Getting the message across

From the moment we get up in the morning to the time we go to bed at night we are bombarded with information. Most of it gets ignored. Some of it gets registered and filed away for future reference. Only a tiny fraction of the information that comes our way actually makes us get up and do something about it.

Organisations invariably produce a vast array of information on their performance. Sadly, much of it slots neatly into the first category or – at best – into the second. Very little of it results in people doing things differently or in taking action of some kind. This might be because the information is of a poor quality, but often it is because it simply is not presented in an effective way.

High quality, clear and well-targeted performance information helps people within organisations to make better decisions. It also saves time, as people can focus directly on what is important. And it lends credibility to the organisation as a whole, both internally and in public.

In order to achieve this, we need to ask four key questions:

1. Who will use the information and what do they need to know? Information should be targeted at the specific needs of its users, even if this means reporting it differently for different audiences.

2. What information do we have and what is it telling us? Before we can communicate information, we need to understand it. This means analysing the information carefully, looking at it in context and understanding its implications for the organisation.

3. What message do we want to communicate? What do we want the users of the information to know? What do we want them to feel? What do we want them to do? All of these things will influence the information that we present and how we present it.

4. How can we best communicate the information to our audience? There are many ways to communicate performance information, from raw numbers and performance scores to narrative summaries and ‘traffic light’ ratings. The key is to choose one that gets the message across clearly and concisely.

By following this simple approach, organisations can improve significantly the effectiveness of the performance information that they produce. And by preparing it in a more targeted way, they might just be able to save themselves some time and money in the process.

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