Discover Best Practices through Benchmarking

Article excerpt

There's nothing like a whiff of reality to make you realize yesterday's winning formula can easily turn into tomorrow's recipe for disaster. And Mike Burns is well aware of the fact. The vice president of HR and Total Quality Culture at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. has seen the automotive and tire business undergo massive change during the last few years--part of a larger transformation affecting industry as a whole. As the huge Akron, Ohio-based manufacturer has struggled to keep pace with the changing workscape, the organization has focused on finding new and better ways to get things done in all functions. "Success is measured by how well you can adapt. What worked in the past isn't necessarily going to work in the future. Today, change is an absolute necessity," he says.

Indeed, Goodyear has analyzed, deconstructed and then reassembled various practices in new ways, gaining remarkable insights into the way the company and its people actually work. In HR alone, the company has scrutinized everything from benefits to training procedures, looking at other companies and examining best HR practices. Then it has put all the information together--both quantitative and qualitative forms--to provide a crystal-clear snapshot of what it's doing well and ways it can improve (see sidebar, page 72). But, perhaps most important of all, this ongoing benchmarking has harvested brainpower and enthusiasm the company didn't know existed. By measuring itself against other organizations and then soliciting input and involvement from its key HR employees, Goodyear has managed to empower its work force while finding more efficient ways to get work done.

And Goodyear isn't the only company using this technique. During the last several years, few things have fractured the corporate psyche more than the pressure to achieve outstanding results with dwindling resources. As one company after another has restructured and downsized, the emphasis on reengineering and TQM has grown to almost a fevered pitch-and the need to squeeze greater results out of less raw material has become de rigeur. As HR departments struggle to meet this challenge, one thing has become clear: Improvement doesn't take place in a vacuum. That's why a growing number of HR functions have turned to benchmarking-that is, thoroughly examining their own practices or procedures and measuring them against the way other companies operate. HR has learned it's essential to understand what works best and how that can be applied to a philosophy of continuous change and improvement.

It's worth the sweat. Benchmarking embodies the idea that it's possible to examine best practices of other companies and then implement changes based on those observations. It usually requires a good deal of internal analysis and observation, as well as phone calls or site visits to obtain the actual information. When it's done correctly, it's often a complex and formal process that involves detailed questioning, research and analysis. Benchmarking might also include statistical data that a company can plug into a matrix for determining what improvements are desirable-and possible. Regardless of the approach, benchmarking always requires steadfast dedication to the idea of making changes in behavior as well as to the actual systems that drive a company. Explains Alfred R. Pozos, director of the Intemational Benchmarking Clearinghouse for the American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC) located in Houston: "It demands a great deal of introspection and honesty. It's part logic and part intuition. You have to be prepared for your ego to get slapped around a bit."

Indeed, like any business practice, benchmarking sometimes can be gutwrenching, frustrating and time-consuming. Says Charles Bent, staff director of planning and research at NYNEX Corp. in Marlboro, Massachusetts: "Benchmarking doesn't always tell you what you want to hear: it doesn't always work how you think it will and neatly solve your problems. …

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