You’re a C+ Leader – Now What?

The Betsy Plank Center at the University of Alabama has long been seen as one of the true sources of thought leadership in our industry. Their most recent report shows a yawning gap between how industry leaders perceive themselves versus the rank-and-file reporting to them. A special shoutout to Bill Heyman, the Babe Ruth of executive recruiting, who helped spearhead this seminal report.

Peppercomm’s Culture Czar, Sara Whitman’s has written today’s guest post with her take on the findings: 

The grades are in and it looks like we will see each other in summer school.

This year’s Plank Center Report Card on PR Leaders shows slipping grades in key categories like work culture, job engagement and job satisfaction. Overall, our industry leaders fell from a B- in 2015 to C+ in 2017.

Add to this an increasing gender gap between the perceptions of men and women from 2015 to 2017 in every area evaluated. Yes, that’s across the board and in every subject. Among them, engagement levels – while surprisingly high compared to national averages for engagement – took a hit, dropping from 59.7% in 2017 to 57.2% in 2015 – with female employee engagement levels driving that number down.

And then there’s this doozy: industry leaders gave themselves an overall grade of A-, while their employees say their leaders are more like a C+. Even worse, that discrepancy was exactly the same in 2015.

Ouch. Have we learned nothing?

Bill Heyman, CEO and president of Heyman Associates, co-sponsor of the study and long-time Peppercomm friend, said: “Social tensions in our world today have likely exacerbated these issues. We need to be bigger leaders to close these gaps.”

So what do these bigger leaders need to do? Here are three places to start:

1. Face the firing squad. Clearly we’re not listening if we’re consistently viewing ourselves as performing at a higher level than employees think we are. The trouble is we need to be willing to look in the mirror to close this gap. The best ways to do so – and some of what we do at Peppercomm – is to solicit anonymous 360-feedback, ensure you have anonymous suggestion boxes (digital of course!) and occasionally bring in a third-party resource to gather and deliver feedback.

2. Don’t be fooled. PR is an industry with an exceptionally high percentage of female employees. Leaders can’t trick themselves into believing this means equality and declare success in conquering the gender gap. Despite the numbers, gender disparity still exists and has deepened over the years, at least according to this report card. A concentrated effort on helping female employees lift each other up and to have a voice is incredibly important. Organizations need to do a thorough analysis of pay structure and pay gaps, and make a plan to address any issues. Instituting unintentional bias training is another smart investment. It’s 2017 and this issue shouldn’t be on the list anymore. Let’s get on it and move forward.

3. Practice what you preach. The whole shoemaker’s children analogy is getting old. We’re communicators. Let’s communicate. It’s unacceptable that some of the best communicators on the planet are leading organizations where shared decision-making is an exception and not the rule. Or where two-way communications is inconsistent at best. Isn’t that the foundation of the entire industry? I don’t have to give recommendations on how to address this. All PR industry leaders know the best practices. It’s time to practice them.

The good news – if there is any – is that we’re not failing yet. But if we don’t start studying and applying what we learn, that’s exactly where our industry leaders are headed.

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