Benchmark with the Best: Deliver Award-Winning Results

by | Jul 8, 2014 | Articles

Awards brighten up the year and provide us with plenty of inspiration for the year ahead. The Awards Season kicks off in November with the E-Learning awards, followed swiftly by Training Journal then LPI’s The Learning Awards, timed perfectly to lift the January blues!

Benchmark to be a WINNER: Why awards shouldn’t be “One Night Only”

Towards Maturity’s Laura Overton has had the honour to be involved with each one on the independent judging panels for a number of years – really valuing the role that all the awards programmes play in raising the profile of excellence in the industry.

If you want evidence that there is a significant role Benchmarking plays in helping organisations modernize their learning strategy for top line success, then you only have to look at the results. Last year 8 out of the 14 Gold Winners and many of the silver and bronze, had been involved in the Towards Maturity Benchmark in some way over the years either as our Ambassadors (well done City & Guilds:Kineo, Toolwire and QA) or Towards Maturity Benchmark participants.

Implementing Award-Winning Learning Today

At a strategic level, benchmarking has been credited for literally turning companies around. Many functions use benchmarking to specifically inform new strategic directions or to ensure that they are performing to an industry standard. Yet only 24% of L&D heads benchmark their learning strategy and practices against other companies in our industry and only 19% actively use benchmarking as a performance improvement tool. This increases significantly in the top performing learning companies (Data from 500+ L&D leads in the 2013-14 Towards Maturity Study).

As an L&D profession we need to take our inspiration from award winners but don’t let benchmarking be a ‘one night only’ affair. With the pressure on L&D at the moment, it is critical that we use all the tools available to us to deliver the results that we need. Benchmarking is one of those performance improvement processes that can’t just be left to the informal – lets take it seriously.

 

“I’ve only just started – is benchmarking for me?”

You don’t have to be an award winner to take advantage of benchmarking. By formally benchmarking with others, you can accelerate progress faster. Insurance firm LV= who picked up Gold last November for ‘Social Media project of the Year’ are a great case in point…but more of that later!

Specific congratulations to Alison Innes-Farquer, who won the CLO of the year. Her programme for business transformation at HC-One has picked up a range of gold awards in the last three months so it was great to see her own contributions acknowledged.

Congratulations also to PwC who added team of the year to their collection of golds this season.

The LV= story

Two years ago, 90% of their learning was face-to-face with the training function acting mainly as reactive order takers, focusing on compliance-related issues. However, it became clear that a traditional approach to training would not prepare the organisation for the rapid growth that was expected. The training team wanted technology to help support business change but needed to introduce it quickly and do it well first time. To get started, they focused first on benchmarking externally. One of the tools they used was the Towards Maturity Benchmark to establish awareness of good practices within the team. Their aim at the time was to introduce award winning change within the business and benchmarking helped them to do this. Their results show how quickly they were able to achieve their goals. (Check out their story on page 45 this year’s Benchmark, The New Learning Agenda)

Are Awards an Opportunity to Benchmark?

The official definition of benchmarking is, “to evaluate (something) by comparison with a standard.” The awards processes provide a great form of benchmarking – the criteria for the awards create a set of indicators, and the judging panel compares the award entrant against those criteria. This is wonderful feedback for those entering awards, but how do the rest of us compare?  Do we tend to look at the winners and think, “I could never do that,” or will we look at them and think, “that could be me next year!”

 

So how do the rest of us benchmark against the best?

Benchmarking is a great way of acknowledging and improving performance. According to the Global Benchmarking Network, the process of benchmarking can be divided into informal benchmarking and formal benchmarking (sound familiar?!)

Informal benchmarking is used almost unconsciously by most as we compare our activities, learn from experts, consult with peers and harness the web. Case studies from awards winners are always a good source of inspiration (we’ve been tracking these for years now) and a chance to meet with award winners is also good. Equally joining networking groups create a great opportunity to learn from each other.

However, if we want to actively use benchmarking to prepare for our own success, we need to look in a bit more depth at the characteristics of successful organisations and this is where formal benchmarking comes into play. According the Global Benchmarking Network, formal benchmarking is divided into two areas – performance benchmarking, and best practice benchmarking.

Performance benchmarking provides a comparison of key performance indicators, which will vary from function to function. Typically, they may be defined in terms of cost, cycle times, customer satisfaction, product performance, absenteeism; but generally they are set to provide a standard against which other achievements can be measured. However, performance benchmarking alone merely highlights the gap. It is of limited value unless the results are acted on.

Best practice benchmarking on the other hand, focuses on action:Why are others getting the results they are getting, and how can I improve as a result of that knowledge?”

Best practice Benchmarking L&D

Ten years ago, Towards Maturity started the journey of both Performance and Best practice Benchmarking in the L&D industry. The initial participants in our study, Linking Learning to Business were those who had already won awards in the sector, or were recommended to us as having done things well. We set out to investigate what those organisations had in common, and created the Towards Maturity Benchmark.

At the time PwC took part in the original study but their ongoing awards success since then shows that they have not rested on their laurels. They picked up two awards in the e-Learning Awards, and Team of the year at the LPI awards last week. But excellence is not just about the glory on the night. As active participants in the TM benchmark since we started, PwC illustrate that benchmarking is not just about winning awards, it is also about redefining what great looks like for the industry as a whole.

 

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