Learn what performance means to CCOs with GVSU’s Dr. Tim Penning

In February of 2018, GVSU Advertising and Public Relations professor Dr. Tim Penning and his colleague Mark Bain, the President of upper 90 consulting, published an article in the PR Journal titled “High-Performing Corporate Communications Teams: Views of Top CCOs.” On October 9, 2020, Dr. Penning published his article “How to measure corporate communications team performance”, which revisited his work on high-performing corporate communications teams, for his blog Penning Ink. 

The research he did with his partner examined what “performance” means to CCOs (Chief Communication Officers) and the key variables that drive it and those that inhibit it. They took those variables and developed a model of communication team performance, which we tested in our current research. They developed a survey which they gave to CCOs, and they, in turn, had their direct reports, and every member of their communication took the survey. The results showed that their model variables were what professional communicators consider in terms of their performance. They were also able to show in the aggregate what variables rated highest and lowest. 

“Through the statistical analysis, we also found some meaningful differences in how CCOs rate their performance compared with other members of their team,” Dr. Penning said.

His blog post follows up on what he and his partner researched and also discusses how corporate communications teams can measure whether they are performing well or not. Dr. Penning was able to sit down and discuss his blog post and research with the GVSU School of Communication. 

Did you discover anything from your findings that was unexpected?

I was surprised by how consistently the differences were in that CCOs rated their organizations higher than their direct reports. Their teams at large gave themselves the lowest ratings across all variables. This likely has to do with CCOs seeing things from a management perspective and the organization’s impact overall. In contrast, team members focused on communication department resources and their specific roles and tasks.

How will this research help your students with their future careers?

I stress this when I teach undergraduates in PR Cases and Management and graduate students in Communication Management—a good PR or communications pro can’t be satisfied just to do creative tactics or even manage the PR or communication department well. The primary perspective for performance is how the communication function contributes to the entire company’s success, nonprofit, or other organization. 

Why should students be interested in reading your research? 

Because they can see what professors do when not teaching! They see a faculty member engaged with issues that are of considerable interest in the profession and among people at the highest level of it. 

What are some key takeaways for GVSU students while reading your research?

That even in an entry-level job they will be more successful, listened to, promoted if they approach their work in terms of solving a problem or enabling the success of the whole organization for which they work. If they can speak in terms of not just a single tactic or campaign but ongoing performance, they will be appreciated much more by bosses and clients.

When it comes to measuring a corporate communications team’s performance, what is the reasoning behind why you do it the way you do?

Its validity is based on an empirical understanding of what the performance variables are, and testing our model, and finding that the factors we developed were confirmed in research as the key ones to include.

Dr. Penning believes that research is not just something encountered in a classroom or book or journal. 

“Professionals of high caliber are excited to engage with research findings. Also, measurement, evaluation, performance, or whatever you want to call it has become increasingly vital in communications jobs in recent years,” Dr. Penning said. “If they can measure and demonstrate quality and success, they will prosper.”

If you are interested in learning  more about Dr. Penning’s research, make sure to check out his blog, Penning Ink.