Benchmarking is a powerful tool in helping you – and your volunteer leaders – assess where your chapters are in terms of what’s working and what’s not working. Its power is two-fold: to provide a focus on what’s important and to provide a ready incentive.
Our benchmarking guru Peter Houstle recently shared a case study to highlight one of the key prerequisites — one of 5 — to a successful chapter benchmarking project: the well-designed chapter self-assessment tool.
He emphasizes the need to begin by determining the right data you need to collect from chapters – that is the data that allows your team and your chapter leaders (whether volunteers or staff) to measure their performance against chapters of similar size, budget, location, or other characteristics that matter. This then lets you focus on what’s important, identify bright spots (who’s knocking it out of the park), and confirm the ROI of each chapter (read more here and here). Likewise, it will also help you single out who may need some intervention. And, most importantly, it gives chapter leaders the incentive to go bigger and/or make the necessary changes to grow. A powerful tool. That is, if it’s done effectively.
We pulled a few important tidbits from his interview below:
- The usual chapter compliance checklist isn’t sufficient. Most benchmarking projects start with the usual lists asking basic questions such as “does your chapter do this or that”? The problem is that you often end up measuring things that, while maybe important, aren’t necessarily what really matters.
- Before developing the assessment, Peter recommends identifying and prioritizing elements that define effectiveness. The self-assessment exercise must result in scoring and reports that let chapters know where to focus their energy. The power comes from balancing the traditional checklist items (e.g., current bylaws, IRS returns) with performance-focused items. To keep the focus on performance, ask about compliance checklist items, but only score the short list of things that are true indicators of performance, for example, member recruitment and retention, market penetration, non-dues revenue sources, and gross receipts.
- That said, lists can still be useful if you encourage chapters to use the resulting benchmarking data in a new way. For example, have them do a compare/contrast exercise where they evaluate their own activities based on what other similar chapters are doing or not doing and decide whether to continue on the same course. It can also help chapters focus their efforts based on effective practices like the chapters at Associated General Contractors of America. Read more about what ACG’s self-assessment tool looks like here. You can also follow the full story behind ACG’s benchmarking project here.
- Prioritizing elements also helps the over-stressed chapter leaders. Another problem with most checklists is no prioritization resulting in over-stressed chapter leaders not questioning whether the checklist items matter and so they end up doing what’s easiest and not what’s most important. We can’t say this enough — the key to effective chapter self-assessment and performance benchmarking is measuring what matters.
- Have chapters rate their own performance as part of your annual awards program. Association for Corporate Growth (ACG), incorporated a self-assessment into their awards program where chapters rate their performance on each item in the award category checklist that is based on best practices. This motivated chapters to improve their performance and encouraged some fun competition among the chapters.
And here some more resources on benchmarking: