Magazine article Public Finance

The Art of Stealing Shamelessly

Magazine article Public Finance

The Art of Stealing Shamelessly

Article excerpt

The public sector is the focus of a continuing efficiency campaign. No-one is immune to the need to drive down costs while maintaining, or even improving, service standards. In such times we need to be willing to accept that, individually, we may not have all the answers.

That's where benchmarking comes in. I like to consider well-executed benchmarking as the art of stealing shamelessly, learning from our own and other organisations, both from their successes and their failures.

Internal benchmarking, that is learning from other departments within your organisation, can be surprisingly fruitful. I've yet to come across a large organisation that is 100% successful at sharing good practice across sites and silos.

Sector-specific benchmarking offers the opportunity to find out what good practice looks like to people with a similar outlook to you. I would also not rule out generic benchmarking, using organisations outside the public sector. I had some success conducting benchmarking between a national charity, an international news organisation and an airline.

There are three established benchmarking methods available to us:

Metric Benchmarking is the method most familiar to the public sector. It's a way of comparing outputs from processes and allows us to establish how those outputs compare to others. This method, exemplified in the CIPFA benchmarking clubs, allows us to establish a baseline of performance and gives us a good basis to identify areas of concern.

Outputs will only ever be as good as the inputs used so it's vital that the data used in metric benchmarking is valid, appropriate and will facilitate honest comparisons.

Diagnostic benchmarking is a slightly more complex process. Rather than focusing on outputs, it looks at how organisations do business and how that compares to the best identified practice. It generally uses questionnaires to gain information, requires an overview of the organisational objectives and looks at how staff and customers of an organisation view the way that processes and services work.

Process benchmarking requires an organisation to fully understand how its processes work. It's a systematic way to document a process, understand its strengths, weaknesses and gaps, identify benchmarking partners and learn from them and finally (and most importantly) implement improvements. But it is also a long-term project that may require additional staff training, release from normal duties, specific budgets and good communication. Though it is not to be undertaken lightly, the benefits can be significant. As it involves in-depth access to another organisation I would advise that all process benchmarking projects are covered by a code of conduct.

As with most things in life, benchmarking tends to produce results in proportion to the amount of effort we are willing to dedicate to the exercise.

Here are my top 10 tips on how to make a success of benchmarking:

?Ensure you get management buy-in

Probably the single biggest reason for not getting the most out of benchmarking is a failure to obtain a buyin from management. Make sure your management team know what benchmarking is available and understand the benefits of using it.

?Staff need to buy-in too

Regardless of the type of benchmarking involved, your staff will implement subsequent improvements. It's important that they see benchmarking as an opportunity to improve the service, make it more effective or efficient and better secure the long term viability of the organisation. …

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