Why didn’t Katie read Ron’s brilliant report?

Katie Brook is busier than ever.

Today, she has to sit-in on six hours of Zoom meetings. By 4pm, her email inbox will have over 100 unread items. She still has an article to write for the industry press, a speech to prepare about the forthcoming ‘return to work’ and some online shopping to do for her eldest daughter’s 18th birthday.

Once that lot’s done, she’ll go for a walk and hopefully get time to cook, share a glass of wine with her husband and watch Season Four, Episode five of the Crown. Then it’s shower, bed and start all over again tomorrow.

Tomorrow begins with a Board meeting. Six papers will be presented by team leaders on subjects ranging from internal audit to product development. These will emailed together in a pack before close of business today, and she’ll do what she can to review them before the meeting.

Katie’s perspective

The meeting starts at nine am. Before that, she’ll go for a run, have breakfast with her daughters, read the papers, check her emails and call her assistant.

So you can imagine how she feels at eight pm, when she opens the board meeting pack. The reports and presentations sent through in advance add-up to 236 sides of A4. That’s 130,000 words not including diagrams.

130,000 words. That’s 3,000 words longer that William Golding’s Lord of the Flies and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island combined!

Katie stares at her screen desperately trying to work out what she needs to take from these documents and eventually just gives-in. It’s late. She’s tired. Her eyes hurt.

Ron’s perspective

Meanwhile, Ron Davidson is also watching the Crown. He has a beer in hand. He’s feeling really pleased with himself. It’s been a tough month. That report on health and safety in the company’s offices around Europe has been a real challenge. Covid restrictions have meant doing the whole thing remotely, which has meant relying on others to feed him huge amounts of data and images. At one point, he had over 200 pages of information that he needed to distil into this report.  

The report is something to be proud of. It’s full of tables, pie charts and analysis. He has explained his methodology in full to ensure that the Board can be 100% certain that he has hasn’t cut any corners. He has analysed each warehouse separately, offering commentary on every facet of its safety. He’s even offered three potential solutions for every problem he’s identified. There hasn’t been a day this month that he hasn’t worked beyond 5pm, and he is certain the board will give him glowing feedback, not least because he has created an 18 slide summary of the report, each containing a comprehensive list of bullet points allowing him to use his 30 minute slot to cover every conceivable question in advance. Come to think of it, he really deserves another beer.

Report writing – the reality

Tomorrow morning will, of course, be a crushing disappointment for Katie and Ron. She will sit, frustrated and confused, wondering exactly what (if anything) actually needs to be done as a result of his work. He will be equally frustrated as he presents his findings to a bunch of executives who look increasingly distracted and glaze-eyed.

Nobody doubts that Ron has done his job, nor that Katie is a diligent, empathetic board member. But Ron has failed the relevance test. He has fallen into the trap of telling the decision makers what he’s done, instead of what they need to know. He has written the equivalent of an ‘About Us’ section of a report. It actually needs framing as ‘What you need to know and do’.

Ron isn’t alone of course. Every week, thousands of hours are wasted and some brilliant ideas are ignored. This is simply because people with deep, technical knowledge, fail to ‘translate’ it into something crisp and relatable to a busy decision maker.

It’s a hell of a shame, because Ron just needed to explain that the firm’s warehouses are in brilliant shape apart from an urgent issue that needs to addressed in Felixstowe. That particular problem can be found on page 17, paragraph three. Ron has, thoughtfully, highlighted it in red, but Katie never got that far.

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