Does your corporate communications team get the respect it deserves from top management and other departments? Does your communications team perform well? How do you know? What actually is team performance?
On October 8, I presented research on measuring the performance of corporate communications teams. The presentation was part of the Future of Communications virtual conference series hosted by the Institute for Public Relations. The full paper is also available in the proceedings of the International Public Relations Research Conference where I presented the work in March of 2020 in Orlando (see page 392).
The presentation was based on research I did with Mark Bain, president of upper 90 consulting, in which we surveyed chief communications officers (CCOs) as well as members of their teams at large organizations around the world.
Our research is based on a previous project in which we identified what CCOs think performance actually is when it comes to corporate communications teams. That research was published in PR Journal and can be accessed online here. From that previous research we developed a model (shown below) and then tested it with actual communication teams.
The drivers in the model can be defined as follows:
•Full commitment—characterized by a clear and shared vision, clear behaviors based on appropriate values and skills, and individuals who care about team success;
•Focus on results—characterized by strategy aligned with overall business objectives, having the right systems and tools, a desire for continuous learning and improvement;
•Constructive conflict—characterized by tolerance of different ideas and opinions, open and honest communications, timely and healthy feedback;
•Shared accountability—characterized by clear and relevant measures, a team that feels empowered and supported by management, recognition and reward of performance.
Similar, the enablers and outcomes are further described as:
•Recruiting and retaining the right talent on the team, including both the right types of skills and the right number of people;
•Sufficient budget to achieve objectives and invest in the future;
•Respect and trust, both for each other within the team and trust by people in other units or department in the business;
•Visible support, expressed by the CEO and other members of the C-suite.
We found that CCOs and members of their teams agreed with the model in the sense that the variables were what they considered to be factors in high team performance. Their responses with regard to how well their own team performed varied on this model.
The variables in the model where teams tended to do well in their estimation of team performance were: cares about team success, have a strategy tied to business outcomes, and the team has respect from others in the business. The variables where teams rated themselves the lowest were having the right systems and tools, having the right number of people on the team, having enough budget to achieve objectives, and having enough budget to invest in the future.
What is interesting is that the CCOs rated their team’s performance higher than did their direct reports, who in turn rated the performance higher than all other members of the team. This is especially true where aspects of performance are more perceptual (implicit) than tangible (explicit). CCOs may feel more accountable for the team and therefore rate it higher, or they simple have a broader view and consider the whole organization.
Another interesting finding is that those who perceive their team role to be “enabling business outcomes” are more likely to rate their communication team performance higher than those who see their roles as “driving stakeholder advocacy” or “providing communication.” This may be explained by the fact that those who see their role tied to business outcomes may work in an organizational culture that values communications and thus provides more resources that contribute to performance. Or, because their view of communications is more mature and considerate of the total organization, they may naturally act in ways that drive performance as opposed to just staying department focused and fulfilling a basic function.
In the end, the model can serve as a practical tool for CCOs to measure a baseline of communication team performance. They can look at how they stand with factors affected by the team, as well as the aspects of the organization that enable or inhibit performance. Then they can address lapses or weak areas specifically and continue measure and chart performance in a meaningful and motivational way going forward.