“Benchmark” is a strange word.
In business, benchmarking is generally seen as a good thing – comparing your performance with your competitors, striving to improve your business, and so on.
But in sport, to “bench” one of your players means to take them off the field because they’re not performing well enough. Being benched in sport is most definitely not a good thing.
While I’m a big believer in comparing your performance with others and always trying to improve, I also think benchmarking…as it’s practiced in most companies…has got completely out of hand.
Benchmarking is often used by managers as a way to protect their jobs by providing evidence that they’re at least not terrible compared to some average number on a benchmarking survey.
Which I’ve always found a bit odd. Every business I’ve come across which has been overflowing with benchmarking information has always preached about how brilliant they are, how industry leading they are, how they’re at the top of their game.
Yet, when you look at what they’re comparing themselves to, it’s a number which is usually an average across their sector, or across people who do similar things depending on the nature of the survey. What that means in practice is that there are plenty of people who must, mathematically, be doing much better than that average.
So, as a business, if you think “exceptional performer” is defined as “just about meeting the average for our sector”, you might need to buy a dictionary before we go much further.
What every business should be trying to do is to be the very best for whatever their strategic objectives are.
If you’re selling on value, you want to be at least 20% cheaper than the average, not somewhere about the average.
If you’re selling on quality of service, you should be providing the sort of service that wouldn’t feel out of place in an airline’s first class lounge, or some ritzy boutique in the fashion district of Paris, not just answering the phone in 1hour 59 minutes compared to an industry average of 2 hours.
If you’re selling on innovation, you need to be knocking it out the park on a regular basis with launch after launch of compelling new ideas, not just squeezing something out despite the best efforts of an overbearing bureaucracy every once in a blue moon.
So spend a little time benchmarking by all means. Now and again it’s useful to have a sighting shot of where your industry is going.
But mostly you need to bench your benchmarks. Stop getting obsessed about performing somewhere around the average for your sector and start getting obsessed about becoming the sort of business everyone else in your sector looks up to as a shining example.
And that’s the sort of thing we do around here…help businesses become exceptional through our business and executive coaching.
If you’d like to become one of those rare exceptional businesses, just drop your details here…