This is a guest post
Everyone loves a bench-marking exercise, right?
It helps you understand your place in the world – where you excel, right?
It shows you the gold standard, best practice, the benchmark you aspire to, right?
Bench-marking is honest and pure, so, what brings me to such a bold outburst? Well, there are a couple of reasons:
- Knowing that our own brains play tricks on us
- Plain, old-fashioned common sense
My brain really plays mean tricks on me??
Your brain works in some odd ways. Brain science tells us two really important things that put us at a disadvantage if we are unaware of them:
- Confirmation bias. This is the tendency of people to favour information that confirms what they think. And let’s face it, every bench-marking exercise starts with a subtext, there is no such thing as an open-minded enquiry, those dice are loaded right from the start. If you want to prove that you are could be in the upper quartile for productivity AND satisfaction you will find the evidence. Your brain will work overtime to prove you right.
- The Dunning-Kruger effect. This is where the incompetent suffer an illusion of competence. Interpreting benchmarks is full of subtlety, averages mask outliers and measures interact. This is a highly skilled job for someone who really understands the industry and the interrelationships between the KPIs. The biggest fans of bench-marking are often your finance team who are trying to get a handle on your performance. These are your numbers guys, so they should be the most obvious people for the task. BUT, their training means that they look at the world through a filter of right/wrong, black/white, better/worse. They have some of the skills to interpret benchmarks, but so often they over-estimate their ability and understanding so fail to see the subtleties and the pitfalls in their findings.
So, what about the common sense?
Well, let’s think it through:
- The quality of the research. The research firm is an honest broker and they have undoubtedly produced a high quality, accurate benchmark report. A reasonable assertion, but pause for a second, think about completing a bench-marking survey, how long did you spend on it? How honest were you with the answers? Still confident about the quality?
- The absolute foundation stone of comparative analysis is to compare apples with apples. In all likelihood your bench-marking report is like a shopping trolley full of different fruit that you are trying to compare blindfolded and with thick, woolly gloves on. You are likely to be comparing high-class customer experience operations with the cheapest outsourced body shops.
- What are you hoping to achieve from a bench-marking exercise? If your vision is to give a great customer experience why base your analysis on someone else? Reviewing bench-mark data can be a deeply engrossing exercise but I can think of nothing less useful for your future vision than staring in someone else’s rear view mirror. I always find that Mums make the smartest statements – I am sure, as a kid, your mum asked you “If Johnny jumped off a cliff would you?” Be bold, be brave and plough your own furrow.
Gosh, is bench-marking of no value whatsoever?
Operations focused on the customer experience will find it of limited use because, quite simply, they don’t get the results that they do by marching to the beat of anyone else’s drum. To get the most value you have to be smart how you use it:
- Bench-marking is just a tool, it has its uses but it isn’t an end in itself. If you approach it with an awareness of how your brain loves to fool you, and you can see when your brain is hijacking your objective thinking then you can apply your analytical skills usefully.
- Be aware of the see-saw. There is an inevitability that if you drive productivity, quality will suffer; if you want to deliver a really great customer experience then it is unlikely that you will be in the top decile of efficient operations.
If you want to create an experience that is truly special start with your vision, your customer and the experience you aspire to and design your metrics and targets from there. Focusing on bench-marking is by it’s nature limiting your potential to someone else’s experiences.
As Nobel winner Prigogine said “the best way to cope with the future is to create it”. Rip up the rule book, shred the bench-marking report and allow yourself to shape being the best you can be for you and your customers.
Dougie Cameron consults and writes about improving your customer experience through your people. As a reformed finance guy, he challenges the misuse of numbers. Find out more at addzest.co
If you enjoyed this post try the e-Course
Image by jezarnold
Read another opinion