Benchmarking, by itself is a very interesting space to be in! You see, we all have worked at some or the other time in companies that have always screamed from the top of the world- that they value and respect ingenuity, innovation and uniqueness- then why do they always benchmark these apparently different and unique people when it comes to annual growth packets, opportunities or setting so called standards? What’s really happening? Join me here, as we explore and try to understand what the real essence of ” benchmarking” is or rather should be, where we are now and what can we do about this space- can we really make an honest attempt at making “benchmarks” meaningful?
Catch up with any HR Manager, choose the industry you want, they will tell you how far and wide they have gone to ensure that they have a diverse work force, which is able to add different perspective to their business challenges and thereby provide a superior edge to the organisation over the competition. Now what the HR manager will not tell you is about what happens next! The story about how and why they end up “benchmarking” when it comes to assessing the annual performance of these gifted individuals who were hired because they were unique! I mean, what’s the great logic, when you have got them in, because they were different, how can you then go ahead and measure their competence and performance by “benchmarking” them with each other? How sane does this seem
Benchmarking, if you ask me, (I believe) has its older versions hidden within industrialization; that period wherein people clocked in and clocked out with an amazing accuracy and shifts were calibrated to production output with unfailing accuracy and stiff targets, well back then it really didn’t matter “who” the person was at the station along the product line, as long as the products were delivered through the line the way they were supposed and then the comparisons would start, by seeing which floor supervisors shift was more better than the other- well this was, a decent way to do benchmarking because you had technically hired all of them to do a similar or a designated function irrespective of “who” they were! So you see, you were actually buying in similarity and congruence of skills and competencies and not divergence or diversity of skills! So when a shift performed, the results were evident and when failure happened it could be identified to a specific workstation along the production line and thereby this process of comparison, analysis and developing a reward system around what was always a stiff but achievable stretch target was developed and embraced; and that’s how I believe., we had sown the seeds of modern day “benchmarking”- the only fallacy being today we are using it to create more failures than real sane success!
There can only be two possible routes for effective benchmarking, if you ask me, and these are really simple- simple to understand, explain, communicate and measure! But before we explore any of these two routes its important that we understand what is that we have been hiring people for- whether we are hiring them because they are similar or whether we are hiring them because they are different and based on which one of these holds true for a specific organisation or for departments within an organisation, we need to calibrate our measuring parameters and approach to either calibrate , record and measure the similarities (the convergence) that comes up or the dissimilarities which manifest through diversity (divergence).The impact created by these similarities/ congruence and the dissimilarities/ divergence is what needs to be measured and benchmarks need to set up around these parameters! The mistake that organisations end up doing is they end up benchmarking individuals rather than the process or the task! You see a task can be done with greater impact following either the route or congruence or divergence- but the end result- as in the outcome of the impact of the task can be recorded and measured to its effectiveness.When organisations fail to do this and start with the easier premise of “I did it, so can you” kind of an approach, we end up measuring garbage and instead of creating benchmarked system of performance- end up creating islands of differing competence across the organisation which over time manifest into overall organisational incompetence across levels and processes! This is when, either the organisation is either than shook ground up or rebuilt form scratch- read the much hyped OD interventions to live another day! So to keep it simple, here’s what you must do!
First know what you are hiring for! Once you know whether you are hiring for similarities- congruence or dissimilarities- divergence, create a system to calibrate, record, measure and communicate the impact and efficacy that an individual is bring to the process/task (remember it is very important to understand that in neither of the scenarios are you benchmarking the person- you are benchmarking the impact/effectiveness that the either routes/approached bring to the point of action!). Once this system has been created, let the people know how they are being measured or evaluated– the conversations have to be , more of, “You achieve “x”, by “y” time through the method A or B that you say you are great, we have you rewarded with PQR! (A could be the process aligned to congruence- wherein people are been hired for similarity and B can be for divergence- wherein people are hired for diversity). What this does is essentially brings a level playing field so that people are rewarded based on the competence and skills that they were hired for inline with the reason that they were hired for! Sure enough, this is extra effort and needs a lot of foundation building with regards to processes and acquiring skilled people to drive such a intricate process- but rest assured once this is done right, the rewards are far too many and can create great companies from good ones and help people stand out individually and also as teams, irrespective of the path that they have chosen to excel- whether it is the route of convergence or divergence! This, if you ask me is the real essence and soul of benchmarking done the right way!
I will leave you here, with these thoughts for now, and urge you to explore, what is that you have experienced when it comes to this aspect of benchmarking and what is your chosen route? Were you the one you directed the process or were you the one who were examined by the process! Importantly now that you have the thoughts, that I shared, what is that you plan to do differently to create sustainable value irrespective of who you hire or where you get hired!
Ciao for now, I will be back soon with another article, until then stay wise, stay safe and continue to create your mark, the way you know it well!