Why is benchmarking useless for competitive success?
Benchmarking is viewed as a necessary process for most organizations. There are benchmarking consultant experts and courses you can take to learn how to benchmark proficiently and gain the maximum benefit.
In my view, benchmarking is a simple concept as is its process:
- Identify the organization that excels in some aspect of your operations that you believe requires improvement — customer service, business planning, customer engagement, sales management, accounts receivable, advertising planning and so on;
- Map (understand deeply) their system or process to understand exactly how they perform the operation;
- Define the actions you must take to incorporate their operating system into your operation with the objective of replicating their level of efficiency.
Benchmarking might help you improve your operations efficiency but it won’t make you stand-out from your competition.
Benchmarking can be problematic on several levels:
Benchmarking is copying
It’s ‘sucking up’ to an organization or individual recognized (by someone presumed to be the thought leader) to be the best at performing a particular function and is therefore the organization you should aspire to be.
It doesn’t make you special. It may help you improve your position in the crowd of hungry competitors by being more efficient at something, but it won’t help you stand out from them by being more relevant or unique.
Copying is the enemy of being different. The maximum benefit you can achieve by copying is best in class levels of performance which may return better operating results than previously obtained but unless you vault beyond these levels true differentiation won’t happen.
Benchmarking keeps you in the herd
The herd is a place where organizations go to blend in with others; to conform with what others do and to lose the DNA attributes that make them special.
Even if you are the ‘best of breed’ you’re still in the herd. It’s just that you execute a process better than any other herd member; you’re still rubbing shoulders with your sameness brethren.
And because you’re tagged ‘the best’, you have no motivation to break away from the herd; you find consolation in it.
The world is becoming a home for best practice addicts and as a result it’s boring and benign.
Benchmarking robs you of your individuality
Benchmarking results in conformance; it sucks any unique thinking you may have out of your system and replaces it with the need to capitulate to the leader of the herd.
Rather than look for a unique solution to your problem, you look for another herd member that has put in the work to create a solution that works for them and you assume you can boilerplate it and it will work for you.
When you copy someone or something, you relegate — subordinate — yourself to them. You roll over, put your ‘paws in the air’ and subsume yourself to the leadership of someone else. Looking up when you’re lying on the ground isn’t a very liberating place to be.
Benchmarking won’t make you special and differentiate you from your competitors
It has no strategic value in moving the organization to a position in the marketplace that ONLY you occupy.
“What are our competitors doing?” is often asked when organizations are thinking about improving how they conduct business, and the benchmarking process ensues — adding zero space between them and their competitors.
And, of course, if you’re chasing another organization, you’re adding nothing to the kitbag of things that make you ‘special’ in the eyes of your customers and encouraging them to spread your word to others and attract new business.
If you copy someone, all you do is lower the bar.
Benchmarking is the enemy of innovation
If you’re a copycat, you’re not an innovator. Benchmarking does little or nothing to stimulate innovation and creativity which seem to be values organizations covet in today’s world of uncertainty and constant change.
In fact benchmarking kills real innovation because it has performance improvement using the standard of another as its end game as opposed to revolutionary changes that determine new strategic outcomes.
We need to get our thinking straight.
Few organizations today stand out, which is sad; few are deemed to be really special by their customers.
Being remarkable isn’t a strategy on the radar of most, or if it is, it’s an elusive goal because leaders allow people to use traditional tools — like benchmarking best of class — to do their jobs.
Uniqueness, remarkability and being special come from being different than your competitors, not copying what they and others do, even if they perform certain functions more efficiently than you do.
We need to change our ways and stick copying where it belongs.
- Start thinking about being different than best in class, not copying best of breed;
- Covet being ‘different than breed’, not best of breed;
- Think about doing what others are not doing, not looking to other’s successes;
- Go in the opposite direction that others are going, not following in their footsteps.
- Define best in class to be the highest bar to be different from, not emulate;
- Purge boilerplates from our toolbox and break new ground (and maybe be the author of a new boilerplate).
Copying is the enemy of being special and remarkable.
And as leaders, let’s change the conversation in our organizations; purging the notion of benchmarking and copying as ways of achieving strategic progress by asking these types of questions of our teams:
- ”What can we do to be different from the crowd of competitors?”;
- “How does what you’re proposing make us stand out from the competition and be special to our customers?”.
- “What crazy ‘insane’ thing is a different business to ours doing and how can we use the basics of the idea to morph it into a special idea for us?”
Benchmarking is absolutely the wrong thing to do when the end game for most organizations seems to be uniqueness and remarkability, but there are ways to ‘bend the curve’ and go in the right direction.
Start the change now, though, because time is not your friend.