Writing An Annual Report For Government (Humor)
If you are amused by the antics of public sector and government, here's a little parody that contains a wee bit more truth than it ought to, about how to write annual reports if you are in government. Based on Robert's real experiences working in government and being involved in the writing of departmental reports.
One thing they never teach you in school is how to write an annual report if you work in government. It is, indeed, a magical art. For those of you who are expected to participate in the annual report endeavor, we have pulled together a number of tips, based on real government annual reports we have examined.
1. Forget All You Ever Learned About Writing Clearly
Hardly anyone reads these things...and the few that do are probably NOT reading it to determine how many extra thousands of dollars you will receive at bonus time. If you write too clearly, people will think that you are hiding something or you are illiterate. So, write so you don't say anything, or if you do, write it so nobody can understand it.
Never write something like: "We spent too much money last year, we'll do better next time."
Instead, write it this way:
"In examining the audited statements we note that a special expenditure was required in order to fulfil the mandate of our department with professionalism and commitment. In the course of time, and applying diligence and dedication, we expect that this will be a non-repeating, non-redundant, non-requisitioned expenditure which will be brought under control for the purposes of budgetary harmony."
A thesaurus is great here. If you really get stuck, make up a few words. Nobody will ask what you mean because they will be worried about appearing stupid.
2. Never Delegate Report-Writing To Staff Lower In The Hierarchy
Annual reports should be written by people who are the least knowledgable and most out of touch with the work the organization does. We suggest that only senior executives be permitted to write annual reports. They can be counted on to focus on "the big picture", and use large words and a whale-load of commas and semi-colons. Commas and semi-colons are good things...the more the better!
3. Use Lots of Numbers, or No Numbers
Ninety-nine percent of people have no understanding of numbers, let alone statistics. This is good because it means that if you fill up your report with enough numbers, even the most dedicated readers will be baffled and give up reading the report.
Report only numbers that go up from year to year, if you are referring to accomplishments, and down if you are talking about expenditures. There are always numbers that will fit the bill. Use your electricity consumption rates if necessary.
If you have trouble finding "good" numbers, you have two options. The first is to redefine the categories. For example if there are more people below the poverty line this year, move the poverty line and recalculate (one government actually did this). This tactic works whether you want bigger or smaller numbers.
The second option is to use no numbers at all. This implies that you are saving the public money by not compiling huge quantities of useless statistics. Figuring out how well you are doing is very costly. Curry favor by saving taxpayers the expense.
4. Write On The Sunny Side
No matter what horrible things have been done during the past year, there are always ways of presenting things in a positive light. Let's face it, nobody wants to hear bad news, so be creative.
If fifty percent of your staff quit because you are a rotten S.O.B., you can still make yourself look really good. Try something like this:
"Last year the department exceeded government guidelines as they applied to staff redundancies and restructuring. Without sacrificing service, staff years were reduced by fifty percent for a savings of [$]. The department played a leadership role in this area, and set a strong example for others."
A related sunny-side technique is to report activity rather than results. For example, a government branch involved in supplying employee assistance services, recently reported that there was a substantial increase in requests for counselling. Presumably this is good because it shows how important the branch is and how foolish it would be to do away with it.
Only a foolish person would include the following:
"While requests for services increased by 24%, follow-up indicated that 90% of our clients have developed severe character disorders after meeting our employees."
That's a result. Stick to activity levels, not results. Reporting results is dangerous.
5. Don't Include Pictures of Disney Characters
This should go without saying, but you would be surprised how many managers want to stick a picture of Goofy or Donald Duck into the annual report. While your report may say nothing, take three hundres pages to say what you haven't said, and be a product of judicious fantasy, the inclusion of cartoon characters will make it appear that you just aren't taking the annual report exercise seriously.
Writing annual reports is not fun. Neither is it difficult if you remember that people don't REALLY want to know what you are doing. Those that think you do good work don't need to know your warts. Those that think you are a waste of space are not going to be convinced otherwise. So write for the great mass in between who just don't want to know. Help them not know. Nurture them.
The safest path is to appear to have said a good deal, without having said anything at all. With a little practice, you can incorporate the ideas presented to produce impeccable annual reports that will confuse people so badly they won't even know they are confused. Look for the knowing nods of people when they read your report. That will tell you you have succeeded.