Every organisation I come across seems to have the same philosophy: report, report and report even more. After all, a reporting organisation is a learning organisation so they say.

Yet it’s reasonable to ask how effective imploring staff to report everything really is. I would suggest not very in most cases.

People often find all-too-familiar excuses to avoid reporting, citing limited time, clunky reporting systems, lack of feedback or fear of reprisal. Sometimes staff fail to recognise the need to report in the first place, because of lack of awareness or misunderstanding about what the purpose of reporting even is.

Reporting is primarily about learning

Stack of documentsSo your challenge is to shift this perception that reporting is only about capturing the bad stuff, and remind people that it’s meant to record positive aspects of the business too.
It prevents recurring incidents and identifies weaknesses in the system. An appropriately structured reporting system also reveals what works well and helps colleagues share what they’re proud of, promoting solutions to common problems that might hold your organisation back.

Here are six important issues to consider when you benchmark your present reporting system or design a new one.

1. Should reporting be voluntary or compulsory?

If you favour the latter, how do you know everything is being reported anyway? To resolve that dilemma you might consider a prescriptive list of reportable instances, which staff then use to decide if a situation is reportable or not. The other alternative is to leave reporting to personal and professional judgement, which comes down to trust.

2. Is your system trusted?

Trust is perhaps the main component in a functioning reporting system so there needs to be a clear non-punitive message that is authentic and believable. Part of building trust is knowing when the line is crossed from a non-punitive reported issue, to one where a sanction may result. But who draws the line? And even if a line is drawn, can the line ever be fixed?

3. What level of protection do you give when a report is made?

Guarantees assure people that they won’t be identified to an aggrieved line manager when they have a legitimate concern, or sacrificed to the authorities (unless of course wilful, negligent or unlawful activity is involved).

4. Is reporting confidential, anonymous or through an intermediary?

Anonymous reporting possibly gives staff the greatest reassurance of a non-punitive process, but it doesn’t allow for a follow-up with the individual. Confidential reporting, possibly through a safety team (rather than line management), is a more useful approach because the safety team has no political agenda and can follow-up with the individual.

A third method is to have trusted individuals (intermediaries or champions) who individuals can talk to in a safe environment. This works particularly well at the no-harm, risk-taking behaviours level and can resolve issues locally, with solutions communicated widely if required.

5. Are you clear what happens after issues are reported?

Developing a reporting culture is fantastic but if it’s just about hitting a numeric target then it misses the point. Reports must be followed up in a timely fashion with genuine, meaningful feedback and plans for action involving those who made the effort to highlight an issue in the first place.

6. Have you dedicated enough resources?

No reporting system will stand up to scrutiny if insufficient resources (human, technical, financial and time) are allocated to collection and analysis, and action on the resulting intelligence. Otherwise reports gather dust, and staff will inevitably conclude there’s no point because nothing ever happens, and stop reporting.

The key to effective reporting is building trust by engaging your employees

Involve them in designing your process and system (using the considerations above) and sell it positively to them, so that they feel invested in its success. Then develop and refine reporting over time, cooperatively and iteratively as your organisation grows – which it undoubtedly will as you learn from your mistakes and improvements along the way.