Mark Graham Brown wrote a succinct little business savvy book called Get It, Set It, Move It, Prove It. 60 Ways to Get Real Results in Your Organization. The book contains a number of short chapters neatly summarising basic business issues or mistakes made by organisations in its attempt to achieve its objectives.
One such chapter is on the use of benchmarking as a way of obtaining ideas for business improvement. Tongue in cheek, he refers to a benchmarking trip as an opportunity to go somewhere warm and fun while you tell your boss you are doing a benchmarking study.
The idea of a benchmarking study is that you get some great ideas for improving processes by studying other companies that perform with much greater efficiency or at a lower cost that you do. Benchmarking should then be a way of shortcutting process improvements by letting other companies do the trial and error until they hit on an approach that works.
While I read this book I looked for the application to Revenue Assurance. Brown lists a few shortcomings of benchmarking which I believe are equally valid in our industry and it would be interesting to hear what our readers, who have participated in the TMF and GRAPA benchmarking studies, think about these common shortcomings in the context of furthering the RA standardisation effort.
- Well run businesses are inundated with requests to do benchmarking, so much so that one particular car manufacturer started asking money for benchmarking tours and ended up making more money from the tours than from manufacturing cars;
- Many companies who add themselves to the benchmarking databases are a legend in their own minds only. They volunteer information to others but are actually so outdated and generic that it is a total waste of time to review what they have to offer;
- A lack of focus and preparation. Benchmarking should focus on a singular goal and process. Once the process has been identified, a plan for selected the comparison data should be done. The outcome of an unplanned benchmarking study would not contribute to the organisational learning as you would realise after the field trip that you miss vital info or may even have selected an inappropriate partner against which to benchmark;
- Thinking that you have to benchmark again a large and well known company instead of a small company that actually do things differently.
When I read benchmarking reports I do not always understand what was benchmarked. I would think that we would like to take X and compare it against a number of sources to determine if X looks and feels the same when compared to others. I can see from the benchmarking questions that X is implied but it is not explicitly stated or described/labeled as X.
What is the expected benefit of being benchmarked? Many companies are looking for the perfect role model against which to benchmark themselves in the hope that they would learn how to do the job. Very often they do not have an idea what should be done and how. The exercise is seen more as a hunt for free advise, templates and how to. If they find a company against which to compare themselves, what benefit is there to the comparison company and how many companies end up training or guiding the benchmarking company? Is this still considered benchmarking?