This is a summary blog post based on a paper by Timothy Penning, Ph.D., APR, Grand Valley State University and Mark Bain, President, Upper 90 consulting. The full study can be found here.

The 2018 study titled High-Performing Corporate Communications Teams: Views of Top CCOs evaluates what constitutes a high-performing corporate communications team from the perspective of chief communications officers (CCO). CCOs at large organizations revealed their views on the importance of high performance in communications in the broader organizational context of a corporation. This study found CCOs believe high performance of the communication function is an important aspect of business today, specifically because of the rate and scale of change in the current business environment.

Communications professionals view their roles as much more than providing communication services like writing or graphic design. Some professionals view their role as enabling and growing the business. The difference between the two perceived roles is known in academic literature as the difference between the manager and technician role of public relations. A technician primarily writes and creates communications strategies. A manager primarily makes decisions and works with the management of an organization. These roles are a part of role enactment, which refers to the way a public relations professional actually executes his or her job. These specific roles relate to how top CCOs view high performance of a team

A high-performance work team is a group of goal-focused individuals with specialized skills who work together to achieve performance excellence through shared goals and leadership, clear role expectations, and accountability between its members.

The study used a mixed-method approach involving a series of depth interviews with a small group of CCOs, followed by an online survey with a larger sample of CCOs. The CCOs interviewed represented a wide variety of industries and geographic locations. The results of the interviews showed high performance is critical to businesses’ success and survival. The nature of today’s business environment is increasingly global, changing and fast-paced. Due to this environment, CCOs deemed that high performance work demands people who are adaptive and can make quick, data-driven decisions based on a comprehension of the business model and strategic plan.

CCOs believed five common concepts represent high-performing teams: ability to be adaptive, ability to be collaborative, having expertise, ability to be analytical, and posess leadership skills. In the area of adaptability, corporate communications teams need to be comfortable with change and ambiguity. To be collaborative, teams should freely share information and ideas among team members as well as connect and engage with the organization’s various stakeholders. Teams should also ensure their level of expertise spans a broad range of skills that are not limited to the communications side of a business. Additionally, high performance teams should provide leadership to other functions within the organization.

There are several impediments to high performance which include team, organizational, and external factors. According to respondents, the impediments most likely to prohibit high performance include: a CEO who does not value his or her employees, a lack of alignment around strategy, an unhealthy work culture, inability to adapt to change, lack of clear vision for the organization, and difficulty hiring and retaining talent. One significant theme that emerged from the CCOs responses was that a lack of clarity about roles, objectives, responsibility, and accountability significantly impede high performance in a corporate communications theme.

Through the results of this study, corporations can now see the value of high performance of its communications on the overall success of the business. Also, it is shown that high performance is dependent on a clear role and vision for the communication function, support of the CEO, and a culture that facilitates ‘high-performance’ work. The results of this study with regard to negative impacts on performance show that CCOs look beyond strategies, skills and outputs of communication when considering the performance of the function.

This study was a collection of 15 interviews with senior-level public relations or communications professionals at large organizations. A survey was also conducted using 74 respondents. The study was one of the issues published by the Journal of Public Relations Research. This journal published quarterly by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and has free scholarly articles on public relations theory and practice submitted by experts from the public relations academic and professional community.


Vanessa Diegue is a member of the IPR Street Team and a public relations student at the University of Florida.

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Heidy Modarelli handles Growth & Marketing for IPR. She has previously written for Entrepreneur, TechCrunch, The Next Web, and VentureBeat.
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