Benchmarking Communication

Call People With Communication Responsibilities At Other Organizations And Ask Them What They Do.

By Thomas J. Roach

Benchmarking is a quick, easy way to get a sense of how your company’s communication compares with other organizations’ communication and to get ideas for improvement.

Essentially benchmarking involves calling people with communication responsibilities at other organizations and asking them what they do. It might seem surprising, but people working for other companies, often even competitors, are willing to talk about their communication processes.

Organizations are benchmarked in two categories, similar and exemplary.

  • Similar companies are those in your field that have approximately the same number of employees – other quarries. This could include competitors.
  • Exemplary companies are ones you recognize as being highly successful, and they may be in completely different areas of human endeavor. Sometimes the best ideas come from transferring or adapting ideas from very dissimilar organizations.

Start by putting together a benchmarking team. One person can be responsible for putting together a list of 10 similar organizations that ideally includes a communication contact person with a phone number and an email address.

Someone else can make a similar list of exemplary companies. A third person can be responsible for providing a benchmarking agenda.

To make a list of similar companies, start with people you know in your own network. They might be former coworkers or people you met at a conference. If you have a good working relationship with some of your competitors, they will be especially valuable additions to the list. If adding competitors seems inappropriate, it is usually fairly easy to get similar organizations in other parts of the country to cooperate instead.

Exemplary companies are easy to line up. For them, a benchmarking call is a form of flattery. You are recognizing their leadership in their fields and seeking advice. Also, those companies that have been formally recognized with awards from industry organizations have a tacit obligation to talk to others about what they do.

The Agenda
The benchmarking agenda, or the guide, should list all the forms of communication and potential channels in your organization. For internal communication research, the guide would include communication channels like email, intranet, yearly letters to employees, employee picnics, and employee newspapers, and also communication processes like workgroup meetings, employee review, open door, and training. The external communication half of the guide would include things like advertising and marketing initiatives, community engagement, investor relations, and interaction with government agencies.

When these three components are still in draft form, it would be good for their authors to present them to the team for feedback. Once finalized, the research phase can begin. The guide is a list of topics, not a list of questions, so team members making the benchmarking calls or visits can phrase the questions in different ways, and they may want to add items to the list. This isn’t a survey, so flexibility is allowed.

The Search
To begin the research, simply divide up the list of companies, distribute the guide, and start making contacts. Each benchmark interview should produce a report. It is best if the report is organized according to the guide.

Then, the person compiling the data can easily locate and combine all the information under each heading. Once the combined report is drafted, the team can review it together and develop recommendations to be included at the end of each guide section.

Benchmarking is valuable by itself, but if an organization plans to perform a communication audit, it is best first to do some benchmarking research so you know what to look for when you conduct interviews, focus groups, and surveys.

Communication audits find ways to improve communication and make an organization more able to execute timely, informed decisions in reaction to opportunities and constraints in the business environment. Benchmarking similar and exemplary institutions tells audit researchers what to look at and what to expect.

Thomas J. Roach Ph.D., has 30 years experience in communication as a journalist, media coordinator, communication director and consultant. He has taught at Purdue University Northwest since 1987, and is the author of “An Interviewing Rhetoric.” He can be reached at [email protected].

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