Thoughts on the Plank Center’s Leadership Report Card for 2017 July 12, 2017

By Bill Heyman

Recently, the Plank Center, in collaboration with Heyman Associates, published its second biennial Leadership Report Card. Participation in the survey this year increased by nearly 35% and the reaction to the results has also been robust. I have some thoughts on why that might be:

Points of comparison. One of the key objectives when we started planning this project in 2014 was to develop a body of historical data, asking the same questions every two years to see what trends developed over time. Naturally, we would have preferred to find improvement on the 2015 grades, but even declining grades serve as useful reminders that building a culture of engagement is not an easy task. It takes sustained effort over the long term. When we repeat our study in 2019, perhaps our findings will reflect more attention being paid to these issues – particularly the gender gap and the perception gap between senior-most leaders and their direct reports.

Reliable results. Through this work, the Plank Center has also demonstrated its commitment to intellectual rigor and survey-taking best practices. Recently I’ve read criticism in the press aimed at the methodologies that some in the profession have used to support broad and, arguably, provocative statistical claims. Whether or not there is merit to that view in a general sense, I do know that Dr. Bruce Berger, Dr. Juan Meng and their colleagues from the Plank Center approach their own research and analysis of survey results with a commitment to the highest academic standards. They have been transparent about their survey design decisions, response rates and their statistical approach. Their integrity gives us all a solid basis for asserting that these results likely reflect the reality of the situation and ought to be taken seriously by communications and public affairs leaders.

Tackling tough issues. In a word, the Leadership Report Card is a work of “fearlessness.” It digs into issues that are not always easy to discuss and accounts for multiple perspectives. On one hand, we see how senior-most communicators appear to assess their own performance at developing an engaged workforce. On the other hand, we see that their direct reports appear to take a less positive view on how those efforts have fared. Drilling down further, along gender lines, that disconnect seems even wider. For some, this might be a sensitive or uncomfortable topic, but I think everyone involved in this study feels very strongly that these issues deserve to be aired and evaluated in broad daylight.

As the saying goes, “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” Data points like those in the Leadership Report Card present leaders with a helpful reality check – whether or not they suggest things are trending in the right direction. Our 2017 results present an opportunity for leaders in a variety of settings – corporate, nonprofit, agency and even government – to ask themselves whether they ought to consider course-correcting. Two years from now, we’ll take yet another snapshot. Hopefully it depicts improved engagement, self-awareness and overall satisfaction in the upper echelons of the profession.

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