Benchmarking is the exercise of one organization comparing their practices and results with another organization that is known as the leader of these practices and results. The comparison helps organizations know how they measure against the “industry leader,” the one that seems to have it figured out.
While for-profit organizations formally practice benchmarking, ministries tend to informally practice something similar. We frequently look to those who are getting the type of results we desire and ask, “What can we learn from them?” or “How can we do what they do?”
Even the for-profit world recognizes that benchmarking has its positives and negatives. So before your ministry sets any other ministry as the standard to pursue, consider some strengths and weaknesses of benchmarking:
The Strengths of Benchmarking
1. Benchmarking pushes the ministry.
Every team needs a mountain to climb. Benchmarking can provide that mountain. It gives your team goals to chase. It makes your team desire to do better.
2. Benchmarking helps the ministry learn best practices.
How did they steward their resources? What strategic decisions did they make? How do their systems work? You look to another ministry because they are achieving goals that you desire to achieve. You analyze the way in which they obtained those goals and learn from their methods.
3. Benchmarking reveals your strengths and weaknesses.
As you analyze another ministry, you will inevitably analyze your own ministry. Your ministry’s strengths and weaknesses will be revealed.
The Weaknesses of Benchmarking
1. It may be an unfair comparison.
Be careful which ministry you determine to be the standard. Their context and constituency may dramatically differ from your ministry’s context and constituency. Systems and processes may not translate well. Goals may be unrealistic.
2. It can stifle creativity.
The ministry spends less time considering creative ways to overcome challenges and simply adopts the practices of another ministry. Time may be saved, but a ministry may miss the opportunity to provide a better, more contextually appropriate, solution.
3. The ministry may become over-reliant on human effort.
Ultimately, success does not arise from good systems and practices. Certainly, God can and does work through them, and stewardship demands that we strive to do the best with what has been given to us. However, it is a mistake to put our hope solely in the implementation of best practices. Benchmarking can cause ministries to overlook the necessity to rely on God for all successes.
Is benchmarking (comparing) beneficial? It can be. But ministries must be aware that an appropriate perspective on the practice is needed. Ministry leaders can allow ministries’ best practices to challenge their team, but they must safeguard their team from the negative side of benchmarking.