How do we know if we are any good at what we do?

Athletics season at the moment and quite frankly these guys have it easy – if you cross the line first, jump the furthest, jump the highest or throw something further than everyone else you win and for today at least you are recognised as the best. Well done.

If you work in a sales related role your performance is easily measured by revenue, volumes, conversion rates etc. Sales people tend to be highly competitive so they usually have a high awareness of how they are doing against their peer group.

For other disciplines within organisations it is harder to make comparisons in or gauge performance. This may be because the benefits to the organisation are more subtle or less tangible or it may be because the work is undertaken by a single, central function rather than by several teams. To gain any idea of how practices within your organisation compare to others one therefore has to sometimes look beyond the boundaries of the organisation.

This is where benchmarking can be useful.

But what do you want to know?

It’s important to know what you are comparing so there needs to be a clearly defined scope.

Equally it’s good to give some thought to the benchmarking group. Should you stick to the same sector? Should you consider organisations in other industries? Should you consider practices in other countries? And what about standards – should you benchmark against those too? Defining and selecting a suitable sample group is an important consideration.

So, lots to think about before you start. There’s plenty of options and in order to get the best out of the exercise it is worth spending some time considering the questions above.

Once you have completed your benchmarking exercise you will of course need to analyse the results and find out what you have learned.

It may be that you find your organisation is best in class. Great, give yourself a pat on the back. It may be that you find your organisation is worst in class. Great, give yourself a pat on the back because now you know and have something to work with.

Typically organisations find a more mixed set of results. Better than some organisations, not as good as others. Better at certain elements, but requiring development in others.

When analysing or interpreting the findings it’s important to be honest and pragmatic. The trick is to apply the same standard of evidence to your own processes as you do to those of the sample group.

It’s also important to consider what is appropriate for your organisation to do with the findings. In some ways this also goes back to the selection process. Kwikfit may infer they will change your car tyres quickly but if we were to benchmark them against a Formula 1 team they would be ridiculed. Sure there could be lessons to be learned from the comparison but do Kwikfit really need to aspire to F1 standards?

My experience of benchmarking exercises has been very good. When they are well organised, well conducted and when the sample group is appropriate the findings can really help identify areas for improvement.

If you need any help setting up a benchmarking exercise let me know.

August 3, 2013 at 11:48 am
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Category: Governance & Standards
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