Everyone benchmarks in one way or another in our personal lives. As an avid golfer, I hold an 8 handicap. On good days, I play to my handicap but on the not-so-good days, I struggle to break 90. Maintaining a golf handicap – benchmarking – helps me understand how I’m performing and what progress I’m making in my game. It also allows me to compete with golfers of differing abilities on a level playing field.
Benchmarking is a particularly hot topic in local government. We recently ran a webinar entitled “Benchmarking for Success” which was attended by over 50 local governments across the North America.
Local governments can benefit significantly from the insights that benchmarking provides. From benchmarking an individual organization’s performance measures over time to see where progress is being made to peer comparisons with similar jurisdictions, local governments can build the operational capacity that benefits their community.
If you are considering using benchmarking to improve your performance, here are 7 key benefits that you should be aware of:
1. Comparing Performance
Local governments that participate in a benchmarking network each provide one another with valuable comparative data. Using up-to-date visuals, benchmarking provides clear visibility into any performance area. You can immediately see your performance in any given service area within the context of selected peer groups who are tracking the same measures.
2. Analyzing Performance Over Time
Benchmarking is an extremely effective tool for the observation, analysis and reporting of performance over a given time frame. Benchmarks help local governments to establish the key performance drivers for their strategic plan and set realistic objectives for themselves that will define the future. Once a benchmark is established it can be tracked for consistency over time providing a key resource for evidence-based decision-making, resource allocation and promoting continuous improvement.
3. Identifying Areas for Improvement
Benchmarking also helps local governments to identify areas for improvement. By seeing the performance results of peer communities, you may discover that there are distinct service areas where your organization is under-performing. Benchmarking allows you to compare your performance against that of peers to gain a better understanding of the path to achieving better results. You may even identify potential solutions based on the strategies employed by high performers within your peer group.
4. Celebrating Strengths
Benchmarking provides local governments with clear insights into their strengths relative to selected peer groups. Let’s say that your fire response times are in the 90th percentile compared to the the national average and your council has earmarked two million dollars in the next budget for new fire engines — you may just have found an additional two millions dollars to fund other more important initiatives! By examining your performance in the context of the performance of others and over time, it becomes much easier to identify your organization’s strengths and celebrate them with your community.
5. Collaborating with Other Cities
Being part of a network of other local governments that compare performance data brings considerable value to your operations. These networks allow members to share knowledge, best practices, gain experience and learn from one another. It raises the bar for everyone. National benchmarking networks demonstrate the value of collaboration — encouraging openness and transparency within and across neighbouring local governments.
6. Keeping Up with Current Trends
Understanding trends within and across different local governments is invaluable for organizations that strive to elevate their performance and improve the quality of life for their communities. Benchmarking against other like-minded organizations provides a window to new opportunities and innovations, and allows for insight into the value of new local government trends .
7. Rebuilding Trust in Government
Participating in a local government benchmarking network signals to your council and community that continuous improvement and innovation are top priorities. Benchmarking shows that you are willing to be open and transparent with your performance results to discover newer and better ways to get the job done.
Local governments who benchmark are dynamic: they are tracking their progress; identifying what works and what doesn’t; using evidence based on data to make decisions, and uncovering innovative ways to elevate their performance. Benchmarking provides the vital information that may lead to a mid-course adjustment, the termination of a program that had no value, or the reframing of a difficult discussion with council that ultimately puts scarce resources where they are needed most.