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Transcending Restrictive Benchmarking

The adventure begins with a need for improvement, optimization and even more crudely, with the necessity to pre-empt a crisis. The question of how then takes on greater meaning, since at its core, it embodies the recognition of the impossibility of maintaining the status quo. Change is no longer an option.

In this same spirit, many will remember the old adage: “Adapt or perish”! However, with experience and as the years go by... this shock doctrine loses its power, as change becomes something more of a companion rather than a cause for concern. More than that, the call to adapt is restrictive, almost to a disadvantage, because it is confined to a transition of dynamics, from victimization to resilience. And while resilience certainly provides balance and peace, overcoming it demands even more. Exceeding is the present-day priority of our business community and the world as a whole. Better. More.

Let’s remember yesterday

In the mid-80s, we often heard “...computers are going to take our jobs...”. Forty years later and light years away from what was possible with the technology of that time, we are in the midst of a labour shortage.

In early 2020, “[...] we hope that RPA (Robotic Process Automation) and artificial intelligence will help us mitigate the effects of the labour shortage [...]”.

This change of discourse reflects the fact that we were not merely satisfied with adapting, but have recognized the need to go beyond simply catching up, so that from this challenge has emerged a strategic advantage.

Today, the shortage affects the mission

Hypothetical situation: You carefully track your organization's achievements through a series of dashboards whose indicators are beginning to fluctuate. Some data reveals unwanted deviations in the performance or quality of the products or services offered. Some gaps in efficiency or quality decrease or limit the company's ability to carry out its mission. Since accountability is always present, you and your colleagues identify several contextual factors in your environment to explain this qualitative or quantitative hurdle. At this point, there is no need to adapt, let alone exceed expectations; your organization is simply a contextual victim.

And time moves on. The evil that growled silently is now growing. The orange or red flags are multiplying. Meetings abound, questions are asked, the coffeemaker is brewing pot after pot... A definite tension is in the air.

A Review Committee is appointed. Analysis of what has escalated into a crisis. Meeting in the War Room. Deficiencies in the processing chain are at last revealed. The findings do not lie: the work being produced is below the required level of performance or quality ... the supply chain is deficient ... the quality assurance program has fallen by the wayside, etc.

There are many explanations, as countless as the cases in question.

An opinion rises from the other end of the table: “We are certainly not the only ones experiencing this. How do others overcome challenges X, Y or Z?”

Tomorrow, look elsewhere

This is where benchmarking comes in as a diagnostic tool, again from the 80s... Strictly speaking, benchmarking consists of analysing the operations, practices and management tools of organisations with very similar activities, i.e. competitors. This approach makes it possible to identify how others overcame the challenges in question, how they adapted. After that, and in most cases, the solutions are copy/pasted; adaptation is thus proven and balance is restored. Temporarily, at the very least.

Benchmarking can be very useful in finding solutions related to the activities of a given mission. For instance, identifying a clinical process used in healthcare networks, or tools and equipment to limit fuel consumption in air transport, etc.

However, in most cases, factors leading to a loss of efficiency or quality that hinder the fulfillment of a mission are most often related to supporting activities, i.e. the management of human resources, finances, materials, information, etc. Allocation, retention, training, accounting, cash flow, communications, capital assets, limitations, inventory, applications, deliveries, decision-support tools… And the reason is simple: mission activities are generally automatically subject to constant monitoring, whereas supporting activities – not any less essential (but certainly less glamorous), are less scrutinized, tracked, or optimized.

Under such circumstances, benchmarking quickly becomes restrictive. The support issues encountered in various business sectors are not experienced in the same way, or even resolved with the same flexibility. When such challenges arise (identified as early as possible), communities of practice then really become relevant… A few examples of this, and the list is endless: the Canadian Payroll Association, Quebec CPA Order, Québec’s Association of Information Technology, the Barreau du Québec, the CRHA Order, etc. Such communities of practice generate what is known as cross-disciplinary intelligence. Solutions with great potential originating in the manufacturing industry can be applied to the healthcare network (such as the numerous successes of the Lean Six Sigma optimization approach), others from the sector of education can be used in the IT world, from the aerospace industry to pharmaceuticals, etc.

Showcasing management issues leads to the discovery of a multitude of solutions. The simple fact of drawing from a pool of solutions rather outside one’s usual repertoire can often guarantee innovation. And then, innovations often become strategic advantages.

Would you like to share your experience with benchmarking or receive more information on the subject? Contact us!

We will be happy to answer you.

Luc Lachapelle B.A., M.A., M.B.S.I., C.D.I.A., S.S.C.

Director, Strategic Consulting HCM.

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