Home Organizational Psychology Assessment / Process Observation Organizational Consultation XIV Generating Information from Outside the Organization: Appreciative Benchmarking

Organizational Consultation XIV Generating Information from Outside the Organization: Appreciative Benchmarking

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An Appreciative Approach: “Discovering What Is Best”

Clearly, the deficit-based model of benchmarking has been a great success. Deficit-based benchmarking exemplifies a best practice with regard to the marketing of organizational improvement processes. There is no arguing with success. Furthermore, there is no need for yet another approach to benchmarking. The field is already filled with many variations. There is strategic benchmarking, internal benchmarking, external competitive benchmarking, trans-industry benchmarking. Participants at one benchmarking conference were led to declare: “Do we all have to make up our own models?” Given these conditions, we hesitate to introduce yet another benchmarking strategy to the mix. We do so only because we think the deficit-based strategies can be both discouraging and misleading.

Deficit-based analyses are discouraging. Employees rarely grow more enthusiastic when faced with the superiority of another organization’s product or service. Benchmarking can produce a defensive reaction against the change that is implied in best practice comparisons. It is rarely motivating for hardworking and dedicated employees to be shown how someone else is doing it better, cheaper or with fewer customer complaints. They first want to know what they are doing that is “good.” An employee is more likely to be receptive to information regarding areas in which they might improve following this positive reinforcement.

There is yet another problem. Deficit-based analyses can be misleading. As one of us (with our colleague, Steven Phillips) noted in our revision of the Kepner and Tregoe model of problem solving, it is not enough to identify ways in which the preferred situation is different from the current situation. A problem solver must also identify (appreciate) those aspects of the current situation that are the same as those in the preferred situation. The key to effective problem-solving lies not just in identifying what’s wrong. A problem solver must also identify what’s right. That which is right serves as the foundation for any attempt to improve the current situation. Similarly, an effective benchmarking process should yield appreciative information about not only where an organization falls short, but also the distinctive competencies within this organization that can serve as a foundation for improvement. Appreciative benchmarking can play a key role in creating an appreciative organization. At the very least, an appreciative benchmarking process identifies that which should not be sacrificed in an attempt to improve performance. It helps leaders of an organization ensure that they don’t throw out the baby with the bath water!

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