I recently worked with a client that was very insistent on getting benchmarks from a fairly narrow scope of companies on a specific set of cost measures.  I found out that getting benchmarks from the really high performing companies is often difficult because they believe that they have achieved something with their measurements and that it is a competitive advantage that they don’t necessarily want to let out of the bag. I also found that companies don’t like to disclose cost information unless it’s a pretty nebulous range.

However the good news is that the benchmark isn’t the end-all-be-all. Don’t get me wrong, a benchmark can be important, but don’t get it confused with a goal. Benchmarks are best used as indicators; they can tell you how you compare to other companies, and if the gap is wide enough, it may help you prioritize an initiative. However, while it’s a good start it should never be used as an indicator of the end.

You don’t stop when you hit average, so don’t stop when you hit a benchmark. No one would ever be “best-in-class” if they just shot for a benchmark.  That doesn’t mean chase perfection without payback either, last time I checked best-in-class didn’t come with a guaranteed paycheck. Performance improvement has to always be scaled to match the potential return and the investment needed to get there.

It’s OK to look at a wider range or larger sample size for your benchmarks; they are only one indicator of many you’ll use in evaluating potential opportunities for improvement. Ultimately you’ll need to set achievable goals that meet your internal capability, that’s the measurement that will matter.