Writing the most useful reports for executives

Understand the audience, state the business case and translate information into dollars for best results

Well it’s that time of the month once again and payroll professionals across the country are scrambling to produce the headcount and leave of absence reports they think executives need to run the business. But is that really what executives want in terms of information and data from payroll?

Now is an excellent time to stop and reflect on the business value and importance of the reports payroll generates. Payroll has access to invaluable information that can be mined to provide senior management with information to make better business decisions.

In order to achieve this, payroll must first consider what the report or trend analysis will be used for.

Many executives will use the reports to gain a better understanding of the overall health of the business, to learn where the business is inefficient or ineffective or vice versa and to spot and analyze business or departmental trends in terms of turnover, sick leaves or injuries.

Data from payroll is also useful in benchmarking the organization against the competition to build a better operation, identifying emerging trends so solutions can be innovated and understanding if cost- containment initiatives are working and visible through things such as reduced legal fees, recruitment expenditures and workers’ compensation premiums.

In addition to these usages, payroll reports can also contribute important information and data for strategic planning purposes, help set individual, team and organizational targets and goals, enhance the brand and reputation in the marketplace and improve practices, policies, processes and systems.

It’s obvious that reports from payroll can be of great value to executives and help them shape many aspects of the business. Once a payroll practitioner understands what the report might be used for, there are many other factors that should be considered to ensure the report will be of greatest value to executives.

First of all, the payroll practitioner should understand the audience. Determine who will be reading the report and tailor it to the needs of that executive or management group. The information should be reader- friendly, easy to interpret and summarized into a usable format. Make sure to emphasize the patterns and trends that are emerging and how they compare year over year.

Executives want information that is relevant to their business needs and requirements as well as tied to individual and organizational goals, so stress these associations throughout the report.

Always translate the information in actual dollars where possible and link the various types of trends and costs. This can include identifying how much money was spent on legal fees and then linking it to wrongful dismissal or turnover claims, overall hiring practices and management skills.

The report should be concluded with highlights to make it easier for the executive to make a decision.

The payroll practitioner should also pay close attention to the distribution list and make sure it has been recently updated, reviewed and validated. And in true payroll form, those executives on the distribution list should be receiving the information in a timely manner.

Usually executives want to understand where the people and financial inefficiencies lie within the business so solutions can be created as part of the business plan.

They want to understand emerging trends so they can develop proactive solutions. Their primary goals are profitability and, if publicly traded, increased shareholder value.

In fact, many chief executive officers and their leadership teams are measured using a balanced scorecard which means the people data and metrics are now taken into consideration when assessing their performance.

This also means part of their compensation is determined by how well they manage all aspects of the business, not just operations, revenues, sales and profits. Understanding the financial impact of the people side of the business can give invaluable insights into the company’s strengths and needs.

This valuable information can speak volumes when it comes to costs related to absenteeism (including short- and long-term leaves), work injuries, turnover of key staff, recruitment, legal costs and agency fees that are used as input for developing business and HR strategies and budgets.

It is inefficient and ineffective — not to mention hurtful to payroll’s reputation — if reports are generated and circulated that senior management either does not want or does not need.

So consider this part of the payroll practitioner’s role as value added in terms of contributing to the business. It also represents an excellent opportunity to streamline what the department is creating once it is really understood what the executives need and want to run the company.

Be brave and courageous. Go talk to executives, meet with them regularly and really understand their expectations and their perception of the data provided. This will send the message payroll is business- minded and can be a strategic, value-added business partner within the organization.

Fiorella Callocchia is president of HR Impact. She specializes in helping companies develop innovative talent management solutions. She can be reached at [email protected] or (905) 823-7791.

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