Benchmarking – i.e. Comparing your business performance against certain reference points – is a popular and potentially powerful way to glean insights that can lead to improved performance. In this article, we’ll explore the various types of benchmarking and how these approaches can benefit your business.
What’s the difference between benchmarks and KPIs?
People often ask me this, and there seems to be a general assumption that benchmarks and KPIs are the same thing. But they are different.
So, when you use KPIs, you’re comparing progress in relation to a specific goal. And when you use benchmarks, you’re comparing against others. You can use benchmarking to put your own KPIs into context and to set targets for your KPIs.
Both – KPIs and benchmarks – are used to identify opportunities for improving performance, which may be where the confusion arises.
Exploring the different types of benchmarks
Broadly speaking, benchmarks break down into two core categories: internal and external. Internal benchmarking compares performance, processes and practises against other parts of the business (e.g. Different teams, business units, groups or even individuals). For example, benchmarks could be used to compare processes in one retail store with those in another store in the same chain.
External benchmarking, sometimes described as competitive benchmarking, compares business performance against other companies. Often these external companies are peers or competitors, but that’s not always the case; for example, you can use benchmarking to compare performance, processes and practises across different industries.
Three ways to use benchmarking
Benchmarking, whether internal or external, is used in three key ways. They are:
Why you might want to consider benchmarking in your organisation
Each of these different ways of benchmarking have one key goal in mind: to identify gaps in performance and uncover opportunities to improve, whether that means making processes more efficient, reducing costs, increasing profits, boosting customer satisfaction, or whatever. Ultimately, what drives companies to benchmark is the need (or want) for improvement.
So whether you want to simply compare your internal performance, catch up to a competitor, better understand and track your peers, or become a market-leader in your industry, benchmarking can be an incredibly useful tool.
However, benchmarking is not a magic bullet for improving performance – it’s a part of the solution, not the complete solution. The complete solution requires you to set clear strategic goals, identify your critical business questions, design KPIs that help you answer those questions and track performance against your goals, and compare performance using benchmarking.
I certainly wouldn’t advise a company to focus all their attention on benchmarking at the expense of tailored, carefully designed KPIs. But, when viewed as part of the complete performance management picture, benchmarking provides a useful way to glean valuable performance-boosting insights.
Where to go from here
If you would like to know more about KPIs and performance management, cheque out my articles on:
Or browse the KPI Library to find the metrics that matter most to you.
Bernard Marr is a bestselling author, keynote speaker, and advisor to companies and governments. He has worked with and advised many of the world's best-known organisations. LinkedIn has recently ranked Bernard as one of the top 10 Business Influencers in the world (in fact, No 5 - just behind Bill Gates and Richard Branson). He writes on the topics of intelligent business performance for various publications including Forbes, HuffPost, and LinkedIn Pulse. His blogs and SlideShare presentation have millions of readers.