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While the seasoned professionals know that surveys just show what others did rather than whether it was good or bad for them, often their bosses don't care. What Big Giant Competitor down the block is doing can be an important reference point for insecure managers who frequently press their people for surveys to justify their lemming instinct to snuggle into the end of the line. Some seek to minimize risk by accepting a followership position for CYA. The smart execs, of course, only use surveys to inform their contextual understanding, to determine whether their particular best practice lags or leads that of their peer groups and by how much.

Surveys may tell you where NOT to go. They can be a road map to dodge the tree all the others hit or they may guide you into a dead end.

Good article, thanks.

You're on valid and well-trod ground here; Michael Porter's 1996 HBR article (November-December) called What is a Strategy nailed this issue particularly well.

Porter suggests that the very essence of a strategy is differentiation, and that operational effectiveness--of which benchmarking is just a tool--is itself a necessary but not sufficient condition for strategic success. As you also point out, emulating lemmings just reduces everyone to an eventually-least common denominator. It doesn't serve any constituency well to simply copy.

Jim Brennan is certainly right that many managers seek CYA justification in benchmarking; perhaps your article and Porter's can help point out the deficiencies in benchmarking-only approaches.


Nice bit of perspective - that surveys provide context or a reference point against to make an informed choice - they do not provide The Answer.


Thanks for the Michael Porter reference and the reminder that strategy is ultimately about differentiation. Important mesage - and one that we obviously need to have reinforced!

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