a really challenging time saying, we’re no longer going to deliver these 80 page reports.

We’re going to send you a single page and it’s going to have all of the information you need.

So then they’re going to say, Well, what do I do with the other 79 pages? Where’s that? The rest of that information, how can I make a decision? And so it’s the change management, that’s really going to be the most challenging part.

Christopher Penn
How do you get the executive to that level of awareness stuff? Because that sounds like Nirvana to be able to say, yeah, here’s, here’s what you need to make a decision based on conversations.

And not only will it save you time, because you want to read 80 pages of fluff, you will make better decisions and you’ll make more money.

In theory, the the executive should be like done, I’m all in.

I know, in reality, like, but where’s my security blanket?

Katie Robbert
You know, I hate to say it, but I’m, I’m going to, I think it will get worse before it gets better.

One of the approaches, this is not the only approach, but one of the approaches that I would take is actually showing them both versions.

So you have the 80 page report.

So you’ve already pulled the data, it should be fairly straightforward to distill it down to one page.

And then you literally have to sort of handhold and walk them through, this is what it says here.

But also, if you look at this one page report, you get all of the same information in a streamlined way.

And it’s sort of that retraining of it’s okay to only have one page to make decisions on, because you have all of the information here.

You know, that’s one approach.

The other is, if sometimes working depends on the person is the cold turkey approach where you just say, I’m not doing the 80 pages anymore, here’s your one page report, good luck, you’re probably going to get a lot of resistance because you’re ripping off the band aid really quickly, and it’s painful and people don’t like that approach.

So you probably have to take the longer route to get there.

But if you go the longer route, the benefits will come long term.

Christopher Penn
Okay.

And then on for the person who’s just trying to look busy, what do we do with them, particularly if they’re not very good at their job?

Katie Robbert
You know, I think that you start to really challenge them to, you know, document your process.

What are you doing? We want to have full transparency into everything that you’re creating, or you give them an opportunity to step up and say, I want you to evaluate all of the different reports that you’re doing, I want you to present them to me as if I’m each different audience member so that I can get a sense of the value of all of these different reports.

And that really gives that person the opportunity go, you know, what, you’re not really getting anything out of this report.

Or you can sort of see if they’re kind of de essing their way through any of the insights, but really give them the opportunity to evaluate it on their own.

And if they can’t, then that’s a different decision.

Christopher Penn
Yeah, because I, I can definitely see, there are folks that we’ve interacted with who they spend so much time and I’m guilty of this too.

They spend more time on the methodology and a whole lot less time on the actual outcome when the stakeholder really doesn’t care how you got the number as long as it’s right.

Katie Robbert
Mm hmm.

I mean, Chris, how many times have you handed me a report? And I’ve made it back to you and said, so what?

Christopher Penn
Only days I think and why.

Katie Robbert
So I guess a question for you, Chris, as someone who does generate a lot of reports, what is your what it how do you think about it? Like when you hand off a report? In your mind, Okay, I’m done.

Here you go.

Like Where? So where is that disconnect of the insights?

Christopher Penn
It depends, I think, reports feel a lot like farming right? In the sense of you.

You have this initial draft, you have this first cut, but it’s not mature.

It hasn’t hasn’t grown up yet hasn’t fully matured.

And it takes cycles to get to that point of saying, Well, actually, no, we don’t need this part.

Well, actually, no, we don’t need this part.

It’s kind of like, what’s the old? The old quote that from Michelangelo? Like? Yeah.

When asked, you know, how do you create sculptures from a block of marble so I just chip away everything that isn’t the sculpture.

Which is not super helpful for the beginning artist, but clearly from his perspective, that’s what he’s doing.

And I feel like reports are in some ways the same thing.

Here’s the block, is that data, right? And you have to start chipping away at it until you figure out, Okay, these are the essential parts that are left.

And that takes lots of feedback loops.

Lots of how about this? Well, how about this? How about this until you get to a point where it’s, it’s good enough.

And one of the challenges is that if the person you’re working with doesn’t have domain expertise, or or is operates at a certain level, then you and that person will interact in a way that will get to what that person needs.

But if you’re trying to create something that is a higher level than either the two of you are capable operating at you’ll you won’t get there because it’s simply beyond your reach.

And that’s one things I find myself challenged with when I’m writing code is I can write code to a certain level When building a report, but then if there are challenges after that it’s very difficult to figure out okay, well, what would be the even better way of doing this would be even better way of doing this? That’s, I think the part that, to your point about self awareness is lacking in a lot of reporting, is, you’re not asking the question often enough, well, what’s Is there a better way of doing this? Can I make this faster? Can I make this cleaner? Can I have fewer steps? Or can I make the code more efficient? And it’s hard? It’s really hard to do that.

