In the second of this series I’m looking at why you should always present a number with a lever attached.
When you present numbers to a director or a manager what do they want?
Generally if you ask they’ll say words like ‘clarity’ or ‘understanding’ but in fact what they are really after is the information to make a decision.
The question they are really asking is ‘should I pull this lever’.
Levers can be all sorts of things – ‘do I increase my adwords spend?’, ‘Should we buy more stock?’, ‘Where should we invest our surplus cash?’
What’s important is what drives your business. There’s actually very few drivers for most businesses. British Airways for example found that the one Key Performance Indicator (KPI) for their business was the gate turnaround time. If they turned their very expensive aircraft round quickly they were able to run more routes thus increasing their profit.
The question you need to ask is ‘what thing drives my business?’ There may be more than one of course but it’s unlikely there’d be more than say half a dozen.
Some examples of drivers
If you run a shop then a key performance indicator could be the sales per square foot. If you change your stock mix, increase your prices or bring in new lines then it’s likely that your sales per square foot will be affected. Make a change and watch how your KPI changes. You then know whether you should pull the lever that says ‘buy different stock’.
A bakery might monitor waste. If you throw a lot of bread away then it suggests you’re either not baking what people want to buy or simply baking too much. It tells you to pull the lever marked ‘change your bake plan’.
A transport company may monitor MPG. When the vehicles start using more fuel then they are either worn and in need of replacement or a service.
Of course there are things that really aren’t KPIs with levers attached. Monitoring your rent is usually not productive. Most firms rent doesn’t change month on month and because they are tied to a lease there’s little they can actually do about it. No lever. Reporting the rent is simply confusing the picture.
In summary then the figures you report need to be something you can affect by your behaviour. A lever is something that is not only variable but can be affected by management action and all figures reported must have a lever attached.
If you’re put in charge of presenting a lot of numerical data to a group then what can you do to make sure people see what you need them to see?
The first in this series is a list of golden rules to abide by to make your presentations stand out.
There will be more editions giving you further specific advice to help you with presentation coming soon.
1 Never present a number that doesn’t have a lever attached-
Seriously what’s the point? It may give you or your audience a sense of comfort to know there are loads of numbers floating around the organisation but if you can’t do anything with them then they are just so much noise.
2 Less is more –
Don’t confuse quantity with quality. Focus on presenting just a few key metrics. The things that really drive the business instead of putting a number to every aspect of the firm and then printing them on a tree.
3 Space on the page should stay just that –
Lots of blank white space focuses the eye on the number you want people to see. Don’t use a lot of interesting and funky graphics, lines, colours or shading. Leave it clean and crisp and to the point.
4 Just because you can doesn’t mean you should –
No seriously, we know you’re good at excel, that’s why you’re where you are but just because excel 2013 can do sparklines doesn’t mean every sheet should have them. Steer away from the fancy stuff and go for understanding rather than pretty graphics. Whilst we’re about it backgrounds are an absolute no-no.
5 Always add context-
Numbers without context are just so much hamster bedding. The skill of a high level manager is not to produce accurate numbers (we kind of assume you’ll do that anyway) but it’s the richness of interpretation that adds real value to an organisation. Add (short) commentaries of why readers should care that Gross Profit is down and you’re getting there.
6 Always ask ‘Why?’-
Whenever you’re adding a feature, a metric or a format to a page ask yourself why. Does it add anything? If someone asks you to add in another figure to an already full sheet then ask them why. What specific insight is it that they hope to gain?
Now it may be that you’re in a regulated industry and you have to report in a specific way with specific information. In which case you should ignore all of the above because you’re not allowed to rewrite the governing body’s report structure. but for other internal reports you should use the above rules and go for clean, insightful pages that cut to the chase and you’ll be surprised how much more fruitful the discussions will be.