The term benchmark originates from a “bench mark” symbol, a horizontal line that British Ordnance Surveyors chiselled into stone landmarks and milestones across the UK until as recently as 1993. The line marks the exact position where surveying equipment (an angle-iron) should be placed to form a “bench” for a levelling rod, ensuring that it is a reliable, repeatable point of reference.
The height of a bench-marked structure is calculated relative to the height of a “fundamental benchmark”, usually mean sea level. From 1831 to when they stopped being used in 1993, over half a million bench marks were etched into Britain’s ancient landscape.
The practice of benchmarking within the corporate landscape involves much less clambering around on damp Welsh hillsides, but it is actually very similar. Corporate benchmarking measures best practice in successful companies and uses that standard as a fundamental benchmark, a corporate mean sea level if you like. Benchmarking is used to directly compare the methods, processes and practices of your company to those of others that you consider to be even more successful and would like to emulate.
Imitation is the best form of flattery…
The idea of benchmarking is that you find a competitor/s who you consider to be leading the field, and then measure your company against it in relation to very specific attributes. These attributes vary enormously and depend on the type of business you are. For example, you might be interested in how your competitor’s advertising strategy differs from yours, and how much of their income comes from generating new business compared to existing clients being incentivized to spend more. How long does it take for your competitor to take a new product from design concept to delivery, and how do they maintain impressive levels of staff retention. Safety in the workplace is one of the most important and easiest elements of benchmarking to plan and monitor (more on this subject later) and is applicable across all sectors of your company.
Benchmarking allows you to discover what successful companies do very well and adopt it within your own operation, or better still, take inspiration from their process and improve on it. And it is not merely a sensible business practice. If you want to be a great footballer you will probably know every nuance of every move that George Best ever made on the pitch, and it is a safe bet that Anthony Joshua and Nicola Adams have an encyclopedic knowledge of every one of Muhammed Ali’s fights too.
Like all great journeys of enlightenment, this one starts from within.
The first step of benchmarking is to carry out an internal analysis of your company processes, methods and procedures. You need to decide on what you want to look at and how you are going to quantify successes and failures in those areas/facets of your business. Sometimes directly comparable data are not available and in that case you will need to devise a specific metric (a proxy) with which you can compare your business to others that you want to use as a benchmark.
It may be that you are only interested in benchmarking one or two aspects of your business rather than a company-wide approach. You may have disappointing online reviews for customer service that you think are negatively affecting sales and so will focus on measuring all aspects of that area and compare it with a company with amazing online reviews, or those famed for being perceived as always putting customers first.
Keep the ball rolling…
Benchmarking should really be a rolling project rather than a one-off event. By looking outside and continually monitoring the approaches and often shifting strategies of competitors, you can inject fresh perspective into your own operation to get you to the top and keep you there.
But beware, even some of the greatest corporate giants are utterly fallible and have made bonkers errors in judgement, think of Sony Betamax for example. Sony’s decision to retain all rights to solely produce the Betamax format almost sunk the company. Despite Betamax being technically superior, the fact that VHS makers swamped the market meant that Betamax died a slow, expensive and embarrassing death.
In the world of workplace safety, benchmarking is more than a way of improving profits, it is a way of saving lives. There are clear and numerous performance targets and indicators that generate direct data that you can work with. Best practice procedures such as weekly reporting of accidents, near-misses, first aid treatments, safety equipment failures and employee illness and absenteeism for example, provide a vivid insight into the health of the safety climate in your workplace. In order to benchmark safety you must first obtain a clear and complete picture of existing conditions and attitudes.
By setting up an online safety culture survey with us you can assess staff attitudes anonymously, providing a valuable snapshot in time. Once armed with the results, you can make realistic decisions about priority areas for improvement. You can repeat the survey for the next two years to see how your decisions and actions have impacted on your safety culture.
Do it today, benchmarking safety saves lives
Image attribute: By Hogyn Lleol – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=57450583