Benchmarking for Personal Development

shutterstock_295381436WHAT IS IT?

This free guide to benchmarking for personal development explains the capacity of this valuable tool to improve capability and performance.

It can also help an organisation to compare itself either internally against other departments, or externally against other organisations recognised for their best practice on a specific topic.


‘Excellence’ or ‘best practice’ is often the goal for individuals and organisations to strive towards in order to improve performance and competitive edge.

Time is always precious for both an individual and an organisation, so benchmarking offers the opportunity to make excellent use of time when seeking best practice.

Benchmarking provides the opportunity to quickly access ‘best practice’ for a specific topic or issue, make comparisons with your own knowledge or practices, identify opportunities for improvements and develop plans to realise these improvements.



  • When an individual needs to improve their level of knowledge of a specific subject by understanding what best practice looks like in another part of the business or an external organisation.


  • When an individual is working as a project leader or team member and needs to introduce a new or improved business practice e.g. re-imbursement, and needs to quickly obtain a detailed understanding of what best practice for this looks like in another organisation.

Both of the above situations are characterised by the need for:

  • Speed
  • Access to best practice or ‘excellence’


The application of best practice, no matter what the topic in question, will normally provide high payback to both the individual and the organisation. The following guidelines will assist to maximise the value obtained from this development opportunity.

Planning the Visit

  • Agree the specific focus for improved knowledge or an improved process. This will normally arise from an individual’s learning needs or results of a process improvement project.
  • dentify from appropriate research (colleagues, network, web, best practice associations, specialist consultants etc) potential sources of best practice for the required topic.
  • When benchmarking with external organisations, seek to identify potential sources of best practices from outside the industry the individual is currently involved with.
  • If necessary, limit the number of organisations to be visited to a small number.
  • Identify a suitable individual (normally the most senior specialist in the relevant topic) within each organisation, contact each by telephone and make your requests. Use LinkedIn where appropriate.
  • Most individuals or organisations will be quite open to receiving such requests from anyone other than competitors and therefore quite willing to share their best practice.
  • Agree with the host the exact nature of the benchmarking so they may make arrangements accordingly and confirm by email.
  • Take care with the length of your visit. Most hosts will be happy to commit to an hour’s meeting and anything more than this should only be sought with sensitivity
  • Define SMART objectives for your visit together with details of how to evaluate the value actually derived from the visit.
  • Prior to your visit prepare:
    • a concise plan of the information you want to obtain
    • how you expect to obtain it: questions, demos etc.

The Visit

  • Effective planning and preparation for your visit, particularly the questions you want to ask should enable you to obtain all the information you require within the agreed time scale.
  • At the start of the meeting, re-assure or agree with the host:
    • the absence of any competition between the two parties
    • your intention not to solicit any confidential data or infringe any other legalities
    • your intention only to use information obtained for your own personal consumption
    • your intention to reciprocate by providing comparative information
    • how to best conduct the meeting e.g. if you have got a long list of questions then you could make light of you not wanting it to seem like a TV quiz programme, albeit you want to make good use of each other’s time together
  • During the meeting, demonstrate effective questioning skills to obtain the required information together with noting any other relevant observations and reactions
  • Consistently interpret the information received in order to:
    • seek clarity of understanding where required
    • but accept you will only have time for an initial interpretation
    • draw comparisons with your own knowledge or situation
    • avoid any criticism of the information
    • double check you are obtaining the information you actually need
  • Be prepared to share your experiences whilst accepting that time devoted to this reduces time available for your own questions
  • Offer the host the opportunity to contact you at any time in the future in order to reciprocate on a subject that you or your function demonstrates best practice
  • Before the end of the meeting evaluate the experience against your original learning objective and decide the extent to which it has been met


  • Formally thank your host by letter or email
  • Share your learning with others outside of your immediate team through presentations or knowledge repositories


  • Share your experience with your learning buddy, coach or mentor, focusing on interpretation of the learning to improve job performance
  • Evaluate the impact of the learning obtained from your visit and agree next steps with your manager in order to achieve the agreed development objective


For the Individual
  • Research carefully the final selection of organisations to visit
  • Apply this same diligence to selecting the individual you contact to explain the nature of your benchmarking request
  • Individual hosts are normally very happy to share with a complete stranger something they do well, so long as they do not feel threatened and the initial contact is business like and managed effectively
  • Look to establish a relationship with your host from which both parties can gain value.
For the Individual’s Manager
  • Benchmark visits are often considered as a useful tool to aid an organisation’s improvement programmes, but they can provide very effective suitable opportunities to support an individual’s specific personal development needs
  • Encourage the individual to carefully consider the final selection of organisations to visit
  • Before the visits are undertaken agree objective, evaluation method, and date for follow-up review
  • After the visit listen carefully to the feedback and assess the individual’s level of confidence to apply the learning to satisfy the agreed development objective, and be ready to provide additional support as required
  • Encourage the individual to share learning with other functions in order to increase the scope and value of the payback.

We hope this guide to benchmarking will assist your personal development and help to build your capability and performance.



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About the Author Written by Stephen A Isherwood