General Electric recently issued its first integrated report. It’s a synthesis of the traditional reports (such as its annual, sustainability and proxy reports) that the company still issued. Why would anyone view an additional report as progress? Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt explains it this way:
“Public company reporting has become so complicated that what matters to investors can get lost. Our priority is to provide meaningful information that all investors can readily access. For investors to make investment and voting decisions, we don’t believe that more information is necessarily better. Instead, we’ve challenged ourselves to provide better information. Over the past several years, we have already been enhancing our reporting in response to feedback from investors, and they have told us how much they like it. This year, we are taking it even further with our new Integrated Summary Report.”
To those of us who have been following the integrating reporting movement, the use of the magic “integrated” word was a big occasion. The report is also notable for the content of GE’s Digital Industrial strategy which identifies knowledge as a huge shared resource of the company.
This post will give you a better understanding of what the report covers using a checklist I’ve been developing (feedback welcome!). Here are the basics of GE’s report:
|Title||GE Integrated Summary Report 2015|
|Contents||Summary of annual, sustainability and proxy reports|
|No. of Pages||68|
|Value Creation||Narrative + Graphics|+ Metrics|
|Value Distribution||Narrative + Graphic + Metrics|
|Standards||None cited beyond GAAP, report includes some non-GAAP metrics|
|Distinctive Features||GE touts this as linking “strategy, performance, board oversight, compensation and sustainability in a single document.”|
The document is an incredibly rich overview of the company’s strategy. In his Chairman’s letter, Immelt explains:
“Becoming a Digital Industrial will require investment and will test our culture. Our success is not a given. We are creating a $15 billion software and digital company inside of GE built on agile practices and new business models. We are plugging this software business into thousands of industry-domain experts and a $226 billion services backlog. There is no blueprint for what we are trying to do and, at times, it will be messy. But the opportunities for value creation are boundless: in better products, leading to added market share; in faster growth in services; in more productivity and higher margins.”
There are extensive graphics explaining how data and other forms of knowledge are being used to enhance the traditional tangible products that the company has long been associated with. This knowledge sharing strategy is called the “GE Store.” The concept is that its repository of knowledge facilitates “the transfer of technology, talent, expertise and connections through GE’s massive, diverse network of businesses and markets.” This graphic shows these shared knowledge resources as a core around which the key business units are built. It’s an incredibly powerful explanation of the value and the potential of their intangible capital, a set of abundant resources that can be shared, leverage and grown.
One of the core concepts of integrated reporting is the inclusion of information about the six key categories of capital. GE doesn’t specifically reference the capitals framework but includes information different levels of information about all of them:
|Coverage of the Capitals||None||Narrative||Single Year
Financial and Fixed Capitals are covered through the financials.
Digital Capital is addressed primarily through narrative without many metrics. Nevertheless, as mentioned above, it gets extensive treatment since the report (and GE’s strategy) is expressed as Digital Industrial. It would be really interesting if this form of capital were to be tracked using specific metrics.
For human capital, there are great graphics explaining Board composition and capabilities, much more compelling than the traditional legalese in governance discussions. For a company this large, the focus on the Board is appropriate. In the rest of the report, the main metric for employees is headcount. There is one human metric showing performance against a multi-year goal of hiring veterans.
The environmental and social portion of the report is very limited with a single graphic at the end of the report that displays metrics multi-year goals for hiring veterans, reducing injuries and illness, training on compliance, water use, greenhouse gas emissions and energy R&D.
All in all, GE’s new report is a compelling contribution to the integrated reporting movement. I can see it continuing to evolve and becoming an indispensable resource for shareholders and stakeholders to understand the internal and external sustainability of this company. The idea of issuing a separate report is something other companies may want to imitate. Sometimes it’s easier to start fresh than to try to change something as established and important as an annual report.
Our new paper, “The Three Big Ideas behind Integrated Thinking and Reporting,” includes an example from GE’s report along with other examples of integrated reporting.