“Transparency is the first step towards accountability.” Unknown
Being transparent is an activity that many businesses do without thinking. They will be honest and open about business practices and how they operate. Yet there are also businesses that will struggle with transparency. Chances are, if your business is engaged in producing reports, being transparent is a must do practice. Reports need to provide all necessary and relevant information for the reader – whether they are a customer, client, supplier or governing body.
However, depending on what is being reported on, elements or questions could be missed. Or the level of detail might not be as much as is needed. In this article I’m going to outline why transparency is so important in reporting, how it can go wrong and what needs to happen to be fully transparent.
Why transparency is the Queen of reporting
A report is a document that has to convey the exact same information to anyone who reads it. There can be no room for error or misinterpretation. This means that accuracy of information and the level of detail has to be consistent throughout any organisation – no matter how big or small. The end user of the report must be able to gather all the information they need with little or no need to have anything clarified.
Transparent reporting is a sign of trust. When reports are accurate, timely and consistent, a level of professionalism is assumed. Transparency omits the need for caveats or explanations as the reader can find everything they need from what is contained in the report. Honesty is a given and so there is no need for detail on what isn’t included.
Why does transparency fail when reporting?
- Overly complicated question sets – when questions are long or too difficult to answer or can be misinterpreted, there is a danger that the person reporting will ‘guesstimate’ or answer the question through their own interpretation of the question.
- Lack of consistency – if a particular report is being conducted by a number of different people, consistency can suffer. It’s important that anyone can carry out the same report with the same outcomes being produced.
- Ambiguous questions – much like point number one, questions within the report need to be concise and not open to interpretation.
- Not enough detail – when detail is required, it could be that not enough information is being given. This can be down to any number of reasons – human error, failure to specify how much detail is needed, inability to add a lot of detail on the report, or lack of time. Whatever the reason, not enough detail can often lead to problems that could have been avoided.
- Laziness – everyone can be lazy to a degree. And if it’s 3pm on a Friday and it’s been a rough week, laziness might be a result of a lack of motivation or rushing through a report to get it done.
What do we need to do to ensure reporting transparency?
If transparency is an issue and mistakes are occurring or information that’s expected or needed is being missed, how do we rectify this?
- Make transparency an embedded value in your organisation – implementing a zero tolerance policy on reporting company wide, will position how strongly your business values transparency and accuracy. Human error might not be avoidable but the more you make it unacceptable, the less likely it is to happen.
- Ensure there is no room for error – create reports that have question sets that are clear and concise. Use Yes/No, multiple choice and radio answers whenever possible instead of open ended responses. When asking for detail, specify the detail needed. Provide examples.
- Utilise images where possible – as the saying goes, a picture paints a thousand words. Utilise ‘upload photo’ functionality to attach visual evidence which can save time typing explanations and avoid inaccuracies.
- Store all previous reports on file so that any changes can be monitored and flagged if necessary – when historical reports can be referred to quickly and easily, it can help to alleviate misinformation being input into a report. It can also help to identify when there is an error in the reporting as old reports can be reference points for checking consistency of information.
- Consistency is key – this is the big one. Consistent reports will help to create consistent information. The data output is only as good as the data that’s input so ensure that reports are consistent –language, jargon is understood by all or not used at all and formats are all the same across the organisation.
Are you certain that your reporting processes ensures 100% transparency?
Crawford Burns is Commercial Manager for INSPCT. Connect with Crawford on LinkedIn.
If your business needs to brush up on reporting methods so that yours are transparent, get in touch with the INSPCT team today firstname.lastname@example.org