How to benchmark and improve your performance

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It’s already the middle of January and many New Year Resolutions are teetering on the brink of collapse. But fear not – there is one resolution that you can make which you will be able to keep because it requires little effort, is really interesting for anyone who is curious about how others behave and can provide all sorts of benefits to you and your organisation. Why not make 2013 the year in which you start to benchmark?

For those of you who already write organisational plans and set targets for yourselves and your staff which are reviewed and evaluated, benchmarking could be an additional tool which will add even more value and enhance your performance both as an organisation and as an individual manager. You may find that by comparing your performance with how others are doing you will find one or more of the following:

  1. Whilst you are doing well, others are achieving more. This could motivate you and your staff to increase your targets and expand your horizons.
  2. Other organisations of similar size, doing similar work are spending less to achieve similar results. By examining their methods and how they differ from yours you may learn some useful tips to save money or time.
  3. Other organisations (or individuals) may be approaching things differently and trying things which had not occurred to you and which might enhance your activities.
  4. Other people may have succeeded in making something work which you have previously tried and dismissed as ineffectual. Perhaps it would be worth having another go?
  5. Conversely other organisations may be doing less well than you and this can boost your confidence that you are doing things right and may be an added motivation to keep your staff and volunteers working to the best of their ability.

So if benchmarking is about comparing your performance with others what types of benchmarking are useful to consider?

  1. Financial benchmarking has been around in the private sector for a long time – and in the voluntary sector this may well be used by fundraisers to compare their investment to income ratios; or the response rates of direct marketing campaigns. It may be helpful to see what level of donations other charities are achieving and what types of donation prompts they are using.
  2. Performance benchmarking (which was started in manufacturing to compare physical performance attributes of machinery and products) can be usefully applied to service provision and to workforce development:
  • In service provision, ask questions such as: How many clients are seen per year, how many calls or enquiries responded to? How big a case load does each worker handle? What is the turn around time for dealing with one case or client?
  • In workforce development, ask questions regarding recruitment and retention, salary levels, diversity of staff and volunteers (and trustees), learning and development amongst staff, organisational structure and job roles.

You and your colleagues can devise your own list of questions and the priority areas on which to focus. This would be a useful exercise at a trustee / staff planning meeting and certainly should form an active part of the planning and review process.

How to benchmark is of course the bigger challenge since finding out the information from other individuals and organisations may not be easy. Some of the facts can be found in annual reports and in research reports by organisations such as NCVO and NESTA which are keen to share knowledge and contribute to performance improvement. Various benchmarking surveys on salaries are carried out by trade associations, consultants and bodies such as ACEVO and CIPD.

Since people are often protective of their own data and unwilling to share detailed performance stats in a public forum one of the important tasks of the CEO and of Trustees is to get out and about and connect with colleagues in other organisations. With the availability of information via the internet a great deal can also be gleaned from a focused internet search and a willing volunteer could be tasked with seeking answers to some benchmarking questions.

Cooperation and collaboration, especially in the voluntary sector, can enhance all our organisations and learning from each other by observation and comparison is a practical way of helping each other to improve. Benchmarking can be a boon to planning and a motivational tool for managers everywhere. So why not make this the year you add benchmarking to your management toolkit and get even better at making a difference.

Happy New Year!