Benchmarking allows an organization to identify and implement “best practices” and develop improvement plans.
Benchmarking is the practice of comparing key metrics to that of other organizations. Just as teachers use benchmark assessments in the classroom to monitor student progress, organizations can use benchmarks to evaluate current processes. Through benchmarking, an organization can reveal current practices, identify what others are accomplishing with their resources, and develop a plan to prioritize future efforts.
The task of benchmarking improves organizational understanding, encourages team-building and cooperation, and familiarizes individuals with their current status. Often organizations are so entrenched in current practices they lack the ability to see opportunities for improvements.
Benchmarking gives an organization an opportunity to gain perspective about how well they are performing compared to other organizations. The results provide a baseline and assist in the identification of areas to focus improvements and increase competitiveness. Results also help with the development of a standardized set of practices based on “why we do what we do” rather than “we’ve always done it this way”. Finally, a set of performance expectations can be developed that, through monitoring, can inspire a culture of continuous improvement and accelerate change processes.
Following are ten steps to benchmarking and using the information to implement change:
- Select subject: What do you want to benchmark? Maybe it is your staffing levels for certain positions or pay for a specific job category. It is important to base the selection of a subject on an identified reason (e.g., declining or increasing enrollment, loss of revenue, increase in student opportunities).
- Define the process: Creating an action plan with a timeline and determining “who, when, and where” is helpful. This provides an opportunity for networking across departments and sharing the experience.
- Identify peer organizations: What is being benchmarked will determine the identification of peers. If compensation is the focus, benchmarking within the local market is important. On the other hand, if staffing is the focus, benchmarking with organizations similar in size is more important than the local market.
- Identify data sources: Organizational surveys are a good way to retrieve information but may be time consuming and often require follow-up. Finding data ready and available is the most efficient way to benchmark. The Texas Education Agency (TEA) website provides a plethora of information for school districts using the Texas Academic Performance Report (TAPR) and the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) Data Standard report. TASB HR Services DataCentral provides salary information for district and college positions and other HR practices data. Additionally, professional organizations commonly provide benchmark data for comparisons.
- Determine gaps: Once a comparison is conducted variances can be identified. These variances can prompt further evaluation of specific practices that may lead to improve efficiencies and effectiveness.
- Establish process differences: Variances may sometimes be intentional. Identifying those differences may result in no need for change. Although, it may result in the justification needed for the existing practice.
- Target future adjustments: Complete an analysis of remaining comparisons to determine areas needing adjustments. Expectations can be developed using these targets.
- Communicate: Change is a difficult task, and lack of communication results in greater frustrations. Having leadership communicate anticipated changes that may occur and the reasons for making changes can increase the likelihood of success. Revealing an estimated timeline can also reduce anxiety created by change.
- Implement: The point to start implementation also can impact success. The beginning of a year or a semester are usually more productive than the middle of a semester.
- Review and revise: Benchmarking and making adjustments are not a one-time event. As stated earlier, benchmarking can inspire a culture of continuous improvement. It is important to determine the efficacy of change and to use the process to impact future improvements.
Benchmarking can be a journey of discovery for information used to identify gaps in processes and a plan of action to achieve a competitive advantage. It is not quick nor simple but the return on investment in the process is worth the time and challenge it may present. If done properly and consistently benchmarking can improve your organization and create an improved work environment.
Karen Dooley is a Senior HR Consultant at TASB HR Services. Send Karen an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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