26 February 2024

Mastering strategic reporting: a comprehensive guide

a celebrating after mastering strategic reporting.

Strategic reporting is vital to making smart business decisions. It helps you align your plans with your long-term goals by revealing what’s working and what’s not, and where the biggest risks and opportunities lie.

In this guide, we'll explore why strategic reporting is so important, what makes it effective, and what lies ahead as technology and business practices evolve. 

Understanding the basis of strategic reporting

What is strategic reporting?

In a nutshell, strategic reporting tells the story of your business through data. It's all about gathering, analysing, and presenting information to give you and your stakeholders a clear view of the company's performance and the best way forward. 

It differs from operational reporting, which concerns your business’s day-to-day operations and has a more limited scope. 

Why is strategic reporting important? 

Strategic reporting is your compass towards greater success. It guides you through the twists and turns of the market landscape, helping you navigate challenges and seize opportunities. Without it, you may end up basing major decisions on gut instinct. 

The role of strategic reporting in business 

Strategic reporting provides the insights needed to make informed decisions, whether it's about performance management, financial health, or another aspect of your organisation’s performance.  

While it’s extremely valuable for your HR and finance functions, strategic reporting helps you achieve more in every area of your business. Data is more powerful when it’s shared between departments, and information collected by one team could generate game-changing insights for another. 

The need for strategic reporting in modern businesses

How strategic reporting aids decision-making 

In today's fast-paced business world, decisions must be made at lightning speed. That's where strategic reporting becomes indispensable. With access to fresh, high-quality data and analysis, you can quickly and confidently make the right choices when under pressure. 

Strategic reporting fuels both short and long-term decisions, boosting your business performance now and in the future. While it steers choices that will have an immediate impact on stakeholders, it can also predict what things will look like many years ahead based on your current actions. 

The impact of strategic reporting on business performance 

All businesses want greater success, and strategic reporting is crucial to achieving it. Data is one of your most valuable assets, allowing you to fine-tune everything from your benefits package to your sickness absence policy. 

The role of strategic reporting in risk management

By keeping a close eye on key performance indicators, you can identify potential risks before they escalate into full-blown crises. Robust data and reporting helps mitigate a huge range of risks, from non-compliance to low performance and spiralling costs. 

For example, reliable gender pay gap data is required by the Equality Act 2010, and providing it helps you avoid the consequences of non-compliance. At the same time, acting on any concerns raised by the data may avoid a backlash among employees and improve engagement. 

Components of an effective strategic report

What to include in a strategic report

Strategic reporting can take a huge variety of forms depending on the nature of your business and what you want to achieve. Every UK-incorporated company over a certain size must prepare a strategic report within its annual report. However, you may also produce smaller, more regular reports that focus on specific areas of performance. 

Before you begin compiling your report, first ensure you’ve got access to high-quality data that paints a meaningful picture of the business’s performance against its objectives. When you’ve got a watertight data strategy in place, you can focus on presenting the information to your audience in the most effective way. 

Here are some key elements to consider including:

  • An executive summary: Think of this as the CliffsNotes version of your report. It should succinctly summarise the main findings and recommendations, giving busy executives a quick overview of what's inside. 
  • Business objectives: Outline the company's overarching goals. 
  • Key performance indicators (KPIs): These are the metrics that matter most to your business, such as revenue growth, employee productivity, and customer satisfaction. 
  • SWOT analysis: This identifies the company's strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats, providing a solid basis for strategic decisions. 
  • Competitive analysis: Take a deep dive into the competitive landscape, analysing how your company stacks up against its rivals. 
  • Action plan: Set out concrete steps for achieving your strategic objectives in light of the report’s findings. Who is responsible for what, and what are the timelines? 

Best practices for writing a strategic report

Most executives don’t have a lot of time to digest information within their jam-packed schedules. That’s why a good strategic report is comprehensive yet concise, providing decision-makers with the insights they need and no unnecessary waffle. Here are some best practices to keep in mind: 

  • Know your audience: Tailor your report to the needs and preferences of those reading it. Are they data-driven executives who want the nitty-gritty, or do they prefer a high-level overview? 
  • Keep it clear and concise: If you’re writing a report based on your technical expertise, it’s easy to get carried away. Avoid superfluous details, and steer clear of jargon that won’t be obvious to your readers. Instead, focus on communicating your key points simply and succinctly. 
  • Use visuals wisely: Include charts, graphs, and other visuals to illustrate your points. Just make sure you keep them relevant and easy to understand. 
  • Review and revise: Before finalising your report, scan it carefully for errors and inconsistencies. It's also a good idea to get feedback from colleagues, who may spot things you’ve missed. 

