Academic journal article Human Resource Planning

Once upon a Benchmark

Academic journal article Human Resource Planning

Once upon a Benchmark

Article excerpt

Another Monday morning creeps in at BAU (Business As Usual) Inc., a division of NIH Corp. In the human resources department, the stack of unfinished business from Friday looms over the 25 department members. But, this Monday is just a bi different. Rather than facing the same queue of report generation and number collecting, the HR department instead will face a significant challenge to thei very existence. And to win they must leap into the 90's and use a quality tool that will take them in new directions.

The challenge thrust upon BAU Human Resources? President James (Jimmy) Merrick, in his endless search for profit has suddenly noticed this weekend that he is paying for 25 people on staff to manage the human resources aspects of his 2500 person company. A staff group? One percent of his total operation? This overhea must be reduced. Responding to one of those "I need to see you in my office as soon as you get in" notes, department head Carrie Jamison is presented with the challenge. "Come back with a plan to cut your staff in half while still maintaining service levels and meeting government reporting regulations. I will need this by the budget meeting at the end of next month."

Carrie argues against the assignment up to the point of open rebellion. Her department is the leanest and most efficient in the whole company. Why they hav more leading edge automation than anybody outside the R&D group. And Carrie is sure that nobody else in the industry is more efficient. But in these hard times, these opinions just do not cut it with Jimmy.

Since she has a solid, mature team in place, Carrie calls them together to shar the news, once she is sure they have all had at least one cup of coffee. After fair amount of hand wringing and consternation, the cry goes up for action. "We can't just take this." "We are very efficient." "What can we do?" The first reaction is to start listing all the work underway that is essential to the company and create some sort of analysis that shows the exact manpower required Carrie stops the discussion with a simple observation: "Jimmy has already seen that. That is basically what I put together each year for the budget meetings. We need something better, someway to show that we do not need to be chopped up; but what?"

After a period of silence a lone voice rises, resident cynic Nathan. "Hey, I just thought of something. I just saw an article in an old issue of Fortune tha talked about benchmarking. It's one of those quality craze, ISO9000, Malcolm Baldrige award kind of tools, but I think it might help us. I would need to learn more before I could be sure. Basically, it's a way to exchange informatio with other companies to learn where you stand and how to improve. Maybe we coul use this benchmarking to show Jimmy that we compare favorably with other companies." The general reaction in the room is skeptical, but there are no other alternatives presented, so Nathan promises to do some research and report back at the department meeting on Wednesday.

Having spent several hours at the public library, Nathan gives the department his verbal report on benchmarking. "Ok here is what I have learned. The article that I had seen was in Fortune Magazine, but I also found articles in Financial World and Business Week. This thing is a lot more mainstream than I thought. It turns out that there are lots of companies doing this. It has even seen some us in the human resources area. There were stories in HR Focus and HRMagazine within the last six months. "So, what is benchmarking all about? Well, there ar actually a number of definitions that describe the same thing in different ways Here are the ones that I liked best:

David T. Kearns, a former CEO of Xerox, described it as: 'The continuous proces of measuring products, services and practices against the toughest competitors or those companies recognized as industry leaders.'

'The search for industry best practices that lead to superior performance' is the definition used by a guy named Bob Camp who wrote the first book about this back in the late 80's. …

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