Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Reporting Wishlist for 2010

Everybody is doing year-end and year-beginning posts. The best of the last decade, the trends for the next decade. The amount of times we blinked in 2009. The amount of times we intend to blink in 2010. The personalities. The influencers. The events. The non-events. The anything you can count or evaluate. So I thought, hey, this is a good train to board. So I bought a ticket to the Turn-of-the-Decade Rush-to-Post, and jumped in the carriage marked:
The Reporting Wishlist for 2010.

When you read and review as many sustainability reports as I do, you begin to wish that all reports would provide a certain basic level of, well, level. Here are just a few of the things  I would like to see in CSR and Sustainability Reports in 2010 (in addition to, not in place of, what is). 

As I write this post, I am contemplating the nice, slim summary report of Westpac Banking Group for 2009, just issued, sitting on my desk. I just happened to open it straight to page 26 (yeah, right) , and how fortuitous, a really nice matrix on that page. Evidence of a thought process about issues in the business, and how to report them. The opposite of the retail approach. Stack the shelves. Get everything out there. Maybe some impulse-shopper will just be around to buy anything. Nope, retail reporting is not the best reporting strategy. The best approach is to select the most important issues, be transparent about what's selected and why, and report on these in detail. And the best way of doing this, for me, the reader-stakeholder-professional, is by showing me a nice graphic display of what counts. Like this, from aforementioned Westpac report:

 So first on the 2010 Reporting WishList is the Materiality Matrix.

Let's face it, if you have written a report and no-one has given any feedback, you didn't create enough BUZZ. And if you're report ain't buzzin, then neither are you. If the whole point of a report is to serve as a platform for generating stakeholder dialogue and feedback, then please, reporters, make sure you get some. And please report on this feedback and how you related to it in your upcoming report. Like Daiichi Sankyo.

How I wish all these l-o-n-g reports would clearly identify what is different about the new report from the last report. If the reporters are going to regurgitate lots of prior content for completeness, and in some cases, this might make sense, my wish is to see these "and-this-is-something-we-prepared-two-years-ago" bits clearly highlighted. So that I dont have to read them again if I don't want to. And so that I can focus on what's new and relevant. If at all possible, all reports should contain new, fresh, up-to-date material, which represents the DELTA. And explain the DELTA. If some of last year's objectives dropped off the end of the desk, never to reappear, and new ones grew horns, I would like to know that. I don't want to have to search. If you have changed your employee headcount methodology, or electronic waste weight calculation, please do enlighten us. Make the DELTA (and the differences) clear so that the reader can get a clear picture.  

The number of employees who have read the report
Another mantra of mine is that employees must engage with the reporting process and the report. This is one of the best ways a business can gain true value from reporting, and use the the process as a way to drive sustainability performance. Why Companies don't measure how many employees read the report, or take any form of interest in the report, continues to astound me, as I have previously blogged. I wish to see reported, in reports published in 2010, the number of employees who have, in some way, read, responded to, asked about, worked on, discussed, presented,  or in any other creative way (ok, dont let your imagination get out of hand), engaged with the report. Ideally, I would like a metric: the number of employees that have read the report. Most Companies know how to survey employees. Get the data. Just by surveying, the number will increase. I wish to see more employees valuing the CSR report as the useful working document it should be.

A relevant Assurance statement (for all non-first reports)
You know how I feel about assurance statements. Enough said.  I want to see better assurance in 2010, for all non-first reports. OK. Correction. Significantly better assurance. And I want to see the Global Reporting Initiative stop awarding  + for anything that doesn't even remotely ressemble a relevant Assurance statement.

People's faces
I wish to see more people's faces in 2010 reports. Not just any faces. Not just the faces of the CEO and the Chairman, and not the stock photo faces that look like Stingray people. I wish to see more faces of more people who work in the organization and who have contributed to the report, or to the work that has made the report possible. I want to feel that these people are talking to me, instead of an anonymous reporter who is producing a standard marketing glossy.People make the report come alive, and they deseve recognition in the report. So slap a little powder on their faces, mascara for those that wish (Chairman included), set the zoom and get off to their workplace with the digicam and click when they smile. Oh, and write down what they say. It's probably much more interesting than what you were planning to write in the first place. So come on, reporters, make my wish come true in 2010 and let's have the Full Monty. (well, faces, not ... er... you know).

Any Reporting Blog readers have a wishlist? Don't be shy. Post a comment with what you would like to see in 2010 CSR and Sustainability Reports. And remember what the glorious Maya Angelou said:  Ask for what you want and be prepared to get it.

elaine cohen is the joint CEO of BeyondBusiness, a leading reporting and social-environmental consulting firm . Visit our website at: 

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