It seems like a simple enough question. “What companies should we benchmark ourselves against?”
This question was asked in a Facebook group I belong to. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s an easy answer. Benchmarking is the process of comparing something (i.e. process, performance) against what someone else does. The process of choosing that “someone else” to compare yourself to isn’t always obvious.
Years ago, I worked at an airline. During that time, there was another airline that was always in the news for their “fun” work environment. This particular airline was very successful and very profitable. Whenever people suggested that we benchmark ourselves against this other airline, my vice president would always decline. And if people asked the reason, she would say it was because we weren’t trying to be like them.
The first criteria for selecting companies to benchmark is finding companies that have something you aspire to obtain. That being said, here are some things to consider when you’re looking for companies to benchmark.
Industry. It’s natural to benchmark against other companies in your industry since there are numerous things you have in common.
Processes, procedures, or guidelines. Regardless of industry, there might be organizations that have ways of doing business that you’d like to emulate. It might not be possible to do things exactly the same or get the same results, but it can provide a source of creative inspiration.
Programs or benefits. Similar to processes, there could be benefits that you’d like to benchmark. It might be impossible to duplicate every benefit or perk, but it can serve as a foundation for discussion.
Geography. This is important, especially if you’re in an industry where employee skills are easily transferred to other industries. Employees might not be leaving for your industry competition. They might be leaving for companies outside of your industry located across the street that pay better or offer better schedules.
When the goal of benchmarking is to gauge your performance against others, then who those “others” are is important. Pick the wrong companies to benchmark and it paints the wrong picture. Please note: I’m not saying that the goal of benchmarking is to select companies exactly like yours. But why select companies that you have no intention of truly considering? That’s like asking employees for their feedback and then ignoring the comments.
Benchmarking is an important activity. Even more important is discovering who your organization wants to be benchmarked against.
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Sharlyn Lauby is the author of HR Bartender, a friendly place to discuss workplace issues. When not tending bar, she is president of ITM Group, Inc., which specializes in training solutions to help clients retain and engage talent. She can be contacted on Twitter at @HRBartender.
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