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Last week I asked in the Solutions-List for some helpful inputs concerning benchmarking:

In the beginning of the next week I have a meeting with one of the established consulting companies for "benchmarking" (see e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benchmarking).
What I observed is, that the focus of benchmarking is on the difference between the scores for business critical measures of the own company (asking for the benchmark) compared with the best scores of similar companies for the same measures. That means: This difference is a deficit. And the "philosophy" is: knowing this deficit motivates to reduce this deficit.
BUT: In practice this in most cases works as a legitimation for the top management to put more pressure on the "lower" managers to reduce the deficits and to adopt some of that things (e.g. production or selling processes) which (seems to) make the competitors more successful. And this "better" solutions are proposed by the benchmarking-consultants based on their knowledge retrieved from benchmarking-projects in other companies. So, the motivation of the "lower" managers to deliver information to the benchmarking-consultants for a benchmarking-project often is very reduced.... because they fear, that such deficits will become visible.... and they have to implement new solutions which they don't see as really helpful...

I think that using some SF-ideas would make "benchmarking" better accepted.

What ideas do you have to make benchmarking a bit more SF?


I received a lot of very helpful replies and was able to make use of them by preparing a presentation.
I showed it the executive director this Tuesday. In short: My message was well understood by him and appreciated as a possibility to create a better willingness for a constructive cooperation and for doing changes as a consequence of benchmarking projects - especially in those, where some resistance is expected.
And: There is reaonable chance, that I will be engaged in such a project to try out this SF-approach.

How did I profit from your inputs? (I consider, all of you are also member of this solworld.ning)

Here some details:

> Paolo wrote:
> "benchmarking" can be useful to see "what is possible"
> Unfortunately, most consultants also use the concept to import successful practices from other organizations, i.e. they not only use the "what" but also the "how".
> I would therefore use the "what" as an input in a brainstorming phase re "what is possible", to enrich their "preferred future" scenario.
> Then I would ask them the "how"... letting them discover best practices...

In my presentation I renamed "deficit" or "weakness" to "possibility for grow" and showed them in green colour. And the "strengths" I showed in red and called them "areas to sustain and rise". ((Normally deficits are red to attract attention and strengths are green...))

Concerning "then ask them the "how"... letting them discover best practices...": Benchmarking projects are ordered by the top management. And more and more (over 70%) such projects are not ordered as a "complete full screening" but for a very specific single score the management knows where cost should be compared with the competitors to cut them down remarkable in a short time. And they order an analyse from a benchmarker, who has much facts and experience from doing such analyses in the past at similar companies. And they expect, that the benchmarker is able to say, where "the screws must be turned" to become more competitive by cutting costs. So: "discover best practices" is not seen as a "process of discovering" but as a task to analyse the "cost driving mechanic" based on a model the benchmarker knows.
AND: This, I am sure, is very reasonable: In companies there are a lot of things where it is very useful and successful to understand and handle them as "simple" or "complicated" cause - effect relations in a "mechanistic" way.
AND - at the SAME time - is is important to understand, that changing such "mechanics" will effect "the way how work is done by persons". And changing "process mechanics" done by persons means, to change a complex and not a complicated social system.... SO: It is helpful to do BOTH: To analyse the "cost driving mechanic" based on a model the benchmarker knows AND to change the "process mechanics" done by persons in a solution focused way with a high degree of appreciation for existing ways of doing and with a high degree of involvement of that persons to find out ways HOW to make the "process mechanic" better.

By the way: "ordering more an more projects NOT as a "complete full screening" but for a very specific single score the management knows where cost should cut down remarkable in a short time" for me is a nice step towards "SF-management": Managers make use of their OWN competence to know, what score is in the focus (instead of asking an expert to find it out). And kicking off projects only for this aspect to make specific changes in a short time gives the chance to enhance the performance of a company step by step incrementally and not based on a "masterplan" covering two or more years.... SO: "Solution Focused Agility" is already done.... as a way, to lead companies in a swelling sea with heavy winds from unexpected changing directions...

> Sharon wrote:
> Answer ot the question: "what can he offer his clients instead of the "how" to legitmate
> his fee?":
> Perhaps s/he can also offer the "how it is possible" as a menu of choices for the organisation to choose to add to their repertoire?

I integrated this idea in the presentation and I learned in the meeting, that "best practices" by the benchmarkers already are seen more as such offers of choices than as "receipts" to be followed 1:1

> Klaus wrote
> "The true art of discovery lies not in traveling to foreign places, but in seeing with new eyes.")
> So he'd be selling a different "how": not "how to implement additional pressure", but "how to better imagine attractive possible futures".

Good point! I based my presentation on the aspect of "seeing benchmarking with new eyes" by "refraiming" expressions and changing some terms and colours... see above...

> Yoram wrote:
> Benchmarking could be for us (solutionists) another kind of scaling.
> If benchmarking is about differences between the scores for business critical measures, then the "Best Score" could become the Future Perfect.

Again: Yes, this "change of the understanding of benchmarking" makes one of the most important differences! I used it in my presentation - and it worked
> What do we have that makes our "mark" higher than the competitor's "mark"?
> Why this "mark" and not less?
> What will be considered as a small step higher on that specific scale?
> What can be done in order to reach that?

Good suggestion - thank you! I integrated it in the presentation!
> "What can he offer his clients instead of the "how" to legitimate his fee?"
>
> Well, with your question you demonstrate the answer - starting with: "What" instead of: "How".
>
> Benchmarking and SF work (consulting, coaching, etc.) can both be seen as "What" we do in order to develop, promote and help organizations. It doesn't have to be presented as "How" we do it. What makes "What" better than "How" (if at all)?

I was very pleased to hear as a feedback to my presentation that the executive manager estimated this "SF approach" as a helpful way to create a better willingness for a constructive cooperation and for doing changes in benchmarking projects - especially in those, where some resistance is expected: "WHAT" SF is doing is, to apply useful "know HOW" to handle projects in order to develop, promote and help organizations in a constructive way."

> Lori wrote:
> successful practice is worth looking at more closely, but does it always have to be outside the organisation?

Also a very important point! I used it to show in my presentation in broader way how to make visible in benchmarking project also all "successful best practices" within the company. Interesting comment from the executive manager: "Yes, fine - and at the same time the "benchmarker" in some cases has to commit, not to tell this best practices other companies....."

> Mark wrote:
> Sometimes such benchmarking visits are characterised by 'it wouldn't work for us'. Perhaps the 'what would work for us and how' would be a more useful way to spend the time?

Important point: I incorporated it in the presentation that way: "Accepting "best practices" from other companies as offered choices to ask: "How can we make use of what parts of this practices for our company in an adopted way?"


Thank you all for your inputs!
Hans-Peter

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Comment by Bart van Loon on July 23, 2008 at 13:15
Hi Hans-Peter,
great work and great feedback and putting it all together!
Bart
Comment by Paolo Terni on July 19, 2008 at 17:02
Hi Hans-Peter!

Thanks for sharing these insights on SOL Ning, too!
I think you came up with very interesting and useful ideas for everybody!

Cheers,
Paolo

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