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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To illustrate the nature of this appreciative approach to benchmarking, we turn to an actual benchmarking exercise, involving the site visit at a best practice organization. The president of a small graduate school, that we will call Delta Graduate School, recently took her entire administrative staff to another graduate school that we will identify as The Graduate School of Epsilon. Epsilon was noted for its administrative effectiveness and efficiency. The Delta staff members came away energized by the prospect of doing better than they had in the past. The deficit approach had worked. They directly observed the success of the Epsilon administrative staff and knew they could do as well with a few changes and a little additional effort. They had seen it work and wanted to create their own successful enterprise at Delta.

There was another, quite surprising, result of this visit to a “superior” graduate school. Staff members at the “inferior” graduate school (Delta) discovered that in some ways they were “better” than the administrative staff of Epsilon. They found that they did a better job of solving the special problems posed by their own students—men and women who are working full-time. The Delta staff members were much more flexible and responsive to the needs of their adult students. They were not always as “well-organized” or “tidy” as the Epsilon staff members—who serve less-demanding students in their early 20s—but they were definitely more helpful.

The Delta staff was open to improvement precisely because they identified their strengths as well as their deficits. They could build on their newly discovered distinctive competencies when addressing the problem areas. The administrative staff at Delta discovered the value of taking an appreciative approach to benchmarking. They focused not only on areas where they fell short, but also on areas where they were distinctively better than Epsilon. The Delta staff members are already good. They can become even better.

This appreciative approach squares directly with the emerging emphasis that many contemporary organizations are placing on the identification of strategic advantages. Some consultants seek to identify the unfair advantages that are held by their client’s organization. These strategy-oriented consultants often ask: “What do competitors identify when they talk about your organization’s distinctive competencies or advantages?” “What do your competitors say about your organization when they are in despair regarding your unfair advantages: It is unfair that Delta has X Y and Z. Why does Delta have A B and even C? We can’t possibly compete against this! I have no idea how we’re going to counter Delta’s D, E and F!” The central question becomes: “what is distinctive about your organization?” The answer to this question is best found through a process of appreciative benchmarking.

When appreciative leaders have identified the strategic advantage of their organization, then they know what they can build on in the future. Appreciative benchmarking yields information regarding where the organization’s reputation can be of greatest advantage. Clients gain a clearer and more compelling sense of their organization’s core business. What is it that we must never neglect in this organization and what is it that we must secure at all costs? This is a key question to ask in any contemporary organization. Following an appreciative benchmarking exercise, leaders know something about how they should market their organization and its products and services. They know how to set product and service priorities. Most importantly, they gain a clearer and more realistic appreciation of their organization’s intentions.


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