Because you have to know you have to know what you know, and you have to know what you don’t know.

And that second bucket is the biggest obstacle I find for me personally, is I? I don’t know what I don’t know.

Katie Robbert
Well, and so you’re hitting upon one of the challenges is that you know, you’re confident in what you’re doing to say, I want to do these things faster so I can move on to something else.

But for a lot of other marketers, there’s that insecurity of if I’m not doing this What else am I doing? And so there’s a resistance.

And I’ve talked about this on other podcasts, there’s a resistance to do things faster and better and more efficiently, because then your job is automated away, and what else am I doing? I don’t have any other skills or I don’t have any other responsibilities.

And am I automating myself out of a job? And so I think that, you know, one of the ways to sort of combat this analysis paralysis, where you have so many reports around you, and you doing so many reports is really challenge yourself to say, Can I take action with every single one of these data points that I’m putting on a PowerPoint slide? And that’s going to take a little bit time you know, you, you won’t necessarily get it all at once the first time it will, Chris, to your point, take a lot of feedback.

But that’s one of the best ways to start with is this report efficient.

But it’s also training you to really be thinking how those critters Thinking skills versus just, you know, punching in numbers and typing things and putting charts on a PowerPoint, like it’s giving you the opportunity to level up your thinking.

And so when I look at a report, I’m always thinking, what can I do with this information? Can I take action on this? Or is this just awareness for me? So, you know, we know at Trust Insights, yeah, social media is great.

But it’s not, it’s not something that we necessarily focus on.

So if I’m looking at total number of followers, one of the metrics that I collect every month is, are the social media channels growing.

And so you could argue, I don’t do a whole lot with that information.

It’s more of an awareness.

And so in my mind, it’s a are we growing? are we reaching a wider audience? But I don’t actively take steps with that data so I could stop collecting it.

And so that’s the way that I would challenge someone to start thinking about that.

tricks that they are collecting and sharing is, am I going to do anything with this information? So Chris, one of the analogies that you give a lot, which, you know, we should probably come up with a better one is it? Well, if you’re not going to, you know, change your behaviors, why are you going to step on the scale and look at how much you weigh? You know, so if you’re not going to start exercising more, or change your diet, why are you looking at the number because you’re just, you know, upsetting yourself or, you know, defeating yourself or whatever the thing is, if you’re not going to change the behavior with the number Why are you looking at it in the first place?

Christopher Penn
Yeah, I mean, we say it off often.

data without decision is distraction.

It’s the thing that also comes to mind is that, particularly for the report producers, there’s this mistaken belief that complexity indicates sophistication.

And the opposite is true, Einstein said is a great quote, you know, the definition of genius is taking something complex and making it simple.

You, as you level up your reporting skills, that’s, that’s what we aspire to, that’s where we want to go is to be able to have report that, yeah, your teenage kid could look at and go, Oh, I know what’s going on.

As opposed to having something that is too complex, I get, you know, in an environment where you’re concerned about your job security, making something unnecessarily complex and fragile benefits you by making the organization dependent on you.

But is that an organization you then want to work for? As opposed to if you can make something simple and then innovate something new, where you’re continually providing new value to the organization that in the long term makes you a much more valuable employee than somebody who is just, you know, one part in a machine that is easily broken?

Katie Robbert
Well, and again, you’re hitting upon the psychology of it.

And so, you know, I think that we see a lot is people make things unnecessarily complicated to make them feel smarter, make them feel more valuable, make it harder for them to be replaced or automated away.

And if you could, in a perfect world shed that insecurity, you could find that you could probably make your reporting a lot more efficient.

And then you could spend your time doing other more valuable things, such as taking action on the data.

But it’s the psychology piece, it’s the people part of the puzzle that makes it the most difficult.

I couldn’t think of another p word for alliteration.

Christopher Penn
That’s okay.

People always the problem anyway.

So to wrap up, do an audit of what reports you have and what decisions you make from them.

And if the answer is none, you have an opportunity to reduce that reports, production and its workload and be on the lookout for where the problem is in your organization.

Is it a process problem, or is it a people problem that you’ve got with too much and too complex reporting, and make your decisions appropriately.

If you have follow up questions about this or anything else we’ve talked about in this podcast, please drop into our free slack group go to Trust insights.ai slash analytics for marketers, you can join over 1200 other analytics professionals for free just a chat through all the different questions you have about analytics reporting data and find like that and as always stop by the Trust Insights website over TrustInsights.ai dot AI for things like our newsletter and blog and other fun stuff.

Thanks for listening and we’ll talk to you soon take care want help solving your company’s data analytics and digital marketing problems.

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