Rolling out new-look reports - and get past trouble-makers too

This email is on how and when to roll out new-look reports so that bosses like them, not loathe them. You even get excuses to spout if it all goes wrong.

First, remember it's the 'trouble-maker in the middle': when I train people or redo reports for clients, people often thank me. Sometimes though, they don't. They criticise. Interestingly, top bosses never criticise. As 'end-readers', they want an easier life, so if a redone report saves them time or effort, they’re delighted.

No. The critics are always middle-managers. The trouble-makers in the middle. They burden us with their ‘insight’. “Bosses won’t like it that way.” “Our templates don’t allow that.” “It depends on your audience, and I know what they want.” (Don’t get me wrong - yes, objections always come from middle managers, but no, not all middle managers object; all dogs are animals, but not all animals are dogs.) 

With that in mind, try these ideas for redoing your reports:

Look for opportunities to change: often, we send reports to bosses who then spend 20 minutes asking us questions… all the answers to which are in the report. So offer to help. “This report… it obviously didn’t work that well for you. Next time, shall I try redoing it a bit to see if I can save you 20 minutes of your time?” They will say: “Yes please.”

Or contrive opportunities: at a place I worked, I got the mandate to redo the packs via a bit of theatre - I asked bosses: “Last month, how did we do against budget”. To their surprise (not mine), the pack didn’t tell them. They asked me to redo the pack.

Wait for a company restructure: it alters reporting lines, comparatives, etc. So tweak templates then. Sneak through changes while bosses are distracted with internal politics.

Or just go for it. After all: (1) it’s easier to get forgiveness than seek approval. And (2) bosses probably aren’t wedded to what they get. Often, they actually don’t like it. But they don’t know what to ask for instead. (As Henry Ford apparently said: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses”.) So go for it. Anyway, if something is conspicuously better, bosses might simply say: "Thank you!”.

Tell bosses you’re following company values. So... bosses pay for you to attend a Course to learn how to do something new - but you fear that bosses will object if you then do something new...? It doesn't make sense. And at two clients of mine, it was also pure irony. One had its walls adorned with huge ‘inspiring’ slogans from the CEO. “Dare to dream.” “Innovate.” (Maybe ‘innovate’ now means: “Keep things the same”.) The other client was renowned for being a whacky, try-anything place. But changing reports? To save bosses time? To reach better decisions? Good Lord, can’t do that. 

That’s when to roll out new ideas. Next are tips on how to roll them out. 

Dip a toe in the water gently. Don’t pilot on something too high profile, such as an annual 100-pager to 700 people. If your redo flops, it’s a visible muck-up, plus you must wait a year to revert to the prior version. Instead, pilot on a weekly five-page note to six people.

Do two versions – the before and after. Changes look better when contrasted with the earlier bad before. If possible, briefly talk through the changes. PS: make the before slightly worse than normal, but not so much that bosses notice…

Or do three versions – the before and two afters. Give bosses the bad five-page before, the great two-page after, and a half-page that’s too brief. Too abrupt. Bosses will go for the middle one. The one you want them to go for.

Do it piecemeal? I took ten months to redo a monthly pack where I worked. I got ten months of brownie points from bosses (“Great, Jon, you’ve redone more of the pack this month”). I had fewer late nights at work. I tested the water as I proceeded. Much better.

If your redo flops, blame me. You can’t be a prophet in your own land. Bosses view your new ideas as, well, your ideas. Their junior’s ideas. So claim you got the ideas from me. I did this often in corporate life… when mentioning something a bit off-the-wall or controversial, I said I’d heard it from a Professor. Bosses were less likely to dismiss it.

Claim you expected it to flop, and pin it on ‘culture’. Say: “Hesitantly I dabbled with Jon’s ideas, but feared they wouldn't work for us... and I was right - Jon’s stuff doesn’t suit our culture”.  

OK, maybe also try sneaky tactics espoused by change-managers, e.g. find the 'early-adopters'. Or get bosses to think it was their idea. Etc.

If you're into that stuff, fine. If not, here's a 'light bulb' joke: how many change-managers does it take to change a light bulb? One, but the bulb must really want to change.

On that note.


Clarity and Impact Ltd | +44 20 8840 4507 | |

To receive these emails at a different address, email me with details.

Been forwarded this email? Want to get future updates directly? Click here

Clarity and Impact Ltd