I’ve been reading a book by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton titled, Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths, and Total Nonsense.” It’s all about using evidence-based management in organizations. The authors make some an interesting observations about poor decisions–one of which is Casual Benchmarking.
Benchmarking is all about using the performance and experience of other companies to set standards for your own organization. This is how many leaders make decisions. The problem is when benchmarking becomes far too casual, as was the case when United Airlines tried to compete with Southwest Airlines by launching “Shuttle by United” in the intra-California marketplace in 1994. United dressed its attendants in casual clothes, flew only 737s, stopped food service, increased flight frequency, and copied a few other Southwest practices. However, there’s one thing they couldn’t copy–Southwest’s culture. As Pfeffer and Sutton write, “Southwest’s success is based on its culture and management philosophy, the priority it places on its employees…not on how it dresses its gate agents and flight attendants, which planes it flies, or how it schedules them.” The problem is that few companies ask “Why.”
Pfeffer and Sutton recommends that you ask three questions to help you avoid casual benchmarking:
- Is the success you observe by the benchmarking target because of the practice you seek to emulate?
- Why is a particular practice linked to performance improvement–what is the logic?
- What are the downsides and disadvantages to implementing the practice, even if it is a good idea?