Benchmarking is a process of establishing a comparative standard, measuring yourself or your team against it, and implementing change to improve. One can compare a strategy or strategic approach, financial performance, quality, customer satisfaction, a process, process performance, a tool, product performance, resource utilization, effectiveness, efficiency, project or program performance, a service, organizational structure, a system, skills, leadership or behavioral style, or symbols.

It should be clear that one would want to pick the comparative standard that is considered superior to the current performance of the individual or team. The overall intent of benchmarking is to improve on what is currently available. However, it is a pleasant surprise when one discovers that they lead the pack.

The comparative standard can come in several forms.  Here are a few examples:

A person or team that performs work similar to yours (within, or related to, the organization) Industry Standard (e.g. Project Management Body of Knowledge; ISO 9001)
“Best practice” Customers
Suppliers Information from Trade Organizations
Competitors Organizations in a similar business area or market

A classic example of benchmarking is visiting another company that has been identified as a “best practice.” In the late 1990s, representatives of many companies visited a famous Honda plant as part of adopting the concept of a team-based organization. Many times, a visit is not practical or possible and other forms of research or surveys must be used.

A systemic approach to benchmarking is best. Frequently, we go looking for one attribute of an organization and find that many other attributes contribute to making the first one possible.

My counsel has been that you can’t change any one thing in the organizational system without affecting everything else. I use the metaphor of a set of inter-locking gears. If you wiggle one, they all wiggle.

Use a root cause analysis to understand the situation. Try a fishbone diagram. Ask the question “why” five times.

Stephen P. (Steve) Czerniak

About the author: Mr. Czerniak retired after a successful career that culminated in fifteen years of experience as an internal consultant and “change agent.” He is currently an Executive-in-Residence at the Macomb-Oakland University Incubator and a volunteer at the Troy Historic Village and Historical Society.

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