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Benchmarking builds trust

If alliances are to succeed long term they have to measure how well they are doing, says Naomi Garnett.

Rethinking construction offers a way for the construction industry to give clients what they want. Key to that vision is the notion of alliances forming to deliver specific types of construction with permanent teams.

Trust will be a key element and one of the best ways to develop trust is through careful management of the relationship. Central to that is the need to measure performance, evaluate it and take action to improve the overall performance of the alliance. Benchmarking is one approach to measurement.

Traditionally, benchmarking is thought of as comparing one company with another to enable best practice to be adopted and a competitive edge gained.

However in the partnering context, there are a few changes. The benchmarking study becomes an internal one comparing results year on year. Comparison with others may be useful to challenge the targets set, but this should be seen as a separate benchmarking study in its own right. Identifying techniques which give rise to better performance must involve the whole workforce and should be focused on improving their processes.

Decisions have to be taken as to who will do the benchmarking, how often, how will it be reported and evaluated, and who will be responsible for any actions which result. In a partnering relationship, data should be collected and analysed monthly, with actions taken as a result of the analysis. This may involve analysing processes further, carrying out external benchmarking to discover better ways of doing things, or making changes in the way things are done.

Feedback is essential. The results of the benchmarking process should be reviewed annually with achievement rewarded.

If a partner is underperforming, there is a responsibility for all concerned to work with the partner to help them improve. This teamwork is difficult and demanding. But the strength of the alliance is determined by the performance of the individual partners and it is therefore a joint responsibility to give support where performance is not being achieved.

Comparison of measures between partners is possible if benchmarking is set up that way. The objective is not to be competitive but to identify areas of best practice, which might be transferable to other partners, raising the overall performance of the alliance.

This approach may seen daunting. It could be portrayed as dictatorial. However, if done well as part of a balanced, committed relationship, it will provide invaluable support and motivation.

Naomi Garnett is a civil engineer and benchmarking consultant. Co-authors ProfessorJohn Bennett and Simone Pickrell, Reading University

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