Benchmarking grumble part II

So, I am back at work and back at blogging after a bit of a break, and what’s on the meaningless menu of joyless chores today? Catching up with benchmarking, hurrah! I do hate to labour a point, but I have been inspired by this to start seeing pseudo-scientific binary comparisons everywhere, and benchmarking is surely one of the worst offenders.

Paraphrased, the BM request I received was: “I haven’t had your organisation’s answers to the below questions, get a move on and tell me, will you?” with an implication that it was only my organisation who’d failed to respond, and everyone else had been good boys and girls in replying promptly and fully as they clearly understood the importance and urgency of the task. Basically, I was requested to find out and tell them about our structure, numbers and responsibilities within a particular directorate, and whether we have a dedicated person to attend a specific strategic meeting. Big sigh. The request is enjoyably predictable (see “what I dislike about benchmarking”) but depressingly pointless.

The thing is, it doesn’t matter what answer I give. It doesn’t make the slightest jot of real difference whether I say we’ve got 800 people in that department, or 8, or anything in between. The response will be collated in a table and used to compare their organisation against others which have been deemed to be statistically similar. That’s the one and only “science bit”, by the way.

What I find objectionable is the mindset which this encourages. To fuel my flames of indignation and grumpiness, I even imagined (in table form) how the data from above BM request would be used, but alas, alack, technical incomptetence prevents me from reproducing the table here.  Suffice to say that Mr Benchmarker was very free and easy with his green ticks for his organisation being above average on staff:task ratio, red crosses for being heavy with junior managers, etc. etc.

The mindset that grates is the simplistic binary comparison pseudo-science. This mindset says “we are doing x amount of this thing, which is about average compared with our group, therefore must be right”. This mindset believes that it is a fair and intelligent way to manage to think “we are employing z amount of people doing that thing, which is the lowest in our group, therefore we must either put more people into doing it, or accept that our high sickness rate is inevitable”. This mindset thinks that the best you can aim for is to be average in your group (if you can’t tell whether more or less of something is better), or to be merely a smidgen better than your competitors. Thus even if your competitors’ performance is pretty crap at least you’re not having to explain yourselves to the fierce folk from the inspectorate.

But hey, what do I know? I’m just a lowly cubicle-dwelling petunia, and – worse still – one who’s had a break from the important business of corporate cooperation. My brain has probably shrunk whilst I have been away. I must have missed the bulletin which explained why in these cash-strapped times, Aiming For Mediocrity is the new ‘Striving For Excellence’. After all, it’s much simpler to calculate.


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