Measuring is the best way to improve what you are doing. Doing it right is the trick.
Benchmarking is a form of measurement – where you measure something else to see where you are lagging, identify the areas and take corrective action. This is the essence of benchmarking. Incorporate this as part of your Health Check, as discussed earlier.
Even if you think you are doing everything right, how do you know unless you compare? No organization is the best at everything and the same is true for yours.
Measuring results in the best way to improve what you are doing. This is the core of almost all quality management systems and benchmarking is a form of measurement. This is where you measure against something else to see where you are lagging, identify weaker areas and take corrective action. Benchmarking should be a learning process, however, not just a measurement exercise. It’s a starting point for continuous improvement.
Many benchmarking results use averages, which can be very misleading, driving you to the wrong conclusions and decisions. That’s why you need to dig deep and fully understand what you are comparing. Averages can include a wide sampling of comparisons, not all of which will be relevant.
Not comparing apples to oranges is important, but the bigger risk is the more subtle differences between apples. Accurate comparison is not as easy as it seems, and using averages provided in published benchmarks can result in wrong decisions. You don’t want to compare apples to oranges for sure, but you also don’t want to compare a Golden Delicious with a Macintosh. To get a proper comparison, assess each component and compare things that are the same, making adjustments as necessary to ensure an equal comparison.
Misleading Benchmarking Information
As the first step, you need to understand how the benchmarking results you are using have been compiled. To perform an effective comparison, consider the sample size, the type of facilities, location, services, etc. As an example, one major benchmarking report had a category for buildings over 1-million square feet. The separated the results by region and one region had just over 7-million square feet in total in the sample. One company who participated in the benchmarking study submitted three of their buildings, totaling over 3-million square feet. As a result, just under 50% of the sample was from a single company. Clearly, this wasn’t a representative benchmark, but other organizations wouldn’t have know this fact unless they studied the information very carefully.
Only a Starting Point
In any case, benchmarking should be a starting point, not an ending point. If you use generic benchmarking results from associations or private organizations, they should simply point you to areas that you will study in more depth. Always take care when comparing benchmarking results to your buildings and make suitable adjustments before making any decisions.
Traditional benchmarking simply compares numbers, which can be a good starting point if you are comparing the right things. You need to go beyond traditional benchmarking to look at resources, procedures and systems to find out why you are performing well. More importantly, you should use that information to keep doing the things that are going well – and to change the things that are not working.
Compare how you operate with processes, people and systems against other high-performing organizations and understand what they do differently. Then, assess whether you can emulate what they do to be successful and implement it.
Why Go Beyond Benchmarking?
As the FM department of an organization, you have less opportunity for exposure to other methods, procedures and latest practices in FM since you don’t have peers in your organization to interact with and learn from. Also, your supervisors and other senior members of your organization don’t have knowledge and experience in your profession they can share with you or provide guidance for. This makes you the sole champion and sole knowledge source for FM in your organization.
As a result, you need to compare yourself with other FM organizations and departments, not only through traditional benchmarking of numbers, but by comparing your performance against leading practices.
What Benchmarking is Not
Benchmarking isn’t just about numbers. That is, you don’t just compare numbers and, if your results are better than average or better, keep on doing what you’ve always been doing.
More than anything, benchmarking should be a learning process, not just a measurement exercise. You should effectively compare the results and then dig deep to understand what you can do differently.
Accurately comparing results and measurements is not as easy as it seems, and using averages can sometimes result in wrong decisions. Some of the things you need to adjust for include sample size, characteristics, and methodology.
You need to know how the results are calculated in addition to understanding how to compare and adjust. The technique can influence the numbers you are trying to compare against and not yield accurate comparisons. Here are the typical ways that benchmarking results are calculated - mean, weighted average, and median.
As a result, you need to know more about the numbers involved in the benchmarking exercise before you use them. Even then, you must adjust the results or use them carefully.
Benchmarking isn’t just an exercise you do once and forget about it. Continue to measure internally and compare your new results with the benchmark results as well as your own historical results to see how you are trending and to identify and take action if you start to slip. Periodically re-assess your resources, processes and systems to make sure they are still delivering the best results. Drill down again to see what else to change that will improve results. As necessary, focus on a new area and repeat the process.
Be Prepared to Change
Your goal is to find things to improve or change that achieve better results, so expect to implement changes before you even begin. Prepare your organization for the possible outcome, which may include organizational changes, business cases for new systems or developing/implementing new processes or activities. These changes often take resources to plan and implement properly, so be ready to develop a strong business case and sell your recommended changes. Your benchmarking and further analysis provide you with the evidence you need.
The Intelligent Benchmarking Process
Intelligent benchmarking isn’t just about comparing benchmark numbers, it’s a process to target problem areas, indentify solutions and implement changes that will get better results. Benchmarking is part of the process, including general benchmarking as well as detailed, focused benchmarking the compares processes, resources, and systems rather than just numbers. These 10 steps will help guide you to better results:
Step #1 - Identify and Rank Critical Success Areas
Step #2 – Select Areas to Improve
Step #3 – Compare Results Using Benchmarks
Step #4 – Choose Results that are not Superior
Step #5 – Isolate Supporting Processes, Resources and Systems
Step #6 – Analyze Each Process, Resource, and System for Impacts
Step #7 – Focus on Problems
Step #8 – Test Your Practices Against Leading Practices
Step #9 – Adopt Leading Practices and Change Existing Practices
Step #10 – Repeat for Other Areas
Avoid the Benchmarking Traps
Trap #1 – It’s All About the Numbers. Comparing your results with a benchmark number is only the starting point for benchmarking.
Trap #2 – There Isn’t Anything Else to Learn. If you think you know all there is to know already, you won’t do what it takes to benchmark effectively.
Trap #3 – Using Your Shotgun. You have limited time and energy, so focus your benchmarking on key areas that will have a large impact.
Trap #4 – Using Published Benchmarking As-Is. Generic published benchmarking results are a good start to identify areas for further study, but even at a high-level, you need to be careful with the comparisons.
Trap #5 – Justifying the Status Quo. Some people use benchmarking results to justify the status quo. Since raw benchmarking results can be deceptive, this is easy to accomplish.
Trap #6 – One-Time Effort. Benchmarking isn’t just an exercise to do once and forget about it. Once you benchmark, you should continue to measure internally and compare your new results with the benchmark results.
Trap #7 – Comparing Apples to Apples. Everybody talks about not comparing apples to oranges, but the bigger risk is the more subtle differences between apples.
Michel Theriault is the author of the new book “Managing Facilities and Real Estate." He is an independent consultant providing strategic and management solutions for Facility Managers. He has many years of experience in all areas of FM, including operations, performance management, change management, customer service, service level definitions, outsourcing, and RFP’s. He authors a blog at thebuiltenvironment.ca and recently started a new website for FM surveys and research at www.fminsight.com. He welcomes your comments and feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org or strategicadvisor.ca.