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In order for the benchmarking to yield useful and actionable results, you must maintain rigorous standards and evaluation processes as you choose appropriate peers to benchmark against, determine the appropriate indicators, and analyze the results.

Three Steps to More Effective Government Benchmarking

  • 11/27/2013

Three Steps to More Effective Government Benchmarking 

Benchmarking is the process of comparing your business processes to those of other organizations. In government as in the private sector, it can be an effective tool for monitoring and improving operations. But in order for the exercise to yield useful and actionable results, it is essential that you maintain rigorous standards and evaluation processes as you choose appropriate peers to benchmark against, determine the appropriate indicators, and analyze the results.

Select appropriate peers

Many government entities already compare themselves to neighboring localities. But while geographic proximity may seem to be a valid basis for comparison, you really need to look deeper to determine whether that locality is an appropriate peer.

To determine if a government entity is comparable, you should consider:

  • Demographic data such as the size and age of population and business mix
  • Whether the entity is considered "best in class"

Choose a minimum of three organizations that fit your demographic criteria; at least one should be considered best in class. A best-in-class entity is one that is nationally known and popularly perceived as being well-run. These shining examples can be found in virtually any population and demographic profile and in any geographic region. Think of the comparison against best in class as your ultimate goal - what you aspire to become.

Remember, you don't need to have the same peers for all aspects of your benchmarking program, but make sure the ones you choose fit with what you want to measure. You must also resist the temptation to choose peers that you know you will do well against. Little good will come from biased benchmarking.

Determine appropriate indicators

The essence of benchmarking is like the saying, "what gets measured, gets done." You want to make sure that the benchmarks you establish will help continuously measure the progress toward your goals. Most governments are absolutely swimming in data, and there is no shortage of potential indicators. Picking the right ones is key.

Good benchmarking indicators should be a combination of both output measures and outcome measures. For instance, an output can be something as simple as the number of calls answered each day at your constituent call center. An outcome here could be the time elapsed from when a call is answered to when the issue is satisfactorily resolved. You may field 50 calls a day on a variety of issues, some simple and some complex. One may be resolved in minutes, another may take weeks or even months. Just knowing the number of calls is only part of the picture.

As you can see, outcomes are considerably more complex than outputs and it takes much more time and effort to measure them effectively. However, it is critical that you choose both outputs and outcomes for your benchmarking to be meaningful and effective.

Critically analyze the results

When you analyze your performance against the selected indicators, always take the good with the bad and use both to improve. You may find that you are doing great. But to be meaningful, you must understand why. Don't just take excellent performance at face value; figure out the reasons for the high performance and see if you can learn from what you are doing to improve other aspects of your operations. Even more important, you should critically analyze instances where you are not doing well against your selected benchmarks. Use the data to get to the root cause of the poor performance.

A cautionary note

In our adversarial political environment, it is very tempting to measure only what you are good at so you can report only good news. It is critical to maintain high standards if you truly want to know how you measure up against your peers. Once you commit to a benchmark, report on it fully, regardless of the results. Only then can meaningful change take place.

Sean Walker, Managing Partner, State and Local Government or 414-721-7521