“Benchmarking is a way to study the methods of ‘best organizations’ to adopt their ideas, and to become, quickly and efficiently, the best in the world” (Balm, 1992). When we think of benchmarking, the first thing to come to mind is to seek out what our competitors are doing better than us, and then copy that practice. But this concept immediately creates two obstacles when taking advantage of this awesome methodology. First, it’s difficult to ask your competitors if they would mind sharing details about a best in class practice that gives them a larger share of the market. After all, they are your competitors. Secondly, even if you were to copy what your competitor does well. It doesn’t make you better than the competition, it simply makes you the same, which is not a fantastic motivator for enticing their customers to use your products and services instead.
One way around this conundrum is to think outside of the box, or in this case, think outside of your industry. A fantastic example of this is when Apple Inc. decided launch their famous Apple Stores in 2001. How did Apple design and launch its own stores when the company had no retailing experience? As the development team responsible started designing its stores, it asked an 18-person focus group to describe the best service experience they’ve ever had, and 16 of the 18 respondents referred to a hotel. How do you create a store that has the friendliness of a Four Seasons Hotel? You put a bar in the store. But instead of dispensing alcohol, you dispense advice. Thus was born one of the signature elements of the Apple Store, its Genius Bar, where Apple experts dole out tips, field questions, and perform repairs on Macs, iPods, and iPhones. The Apple Store’s emphasis on friendliness extends well beyond the Genius Bar however. Apple Store employees are instructed to treat customers like season ticket holders; people who will visit again and again, before and after their purchases. Training procedures encourage employees to “be who you are” and answer difficult questions with, “I don’t know, let’s find out.” That relaxed atmosphere, together with the positive buzz generated by Apple’s products, makes the Apple Store a popular place to work. Apple reports that it turns away 90 percent of its applicants.
How well is this retail strategy working? Well, at the time that Apple opened its 174th store, with an iconic glass cube entrance on New York City’s Fifth Avenue, Apple Stores were generating $4032 in sales per square foot. Want some perspective on that number? The world-famous jeweler Tiffany & Co. sits half a block away and takes in $2666 per square foot. Strangely enough, the information for the above case study on Benchmarking came from a book on Organizational Behavior by Jason Colquitt, Jeffery LePine and Michael Wesson. It just goes to show that “what you’re looking for” isn’t necessarily where “you think you’ll find it”.
In today’s complicated world, the quality professional is faced with an increasing array of differing methods to solve problems and improve processes. Advertisements shout to the prospective buyer that this software will make their dreams come true – guaranteed! Best selling books are written that extol the virtues of special techniques and then proceed to take you down such a complicated path that it’s difficult to perceive if you’re going in the right direction. Many improvement programs within organizations fail just because they are too complicated and no one quite knows how to proceed or what the results mean at the end.
Internal Quality Management System audits are a requirement of the international quality management system standard ISO 9001 and its many sector specific adaptations. ISO 9001 states that organizations “…conduct internal audits at planned intervals to determine whether the quality management system conforms to…the requirements of this international standard and to the quality management system requirements established by the organization…”. External audits by outside (3rd party) registrars are also required in order to receive and maintain certification to the ISO 9001 standard.
Survival in today’s business environment means keeping one step ahead of the competition at all times. This is not only in areas of cost and advertising but also how your organization operates and what it looks like to the customer’s eye. Consumers today like to feel familiar with a name so that wherever they come in contact with it, they will be comfortable knowing the level of products and services they expect. This is true not only in food chains such as McDonalds, but also in large manufacturing or service corporations like Ford or the Royal Bank.
In late 2014 I completed an academic study in conjunction with a business masters degree through the University of Leicester in the UK. The title of the thesis was "Conscious Human Intention in the Workplace" and it focused on the theories surrounding our abilities as humans to energetically influence the world around us, including how it might relate to process improvements in organizations.
As a a part of the study, Canadian employees across Canada were asked to take a survey about the experiences they had involving their last workplace improvement initiative. The invitation was sent to project managers, quality professionals, LEAN and Six Sigma practitioners, and Change Management professionals through member associations and other organizations within those communities of practice.
Thank you to all who participated. You can connect to a pdf file abbreviation of the study in "Letter" size by clicking here , or in "A4" size by clicking here.
You can also access a pdf file version of the presentation given to the American Society for Quality (ASQ) Ottawa Chapter and the Ottawa Creative Thinking Group by clicking here. Hover over the speech balloon in the upper left hand corner of each slide to access speaker notes.