Corporate Reporting – What can we learn from Fast Food Vendors?

Fried Egg and Chives. Scroll down for more.
Fried Egg and Chives.
Scroll down for more deliciousness

“A picture is worth a thousand words…, “ an idea that is universally recognised, frequently used in business, but not often seen where it might have most impact – Senior Executive/Board meetings.

Descriptive text still dominates most senior level reports, often using ‘corpspeak’; a peculiar form of jargon developed by people like *The Head of Corporate Performance Management Policy Impact Reporting (*I made up the job title, but you know the sort I mean).

If you look at the explanation of, “a picture paints a thousand words” it is difficult to argue against the case for using more pictures. It describes the idea that “a complex idea can be conveyed with just a single still image…..making it possible to absorb large amounts of data quickly….. ” What’s not to like? Imagine a ‘Report to Board’ that contained just pictures of the impact of a decision they had taken. Imagine this happening all the time.

So why the fried egg? You might now be wondering about the fried egg picture? It’s actually a model of a fried egg, right down to the false chopped chives. I took the photograph outside a restaurant in Vancouver where the menu was full scale plastic models of the food they offered. You might have mixed views about the models (and some of the food, scroll down to see the full picture collage), but one thing isn’t in doubt, you know exactly what you are going to get….. fried egg with chives!

High Tech meets Traditional Fish and Chips at BIG SAMS
High Tech meets Traditional Fish and Chips at BIG SAMS

BIG SAMS, Pontyclun. This kind of clear and precise communication isn’t limited to cool and cosmopolitan Vancouver. In South Wales we have a few fast food outlets that make the most of pictures to show you exactly what you’ll be getting.

I expect you’ve seen picture menus, but what about 36″ colour TV monitors enticing you with what’s available?

Perfect if you are heading home from the Rugby Club, slightly ‘over refreshed’, and struggling to vocalise your urgent need for Chips, Curry Sauce and Cheese (a Welsh version of Poutine for Canadian readers). Just point at the picture on the screen and problem solved.

But it’s not all good news. This week I encountered one of those ‘posh’ restaurant menus that didn’t make a lot of sense. ‘Burger and chips’ was translated into ‘Burger Normandie’, with a very exotic explanation of the meal.

An parody of a menu - but its not that far off the mark
An parody of a menu – but its not that far off the mark. Link below to the source, worth a look!

The consequence was my kids freaking out over what was served,…. I mean who puts Brie on a burger!

I won’t go on about it, the point I’m trying to get to is that a combination of a text only menu, using unusual words caused quite a lot of confusion.

Is this all deliberate? The fast food picture menu experience compared to the ‘high end’ restaurant text only menu does make me wonder. If your objective is to clearly communicate to your customers, leaving them in no doubt about what they are getting for their money, the pictures win every time. If that’s the case, why don’t you get pictures used higher up the food chain in posh restaurants?

I suspect this might ruffle a few feathers but is this a case of, ‘that’s the way we like it’! Vendors use extravagant words as a disguise to make things sound better than they really are. Also, there are no pictures because, ‘that’s what they do in fast food joints’. All a form of ‘food snobbery’, deliberately used to confuse and exclude the masses?

Just a quick observation here, with so many people nowadays photographing their food, and sharing the pictures on social media, are the days of the text only menu numbered anyway? If you think about it, it’s the foodies who do a lot of this….. it must be a nightmare running a posh restaurant with wi-fi.

So what has this got to do with corporate reporting? I think there are some interesting links here with the world of corporate reporting. At the front line it’s a bit like the fast food vendor; keep it simple so that everyone understands. The higher up the organisation, the more ‘refined’ the reporting.

This week I was lucky enough to see some visual management techniques in action at an aircraft engine maintenance company. Pictures of how things work were everywhere. Ones that really impressed me were collections of continuous improvement actions. Basically a single page with a ‘before and after’ picture and a few text bullet points explaining why the action was taken and the benefits.

In my experience, this type of reporting rarely finds it’s way into reports for senior people. You might get a few graphs or tables, but rarely pictures. I do wonder why? It’s not like the technology is any sort of barrier.

Is there something else going on… a bit like posh restaurant food snobbery towards the pictures used by fast food vendors? Do we have the corporate reporting equivalent of picture snobbery?   ….. “those pictures are fine for the front line workers to manage their performance, but what we need is carefully crafted text….. prepared by an expert skilled in drafting corpspeak”. Ultimately not something that helps with communication and widespread understanding.

So, what’s the PONT?

  1. Pictures are effective at helping people understand complicated ideas and take in a large amount of information.
  2. With modern technology it is possible to make much wider use of pictures in business reporting.
  3. Before this approach becomes more widespread, we might have to overcome the corporate reporting equivalent of ‘posh restaurant snobbery’ towards the fast food vendor picture menus.

Picture Source: via

Note 1. I have posted about the use of graphic recording and minutes previously. These are a great way of capturing complicated ideas and presenting them clearly. More on that and the continuous improvement visual management sheets to follow. Link here:

Note 2. I should also point out, in a previous life, I used to prepare Corporate Performance Monitoring Reports for senior management meetings, written in corpepeak …. Yes I am ashamed of myself.

Full size models of the food thats on offer
Full size models of the food on offer in a Vancouver restaurant

About WhatsthePONT

I'm from Old South Wales and I'm interested almost everything. Narrowing it down a bit: cooperatives, social enterprises, decent public services, complexity science, The Cynefin Framework, behavioural science and a sustainable future. In 2018/19 I completed a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship, looking at big cooperative enterprises and social businesses in NE Spain and the USA. You can find out more here:

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