Improved Leadership. Competitive Advantage.

By the time you open and read this newsletter, it is likely that Major League Baseball will be toasting a new champion. Nothing about sports in this newsletter, except to say that we feel that most of us should just bench Benchmarking. Yes, the Benchmarking efforts, as we’ve seen them firsthand, belong deep on the bench—riding the pine!

C’mon. We all know that it’s hardly ever done well. The subject of both laughs and scorn, consider some of the quotes that we’ve captured over the years:

"Since antiquity and spanning humanity, there's no greater waste of time than a Benchmarking trip."

"It's a vacation, and everybody knows it. It gets us out of the plant and allows us to breathe, but I’ve never seen a Benchmarking trip produce any tangible result."

"You kidding me? A Benchmarking trip is nothing more than a networking opportunity. People looking for a new job are the ones who like Benchmarking."

"They are downright expensive, and everyone pays. While we send a small team of leaders down to Benchmark, someone else—back here—needs to carry the water. Whatta waste!"

We’ve been around though, and, in essence, ELP is continually Benchmarking. With that said, we offer the Big Five below. While we’ll stop just short of offering a money back guarantee here, we do feel (and we’ve got some evidence to back us up!) that if you follow the principles below, you’ll go a long way toward improving your Benchmarking efforts.

  1. Keep the Focus Narrow. One of the great mistakes that we’ve seen time and again is that organizations and their leaders pursue grand Benchmarking efforts. In essence, there’s an effort to solve world hunger during many Benchmarking initiatives. These fail, bound by the problem that you are trying to solve and/or generate a focused purpose statement. Ideally—and we offer the following consultation—leaders should attach a 15-word (or fewer) purpose statement to all Benchmarking efforts. If you can’t explain the purpose of your Benchmarking effort in 15 words, then just don’t go. Focus is everything. For instance, we consulted with one client to narrow down their Benchmarking effort to something as simple as, “The purpose of my Benchmarking trip is to understand the tools they use for inventory control.” To be sure, there’s an added benefit of keeping the focus narrow: you save everyone’s time. By focusing your Benchmarking efforts, you, quite likely, won’t need to be gone as long. Also, you save the hosting organization some time as well. Remembering one client, they reduced their Benchmarking trip from five days to two by just applying a focused purpose statement.
  2. Do the Pre-Work. Many of the organizations that we work with are lean and, for that reason, many are hurried. Meetings and report generation chew up valuable time. Because of this, very few leaders adequately prepare for their Benchmarking trip. Some are lucky enough to grab their Benchmarking folder on their way out the door and have told us that they’ll study on the plane ride to the hosting organization. It’s kind of laughable, but we know these efforts to fail. 4.0 benchmarking trips require us to prepare and to even conduct virtually a Pre-Job Brief with our hosting organization. Part of this is just common courtesy. No leader wants to waste another leader’s time. So, let them know you are coming and hold a virtual PJB where you share your purpose, exchange reports and metrics, and nail down expectations. Very few organizations and leaders are prepared enough to do this. In our experience, though, it is a purposeful and thoughtful way to start the Benchmarking trip.
  3. The Benchmarking Report. This, too, could end up in a Dilbert cartoon. We’ve been told that upwards of 75% of Benchmarking trips never generate a Benchmarking Report—even if the procedure tells us to do so! The reason is quite simple, but it’s a loser’s excuse. What happens is that leaders come back from a Benchmarking trip and enter the whirlwind. While they’ve been gone (and because they didn’t follow the principles above) for 5 days, they’ve come back to their home organization and must confront 100 voice mails and 500 emails that are demanding their attention. The Benchmarking trip quickly, if not immediately, falls to the low priority. Because of that, we strongly recommend that leaders do the following: write the report within 48 hours of return. Just do it. By the way, with every passing hour, our memories along with the lessons that we learned begin to degrade. After 48 hours, if it isn’t written down, it is likely lost to our cognitive dustbin forever. Also, and this is every bit as important, try damn hard to keep the report to a single page—at max two. Nobody’s going to read a 15-page benchmarking trip report. So many leaders fail in this regard. The best leaders and individual contributors can pull out what’s most important and shelve the uninteresting and the low value noise. Staying to a single page forces us to keep the most important.
  4. Courses of Action and Corrective Action. Remember, we aren’t fixing world hunger here. So, one of the most important activities that a returning Benchmarking team can do is to enter two immediate courses of action/corrective actions. This is important for another reason as well: it focuses us all on things that could/should be fixed. To share an example, we worked with a leader who came back from a five-day benchmarking trip (yes, no purpose statement), and he mentioned culture over and over again. Of course, it’s important for leaders to see, feel, and touch when they visit another plant or manufacturing facility. We won’t dispute that. However, what corrective action can come from a cultural comment like that? We worked hard with this particular leader to identify actionable knowledge from his benchmarking trip. If it isn’t actionable, how could it possibly be an effective Benchmarking trip? Likely, it wasn’t. By immediately generating two courses of action or corrective actions, we are breathing actionable value into the Benchmarking effort.
  5. Report Up! Report Out. There’s both an accountability and a courtesy component to this principle. Before you leave on a benchmarking trip, get on your boss’s calendar two weeks after your return. The subject of the meeting is to brief your boss on the fruits of your Benchmarking efforts. Don’t wait for your boss to ask you how it went. Take the lead and schedule the meeting before you actually leave. Of course, the reason to do this is to put the stamp of accountability on the efforts. In addition to debriefing your boss, schedule a follow-up meeting with your hosting organization. We recommend doing this 30 days after the completion of the Benchmarking efforts. Remember, they gave up people, time, and effort to make you smarter. The least we can do is to close the loop and share our progress with those who attempted to help us.

In closing, the best way to move Benchmarking off the bench into the starting rotation is to follow the principles above. There are more, for sure. If you want to get even more out of your Benchmarking efforts, please reach out to one of ELP’s principals and co-founders, Robin Bichy at robin@elpadvantage.com.