How to structure a strategic report

A logical structure makes your report easier to understand. Here's a basic framework to get you started: 

  • Title page: Start with a page that includes the title of the report, the author's name, the date, and any other relevant information. 
  • Table of contents: Next, include a table of contents to help readers navigate the report quickly and easily. 
  • Executive summary: Briefly summarise the main findings and recommendations of the report. 
  • Introduction: Provide some background information on the company and the purpose of the report. 
  • Analysis: This is the heart of your report, where you’ll analyse key data to measure performance and identify opportunities and challenges. 
  • Recommendations: Based on your analysis, outline actionable recommendations for achieving the company's strategic objectives. 
  • Conclusion: Wrap things up with a brief conclusion that reiterates the main points of the report and emphasises the importance of taking action. 

Industry-specific challenges within strategic reporting

While the basic principles of strategic reporting are universal, each sector brings its own unique set of challenges. In the technology sector, rapid innovation and changing market dynamics can make it difficult to predict future trends and plan accordingly. In manufacturing, supply chain disruptions and quality control issues can create obstacles that warrant different types of data and analysis. 

By understanding the specific challenges facing your industry, you can tailor your approach to produce the most relevant insights. 

Examples of successful strategic reporting

There are plenty of real-world examples of successful strategic reporting in action. In the automotive industry, Sytner Group uses the iTrent people analytics platform to achieve a consistent payroll process between each of its dealerships. In transport, ScotRail uses the platform to cut down on cumbersome administrative tasks, while Nottingham City Transport adopted it as part of a larger HR transformation project. 

In the public sector, Watford Borough Council and Three Rivers District Council used automated strategic reporting to reduce costs, save time, and get better insights from their reporting.  

Researching relevant case studies within your industry can offer valuable lessons to apply to your own strategic reporting. Discover the experiences of many more organisations in a variety of sectors here

How to improve your strategic reporting

Tips and tricks for enhancing your strategic reporting

Now that you've got the basics down, let's talk about how you can take your strategic reporting to the next level: 

  • Embrace automation: Manual data entry and analysis can be time-consuming and error-prone. With the right software, you can streamline your reporting processes and free up time for more strategic tasks. 
  • Collaborate: Strategic reporting is a team effort, so work closely with different departments and stakeholders to gather the most meaningful data and share valuable insights. 
  • Stay agile: The business landscape is constantly evolving, so be willing to adapt your reporting strategies in response to changing market conditions and emerging trends. 

The role of technology in strategic reporting 

Technology plays a crucial role in strategic reporting, enabling businesses to collect, analyse, and visualise data more efficiently than ever before. Advanced analytics tools can help you combine data from across your business, spot patterns as soon as they emerge, and communicate insights in a way everyone can understand. 

Training and resources for better strategic reporting 

Of course, technology is only part of the equation. To truly excel at strategic reporting, employees need the right skills and knowledge. Whether it's attending workshops, enrolling in online courses, or hiring a consultant, there are plenty of options for businesses looking to upskill their workforce. 

Future trends in strategic reporting

The impact of digital transformation on strategic reporting

From artificial intelligence and machine learning to big data and the Internet of Things, digital technologies are revolutionising the way businesses collect, analyse, and report on data. In the years to come, we can expect to see even greater integration of these technologies into strategic reporting, offering businesses deeper, more impactful insights. 

How will strategic reporting practices change over time?

Aside from technological advancements, we’re likely to see changes in strategic reporting practices themselves. For example, there may be a greater emphasis on real-time reporting along with predictive and even prescriptive analytics, making it easier to anticipate trends and make proactive decisions. 

As professionals get used to using digital tools at work, there might also be a move towards more collaborative and interactive reporting formats. This would remove silos and improve decision-making by allowing stakeholders in all departments to share and engage with data. 

Adapting to the future of strategic reporting

As strategic reporting evolves, the most successful businesses will adapt with it. This may mean investing in new technologies, updating reporting processes, and rethinking traditional approaches to decision-making. As ever, the most agile and forward-thinking businesses tend to outcompete those that stick to what they know. 

Want to use data to help your business reach its full potential? Our cloud-based people analytics platform combines HR and finance data from throughout your organisation to generate powerful insights.

Jannike Ohsten, freelance content writer

Jannike Ohsten

During a decade in writing-based marketing roles, Jannike has helped businesses define their brands, build powerful online presences, and convert prospects into loyal customers. Today, she supports organisations large and small to achieve their goals with better writing, whether it’s through copywriting or coaching.

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