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Benchmarking: The benefits and the total lack of drawbacks

Published on 05 January 2021

Benchmarking: The benefits and the total lack of drawbacks

Have you thought about the awesome power of benchmarking? If not, maybe you should.

American author Iyanla Vanzant said, ‘Comparison is an act of violence against the self’. US President Theodore Roosevelt said, ‘Comparison is the thief of joy’. These are both excellent quotes and touch on a significant truth; judging ourselves or our worth by comparing ourselves to others is inherently counterproductive. However, benchmarking ourselves against a fixed set of targets is a positive, powerful and transformational activity.

The truth is that, when we make comparisons against others, we will either learn nothing because we will judge ourselves superior to what we compare ourselves against or we will be cowered into submission by the comparison. There is little value in the act. And yet this is what most people do on a daily basis – comparing themselves to colleagues, peers, their brother-in-law Brian; in fact absolutely everyone. And on a number of different levels – their personal worth, wealth, contribution, external perception, whatever it is that is bothering them at that time. 

The real negative in making comparisons is that we tend to compare against an incomplete view of something – we know where we are on our journey, but we have no idea whether we are comparing against someone at the same stage of the journey, or rather at the beginning or the end of theirs. Secondly, we tend to compare against a nebulous ‘moving target’ – and that depends on our view of our OWN position at the time.

Since comparison is a fundamental human impulse, there’s really no way of successfully shutting it down completely, so we need to understand how to make the best use of it instead. The only way to successfully compare ourselves against anything is to compare against a set, standard framework of expectations. This is Benchmarking and it can revolutionise your view of yourself, your team, and your output.

There are four basic types of benchmarking –

  • Internal – this is a comparison of similar business processes within an organisation. You may have two separate planning teams, as an example, and you want to benchmark one against the other.
  • Competitor – this is a direct competitor-to-competitor comparison of similar products, services, processes, or methods. Many years ago, as an example, one part of the banking community was extremely successful in customer satisfaction and a lot of other banks compared what they were doing to this leading competitor.
  • Functional – this compares similar or identical practices withing similar functions in differing industries to see if there is something that can be learned.
  • Generic – this broadly conceptualises unrelated business processes or functions that could be practiced in the same or similar ways regardless of the industry involved. 

These last two types show the fundamental bottom line regarding Benchmarking – a lot can be learned from going outside one’s own industry because many customer concerns are the same.

Benchmarking allows you to evaluate something by comparing it to a standard that should be expected to be achieved. This can either be best practice or average / acceptable performance. This standard does not change, it is a constant and it has often been built through observation – through studying what other successful / adequate people do.

Over the last few years, The Forum has designed a number of such standard frameworks, covering best practice in Planning, Insight and Quality. As a result, organisations can now definitively understand where they stand – not against others in the industry (which as we’ve described earlier could be counterproductive, deflating and more), but against an accepted view of best practice. 

For us at The Forum, we know that Benchmarking helps us to understand and evaluate the current position of one of our members in relation to best practice and helps us to identify areas of improvement. It allows us and the member organisation to strive for continuous improvements and not deal in quick fixes and it helps us to be able to monitor progress as the team develops, grows, and moves closer and closer to best practice.

We’ve got great success stories, too. One of our member organisations set themselves a vision to become a beacon of best practice and started their journey with our Standards Diagnostic exercise – a fact-finding discussion which highlighted areas of development and suggested courses of action designed to help improvement. Their most recent Standards Benchmarking exercise has revealed them to be one of our best-in-class organisations across many Planning disciplines. This was all achieved through their own hard work and dedication tied to the clarity of purpose given to them by benchmarking with The Forum.

We also know that Standards Benchmarking offers you a unique opportunity to take the time to challenge your existing processes and understand what you are good at and maybe not so good at through self-assessment. Through opening your doors to other planning, insight and quality professionals and undergoing peer-assessment, you get the unrivalled opportunity to learn from great practitioners in your own field, grow your network and hear best practice first-hand. And finally, through being able to peer-assess others, you get the chance to pass on the benefits of your knowledge and skill to a host of other organisations.

So, now it is your turn. Find out how powerful benchmarking can be. Get in touch with me via david.preece@theforum.social to find out what steps we can take together to turn your team into the paragon of Best Practice that it can be.

Author: David Preece

Date Published: 05/01/21

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Author: Leanne McNamee

Categories: Library, Planning & Resourcing

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