The farther you go in your management career, the more reports will be sent to you. Some are sent for your information. Others require your action or approval. Some you need to send up the chain of command. And some should be trashed or cancelled. How do you know which ones are valid and which ones to suspect?
Consider the Source
One of the first things to consider is who sent you the report, and why. Many people will send you reports and the higher you go the worse it gets. Some will be reports you asked for. Others will be produced in other departments and distributed. Some will just show up. Evaluate what you know of the person sending the report. Consider the sender's:
- Seniority - if it's coming from your boss or someone higher up in the organization or who has been around awhile, you probably give it more credence than if it comes from the intern who started last week.
- Expertise - if the report is a financial analysis, you will give it more weight if it comes from someone in Accounting than someone in Shipping. You should place more trust in a technology report that comes from someone in Development than someone in Sales.
- Track record - how valid have the reports from this person been in the past? How many have you received before? The more you have received from a person in the past that have proven accurate, the more likely it is that this new one can be believed.
What Is Required
You will pay more attention to a report that requires you to take action than to one that is provided for information. You will pay closest attention to one that requires you add to it and send it upward with your recommendation. So here the things to consider are:
- Informational - if the report does not require any action on your part, you may be able to skim it, or ignore it completely.
- Action required - these you want to be sure are right. They get a much closer scrutiny to be sure they are accurate and complete. You want to be sure you are making your decision on the best information you can have.
- Forwarding with approval - reports that you must forward up the chain of command need the most attention. Not only do they need the high degree of scrutiny you give the reports that require your action; you need to also be prepared to defend them if questioned.
Estimate the Risk
The concern here is to evaluate the downside of the information in the report being wrong. A report on server utilization for the past week can be a little inaccurate without much risk. A request to purchase a new server farm based on a pattern of server overloads must meet a higher standard of accuracy. When evaluating risk, think about:
- Extent - how big a topic does this report cover; how much of the company is involved?
- Severity - If this report contains invalid data, how severe will the damage be? Will it delay one shipment for a few hours or will it shut down our entire distribution operation for several weeks.
Consider the Destination
If the report stops with you, you want to be sure it is right because you want to receive the best information you can. However, if the report will be seen by others, with your approval on it, you need to focus a little more on making sure it is correct.
- Upper Management - As noted above, if it is going to upper management you want to be especially careful that the data in the report are accurate.
- Customers - This is a situation of increased risk, as noted above, because the information is leaving your company. You must be very sure of the accuracy of any information in reports that you send to your clients.
- Public - any reports that are intended for public information, or which may become public, need to be absolutely accurate. This includes reports that must be submitted to various government agencies.
Evaluate Your Skill
Some reports will be easier for you to evaluate simply because you know the subject well. It is easier for an accountant to review a profit and loss statement
than for a programmer to do so. On the other hand, it is easier for a developer to understand a server log than it is for someone in Sales. In reviewing reports this is a two-edged sword.
- What you know - these reports will be easiest for you to review. However, you will be given less latitude if they are wrong. The assumption will be that you should have known better. You should have been able to spot the bad information because you know the subject.
- What you don't know - these are hard to review because you are not as skilled in this area as in some others. However, these are the ones you must review most closely. These are the ones where it will be easiest for you to be mis-led by bad information.
After you consider and weigh all these factors, it still comes down to whether you as an individual believe the report. Managers seldom have all the necessary data. We have to act on what information we do have and make our best judgment based on it. You will need to do that with all the reports you receive, but don't forget to:
- Use your skills - some skills apply in any area, regardless of whether or not you are technically competent in that area. If you have a math aptitude, do the numbers "look" right? Does the technical description "make sense"? Is the report organized and thought out versus looking like it was slapped together?
- Use your gut - sometimes you just "know" something is wrong. When you get that feeling, you are probably right. Go with your instincts and send the report back to the author for further clarification.