Traditional Benchmarking Out of Reach? Try This

In racing, a driver will often surface as the best of the best seeming impossible to beat until one day some new kid shows up and blows them off the track. In our agencies, without taking a look around we may think we’ve done all we can do and are getting the best results. Or as they say, getting “good enough for government” results.

One reason some government agencies have a reputation for mediocrity is that they, in fact, are mediocre. Operating on the assumption that you don’t have any competitors means that you don’t really feel like you have to try very hard. Until someone else who recognizes the race puts you out of business.

Yes, government agencies can go out of business.

New startups are looking for opportunities and your agency’s weakness might be a new startup’s new opportunity. This makes the need for routine competitive analysis even more important.

I don’t like to use the word competitors because it sets the stage for an offensive/defensive relationship rather than a collaborative one. So for the rest of this article we’ll be talking about looking at comparisons – those agencies that either do what you do (apples to apples) or have a similar business model but in a different industry (apples to oranges).

We like to think that our imaginations are limitless but in reality, they are limited by what we know and have been exposed to. This is another key reason that taking the time to look around and see what your comparisons are doing is important. Education truly broadens the mind.

Traditionally, benchmarking is a recommended method of comparing your level of success with a best in class but this way of going about performance improvement is not necessarily the best or only way. Lots of organizations waste a lot of time trying to collect a bunch of data and creating difficult to manage spreadsheets, often not knowing why they are collecting the data, never getting to the end result -making improvements.

I suggest something much more simple and digestible to ensure that you do something versus nothing at all. Try traditional benchmarking for one or two key metrics combined with a comparative investigation.

Conducting a comparative investigation is simple. You likely know who some of your comparisons are but you want to raise the bar, so you need to find comparisons who are making big impacts. With the internet available to us we can quickly discover who’s literally winning awards for their efforts. You can use the organizations that win these awards to get some ideas and gauge the latest best practices for yourself.

Here are two examples:

I found the above by searching for “best in government awards” online. All you need to do is determine what your strength in government is or should be, for example, “customer service” or “citizen relationships”, and then search the internet for awards based on those criteria. Remember you’re not looking to copy what they do, seek out winning practices and then make them your own.

There’s hardly ever a one-size-fits-all solution that actually works for everyone so focus on what’s best for your organization that is sustainable and most importantly you can actually utilize to make meaningful improvements.

Laura Thorne is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is an organizational improvement consultant. She specializes in helping business owners and individuals to be more effective. Laura has over 25 years of professional experience and has had opportunities to work with some of the best and worst performing organizations. Read her posts here.

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It is a good article. In this time, every single company is trying to do something unique and useful to raise its business. Benchmarking is a good method. I think many small business people don’t know about it. But they should know about it and use it for better result.

Sherin Shibu

You talk about things that people often don’t want to acknowledge or address- specifically that “good enough for government” isn’t good enough anymore. I like that you then bring in action points for people to act on; you don’t just identify the problem. Thank you Laura!