A PROMISING young corporate executive resigned his job, and before leaving, stopped in to say goodbye to his boss. The boss lamented: “I’m sorry to see you go. You’ve been like a son to me playful, impatient, demanding and flamboyant.”
If you’ve started comparing individuals, the odds are pretty high that you also recognize the importance of benchmarking—the process of comparing, measuring and evaluating an organization’s policies and procedures against a world-class, high-flying achiever from inside or outside of the industry.
You might be thinking—“Do I really need to copy the style of other people and organizations to improve my own?” It’s one basic, reasonable question. My answer is as simple as this—benchmarking is not about copying, cheating or industrial espionage which is downright illegal.
And besides, you can’t really copy everything, because many organizations would not tell you the whole story. Instead, they’ll probably give you sanitized information just enough to support their marketing, public relations and social corporate responsibility efforts that they would smell good before the general public.
Therefore, the best way to benefit from benchmarking is when two or more organizations agree on certain parameters for their mutual benefit. For example, if Company A wants to know about the safety standard of Company B, then both must agree to exchange sealed envelopes in a kaliwaan (simultaneous) system, in two meetings done, one each in the office premises of Company A and B, so that they can breathe each other’s aura. Fair is fair.
Of course, in real life, the best way to secure mutual agreement when organizations are noncompetitors and they come from different industries offering a different set of products or services, like Jollibee benchmarking with Toyota and vice-versa. This is called as noncompetitive benchmarking.
Benchmarking is not a one-way street. Organizations must be willing to give what they’re also trying to get, so that both parties could close the gap with the best-in-class performer without having to reinvent the wheel.
The opportunity for benchmarking must come at a time when organizations are in good times, enjoying industry leadership. But not when you’re already at the end of the rope with no other option but to hang on and swing to enjoy the view.
In the old fable, “The Tortoise and the Hare,” the slow and steady turtle ends up beating the fast-starting but arrogant hare in a race. While that occasionally happens, more often than not, making improvements using data from benchmarking takes too long. I mean, by that time you can afford to buy an exotic, sports car, you may be too fat to get into it. Also, by the time a company gets around doing something; a new standard may have been established by your model organization resulting in your data becoming irrelevant.
Besides this, the real trouble comes not from benchmarking, but the people working on the wrong activities, typically prioritizing analysis over action. It’s easy to fill your day with activities that make it feel as if you are making progress tackling a problem.
Like many of us, you also create a list of things to do and cross out some of the simple things on the list. You create a detailed semestral or annual plan that describes how you are going to achieve your objectives. It’s not bad, but don’t overdo it. Remember innovation master Thomas Edison’s teaching—“if you’re not sweating, you’re not making progress.”
Here’s another problem with benchmarking that is best described with the following story: “A woman once called an animal welfare center to report a skunk in her cellar. She was told to make a trail of bread crumbs from the basement to the yard, and then wait for the skunk to follow it out of the basement.
“After a while, the woman called again and reported that she had done as she was told, and now she had two skunks in her basement.” Now, what would you do if you’re suddenly flooded by “skunks” all requesting for benchmarking?
Again, my simple answer is—use your common sense. Rejecting requests for benchmarking is not illegal, immoral or unethical. Be choosy in accepting applications. Needless to say, be diplomatic in saying “no” but offer opportunities in the future.
If you’ve a very good policy and process to begin with, use kaizen (continual improvement) techniques to make it better. Elevate your company standards. If you’re like Pizza Hut known for its 30-minute delivery, then aspire to make it at 15 minutes.
Look far and wide inside your organization. Maximize your current resources. Watch out for the curse of abundance. When you have a deep pocket, you tend to spend more doing the wrong strategy. You hire more people to work on something or buy an expensive equipment to modernize the facility.
This is not the right answer if you don’t know the real problem.
Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as fused interest. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn or twitter for his random management thoughts.