The Power of Pecking Orders: How to Use Rankings to Improve Your Programs

three chickens

By Katie Delahaye Paine—In my chicken flock there is, of course, a pecking order, literally. When the chicks were a week or so old, one chicken had already started to peck the backs of her roost-mates to indicate who was in charge. We assumed that “she” was a he, and isolated him, until one day to everyone’s surprise, he laid an egg. She’s now been reintroduced as Queen of the Roost, a.k.a. Bossy Pants, and is at the top of the pecking order.

CEOs aren’t much different. It is in their DNA to want to top their category in the Fortune 500. University presidents obsess about where they stand in the US News and World Report rankings, not to mention where their sports teams rank in whatever league they’re playing in. Magazine editors understand this obsession all too well, and constantly rank cities, states, even countries on their prowess at everything from crime to sex.

Communications professionals can learn from this obsession with rankings.

I’ve been in countless meetings organized around getting the groups to agree on definitions of success. I generally start off with a question about how they measure failure. Invariably the answer is, “Nothing ever fails.” Which is probably true in most organizations. People rarely admit to failure for fear of the consequences—which I consider the ultimate management failure.

On the other hand, anyone who has ever spent time in Silicon Valley will tell you that the key to success is to fail fast and often and learn from the experience.

Rebranding Failure

But when it comes to communications professionals, there is something in their genetic makeup that makes them recoil from the concept of failure. So I suggest we eat our own dog food and rebrand the concept of failure. Let’s call it “forced ranking.”  Trust me, you are going like it: Management instinctively gets the concept, your bosses will love it, and your programs will continuously improve.

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About Author

Katie Paine

I've been called The Queen Of Measurement, but I prefer Seshat, the Goddess.