No Benchmarking in LOs LO7610
Sun, 26 May 1996 14:02:37 +1200

Replying to LO7591 --

Kim Wilson wrote:

" The whole purpose of comparison and benchmarking is finding those "best
practices" that exist and adapting (not adopting) them to your
organization or unit and improving upon those practices. I thought this
was one of main principles of quality improvement! Notice I made a
distinction between adapting and adopting."

I fully agree with this. Benchmarking is like any other tool - its
effectiveness depends on the qualities of the user and appropriate use.

I have come to understand the different experiences of benchmarking in
practice by considering its use at the three different performance levels:

When benchmarking is carried out at the SKILLS BASED performance level,
the operator brings in the benchmarked patterns from elsewhere and applies
them uncritically and unadapted. This assumes that the benchmark
processes are mere routines, and the operator performs 'on automatic'.
This response is almost always ineffective and often disastrous.
Fortunately it is also fairly rare because most managers recognise that
management involves dealing with phenomena which are not susceptible to
skills based performance responses. But there are some. Generally they
don't last long.

When benchmarking is carried out at the RULE BASED performance level,
benchmarking represents stored data to which pattern matching analysis is
applied. The analysis is in the nature of "IF pattern X is present in my
organisation and the benchmark partner's organisation, then apply solution
Y which the benchmark partner used". This response produces sub optimal
improvements, and some disasters where the patterns are incorrectly
matched or the nature of the partner organisation is not adequately
understood. However on the whole it is conservative, relatively low risk,
and incremental. This is the most common level at which benchmarking is
used, and it is the often disappointing results and occasional spectacular
disasters associated with it that leads to disillusion with benchmarking.

When benchmarking is carried out at the KNOWLEDGE BASED performance level
the data from the benchmarking partner is evaluated against the actual
operating circumstances of the organisation and is used tentatively as the
organisation reaches towards novel solutions to novel problems.
Benchmarking data is also used to indicate performance levels that might
be anticipated if the organisation gets it right. Tentative solutions are
held under review and mistakes are expected and allowed for. Where
productive outcomes are found they are internalised as new patterns of
rule-based performance. Such an approach involves high level cognitive
functioning, high energy and resource allocation, and high level risk
taking. Many, perhaps most, managers have the intellectual capacity for
such performance, but many of those are emotionally or situationally
averse to it, and so it is a comparatively rare way of using benchmarking
tools. However this is where benchmarking can contribute to spectacular

Phillip Capper
New Zealand


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