INBOX INSIGHTS, June 7, 2023: Monthly Reporting, Burnout

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Monthly Reports, Part 1

Monthly Reports. Love them or hate them, they are a necessary evil. Admit it, we all create them. Some better than others.

Raise your hand if you’ve ever participated in creating a monthly report that was so long and convoluted that you had no idea what it meant to communicate.

Now, raise your hand if you’ve ever received a monthly report that was so long and convoluted you had no idea how to use it.

I see that most of you have both hands up. Good. Now that we’ve admitted the problem, we can work together to fix it.

Over the next several weeks, yes, several, I’m going to deep dive into not only what’s wrong with monthly reporting, but also give advice on how to fix it. Why weeks? Because we all do monthly reporting, and very few of us do it well. Not because we don’t have the ability but because many of us have inherited the reporting structure. Others of us have stakeholders pile additional requests on top of the already cumbersome report. Lots of us are asked for reporting that goes into the void never to be seen again.

My goal for you is this: You’ll learn tips and tricks to talk to stakeholders and get to the heart of what they actually need. We’ll talk through putting the data together in a way that helps tell a compelling story that is actionable.

Much of this advice is common sense and not earth shattering. However, we tend to get so focused on our own work that it’s helpful to have someone else remind us of what’s possible. That’s what friends are for. And we’re all friends here, sharing the highs and lows of reporting.

For the next few weeks we’re going to dig deep, and I mean deep – bring a flashlight, into each of the 5Ps. As a refresher or if you’re new here (hi there!) the 5Ps are Purpose, People, Process, Platform, and Performance. Because the 5Ps are dependent on each other, you cannot fix one small thing without creating a larger ripple effect. We need to be clear on how all the pieces work together. Spending a whole post on each P might feel like a lot, but I would welcome you to let me know that you’re 100% satisfied with your monthly reporting and don’t see a single opportunity for improvement.

So let’s start at the top with Purpose.

This is the anchor, the foundation, the reason for your monthly reports. If you don’t have a solid purpose for your reporting, it’s pointless. Your time is being wasted creating something that won’t lead to decisions. In any situation, monthly reports, hiring team members, introducing new technology, you name it – you need a defined purpose. This is non-negotiable. Why? A purpose tells your people why you’re doing something. It helps give them a sense of ownership over their part. It helps them understand the bigger picture and feel like a part of the team. A purpose dictates the process and the platform. You need to know why before you can decided on what. And finally, a purpose tells you the performance. If you don’t know what you’re supposed to measure, how do you know if you were successful?

Where many of us go wrong is by asking the wrong questions. Usually, it’s something akin to “what do you want to know?” or “what data do you want to see?” Those are good starting points but you won’t get the full story with those answers. Instead of asking a question, state the facts. How? A user story.

A user story is a simple sentence that tells you everything you need to know.

Here’s the structure: “As a [persona], I [want to], so [that].”

The “persona” tells you the stakeholder. The “want to” informs the process and platform. The “that” is your purpose and performance. Everything you put into your monthly report, from the data points, to how it’s collected, should map back to your user story.

Take a moment and look at one of your monthly reports. Have you been generating it month over month for so many years that you no longer know why you created it or who even looks at it? This is a great opportunity to map a user story to your report. If you can’t, it might be time to re-evaluate your needs and the contents of the report.

Now that you’re questioning everything, let’s start to fix it. Start with your key stakeholder. Who gets the report? Are you the key stakeholder? Even better.

Start with a user story. Give your stakeholder something to react to instead of asking them what they want. Let’s pretend for a second that I’m generating the report for you. I would present you with a user story like this:

“As a marketing manager, I want to measure my content marketing, so that I know where to allocate budget.”

What I’m doing is giving you something that either resonates with you or doesn’t. You might say, “That’s ludicrous, we do paid ads!” Great. Now we’re getting somewhere. When you ask me for data about content marketing I can remind you that you wanted to see data about paid ads. You’re starting to focus in on the purpose of your monthly reports.

Repeat this exercise. You might need to go through a few user stories until you get it right. The more specific you are, the better your reporting will be.

The other thing to note about user stories is that is doesn’t have to be one statement to tell every story. Just like you have multiple reports, you can have multiple user stories. Paste the user story at the top of each report as a gut check. If your data doesn’t map back to the story, either your purpose is wrong, or the data doesn’t support it.

Next week, we’ll dive into all the people that have opinions about your reports. Until then, I want you to write a few user stories for your reporting. Write them down. Put them away. Then take them out a few days later. Do they make sense? Could you build a report from them? Keep at it. It takes practice.

Do you have a love/hate relationship with your monthly reports? Reply to this email, or come join the conversation in our Free Slack Group, Analytics for Marketers.

– Katie Robbert, CEO

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In this week’s In-Ear Insights, Katie and Chris discuss the six dimensions of expertise, and what constitutes someone being an expert or not. Learn what the 6 dimensions are and whether or not someone should be considered an expert.

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Data Diaries: Interesting Data We Found

In this week’s Data Diaries, let’s talk about burnout. I recently saw a spate of news articles at the end of May’s mental health awareness month talking about burnout and how more people were feeling it, and naturally, that got me wondering if the article was true or not. One of the easiest ways to make a determination like this is to look at basic trend data, and for this, we can look at the last 10 years of search data.

What do people search for when they’re possibly dealing with burnout? They search for informational queries like what is burnout, symptoms of burnout, etc. If we bucket those search terms together, we can get a glimpse of what’s on people’s minds about a specific topic – especially if it’s something they might not talk about aloud on social media.

So, what do we see when we look at the top informational searches about burnout?

Burnout chart

You don’t need a degree in statistics to interpret that. Burnout searches have been on the rise for years. What’s especially noteworthy is that this trend began really in 2017. That’s when you start to see the first inflection point – the first upwards change – in the searches, which pick up speed in 2018, and then take off.

Unsurprisingly, we see this ramp up during the pandemic; many people found themselves laid off, and those who weren’t had to pick up the tasks left behind by those who were. That hasn’t abated; if anything, even as the pandemic’s urgency has receded, the amount of intent around burnout has picked up speed.

We’re all familiar with management tropes like “work smarter, not harder” and “do more with less”, cliches that don’t offer any helpful advice when we’re feeling overwhelmed. Just for amusement’s sake, let’s look at the number of articles per month and year for these two phrases, plus the phrase “how to increase productivity”, and do a correlation analysis on them:


What we see is an unmistakeable correlation; all three of these tropes correlate strongly with the search volumes for burnout. Now, there’s absolutely no evidence here that thousands of articles about increasing productivity CAUSES increases in searches about burnout, but there’s definitely a relationship between the two datasets – and most of the articles are unironically about how to increase productivity for yourself or your company. An unrelenting focus on constant increases in productivity is likely to cause burnout over time.

What should you do with this information? For one thing, do get skilled up on recognizing signs and symptoms of burnout (Cleveland Clinic article). The sooner you can recognize the symptoms, the sooner you can take appropriate action.

Second, if you’re in a management or decision-making role, audit yourself for how much emphasis you place on productivity versus how much emphasis you place on the long-term welfare of the people who work for you. The happier they are, the more productive they are in the long term, and the lower your costs for recruiting and retraining. A revolving door of employees does no one any good.

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