The push for narrative reporting
How do we capture all the activities that have the potential to generate wealth within organizations? Most remain hidden as they lie within out knowledge-based capital. This the second part of two posts (part one here) discussing our need to capture and report on ALL our assets, both the tangible and intangibles.
Knowledge-based capital today is more important to understand in its make up than often the reported financial numbers. One generates the other and investors need to see what goes into an organizations knowledge capital to provide them with continued confidence or not.
Recently the OECD provided an extensive report on “Supporting Investment in Knowledge Capital, Growth and Innovation”
I spent a fair amount of my time this last Saturday working through this document from the OECD. No, it was not because I had nothing better to do, it was simply because it ‘points’ towards one area I totally believe needs resolving, capturing knowledge and where it resides and how it works. Then we can begin to place increased focus upon improving the capabilities and capacities we all need for innovation to do its necessary work, that of regaining our growth and vitality in many markets. The problem is we often do not know which are the most valuable or critical to focus upon.
Also if we can capture this understanding well, the recognition, once and for all, that people and what they do is vital and often completely undervalued. The recognition of the importance of our intellectual capital we might begin to create more of the environments necessary to nourish it. To allow this ‘creating’ to take place more effectively than today and value it for what it truly provides.
The present impasse in grappling with this knowledge generating side within our business organizations has been a lack of regulatory requirement to disclose that much around any knowledge generating activity for fear of ‘revealing’ the competitive advantages. What is discussed is only what management chose to provide for giving a ‘certain gloss’ to their reporting or unyielding probing by interested parties.
Certain countries, especially in Northern Europe have been able to make far more headway on getting intellectual capital statements recognized and part of a annual reporting but these are still not easy to align and compare. Knowledge-based capital is far too important not to understand today. Yet we avoid embracing the idea, we prefer to reject this type of asset and capital reporting with cries of “too difficult”
The movement today is towards narrative formats
How can we move forward? The suggestion is narrative reporting. Generally speaking, narrative disclosure can take several forms: companies can publish an Intellectual Capital Statement or include a description of their intangible assets in the Management Discussion and Analysis (MD&A) section or the report on environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) and sustainability.
What is recognized is that narrative reporting need not be purely qualitative. It can include some form of valuation. There is on-going argument this might be based on KPI’s tailored to an industry but realistically very few report on recognized KPI’s, comparable with others in their industry or field. Also how would you tackle differences in national approaches. Standardising our reporting has never been easy and when you contemplate ‘capturing’ more intangible aspects, it gets significantly harder. Yet we must try.
There is a movement towards sustainability reporting as the basis for these narrative reports. For instance the Global Reporting Initiative. (GRI). This is seeking a broader acceptance of what can make up a more integrated reporting framework. Discussions have a long way to go to bring in the harder, less tangible aspects though.
Narrative formats have both risk and benefit to report upon.
Investors chase for a better understanding of what is actually going on within organizations. Organizations push back, yet attracting fresh and on-going investment is the life blood, so some form of ‘uneasy dance’ takes place while you have no regulatory guidelines or enforcement.
Information gaps are increasing, sometimes for both the investor and the manager fail to be identified and recognized, as serious warning signals. Many get caught in this inability to identify ‘what makes up’ the organizational capital and lose their investments or jobs from this lack of appropriate understanding.
Strategic and operational weaknesses need to be ‘jumped upon’ very quickly, if spotted, yet the more intangible ones often remain hidden to investors and even management and what effect this might have. High profile people, when they leave create these tensions and performance concerns. Can you imagine if you have a real drift of your talent walking out of the door, what that does to future performance?
Achieving a greater transparency
We need to have a more transparent understanding of the value of people, of the systems, dependencies, relationships and these make up intellectual capital. The push for achieving better board governance and effectiveness does push the board to question more and more, in the depth and breadth of information they receive and act upon.
The arguments for putting in place more effective narratives of performance that connect across the business in more coherent and effective ways, surely reputations are enhanced? By thinking about ways to align reporting and communication strategy, the ‘being forced’ to collate a coherent set of narratives and contextual information has market attractiveness advantage. It gives growing confidence. So where should the unit of assessment take place?
Stating value creation and business models has the narrative potential
One view I particularly favour has been outlined by Vivien Beattie and Sarah Jane Smith in their academic paper “Value Creation and Business Models: Refocusing the Intellectual Debate” We should focus on the business model, even for our intangibles or by extension our knowledge-based capital. I think this is absolutely right.
The business model and how we can describe it has become more ‘top of mind’ and significantly improved in its place through visual tools like the Business model canvas by Alexander Osterwalder and Yves Pigneur- Equally a number of other visualizing techniques, caught up in this canvas modelling movement, such as the culture mapping canvas, business opportunity canvas or the different value proposition discovery methods, have the incredible potential for the most powerful way for narrative reporting to make a business come alive.
Today the people side, or the articulating of the value of the intangibles, is not adequately addressed in these canvases we have. We need to bring them into telling the business model value story far more.
We need to tell the value creation story
The business model should be articulating how the company will convert resources and capabilities into economic value. It is the ‘transformation’ of resources into future potential value that tells us the “why and how,” in their potential, to decide to invest or not, to believe in or not.Venture capital always looks extremely hard at the team within any start up or needing new capital. They seek to go under the bonnet and know what is making this ‘opportunity’ tick or not.
Financial statements are totally inadequate to evaluate today’s business
By not capturing the intellectual assets or all the knowledge-based capitals we are left with a totally out of date, inadequate set of financial statements. These today totally fail to inform those on the outside as well as often those inside at the top of organizations, where the real wealth creation aspects lie.
We live far more in a knowledge based world that is generating more today than our physical assets yet we lack the ability to clarify this. We need measures, frameworks and clarity on where the knowledge lies and its make up in ways that capture these and can describe them effectively focusing upon the vale creation points that will exploit future opportunities.
The Business Model can be the crucial focal point, even more than today
We need to push for at least obtaining a narrative description of the knowledge-based assets and there is nowhere better than how organization’s management perceive their business models, what and where are the drivers and value propositions and how they are communicating on their strategies and value creation and the essential enablers of this.
Incidentally with effect from 1 October 2013 in the United Kingdom, organizations will also have to prepare a strategic report as a result of changes to the narrative reporting framework in the UK, intended to increase the quality of narrative reporting and introduce a clearer reporting structure. Can this go further?
We do need to refocus many of the fragmented debates around knowledge, our intangibles and intellectual assets and for me there is no better place than lifting this up to where the business model tells the compelling story or not.
If not, then don’t expect future investments, you will not deserve them.
Part one – the background. Pushing towards a new frontier- visualizing the future