For Your Reference: The Art of Benchmarking

Posted By: Jon Lavietes Collaborative Connections,

Back in the 1980s, former New York City mayor Ed Koch was famous for asking his constituents, “How am I doing?” Alliance management teams similarly have to periodically gauge how their partners and colleagues in other departments inside their own companies perceive the effectiveness of their processes, methods, work styles, and overall performance.

What type of feedback should you solicit from stakeholders? What methods should you use to do it? In this month’s Collaborative Connection Monthly webinar and roundtable, “Benchmarking: The Ultimate Hack for Partnering Success,” Steve Twait, CSAP, president of the consulting firm Integrated Alliance Management, who previously spent more than two decades in alliance management roles at Eli Lilly and Company and AstraZeneca, looked at these questions from a variety of angles in a discussion moderated by Parth Amin, cofounder of Eysz. 


“Steve was also one of the first to pilot the PCAP (Partnering Capability Assessment) and has quite a bit of experience during his career with benchmarking, so we thought it would be only natural to get Steve’s perspective on this topic,” said Amin. 


We Have to Measure Performance—Fast! 

Benchmarking is always important, but it’s arguably more so today, given the pace of change in the business climate on several fronts. 


“We all work in super-fast industries,” Twait noted. “There's a lot of turnover in these roles, and so benchmarking is just a great way to come up to speed.” 


Alliance management as a discipline is changing just as fast. 


“One of the reasons [benchmarking] is important is because our industry is evolving, the type of partnerships we work on are evolving,” noted Twait. “Benchmarking is a way that you can always be kind of testing the way that you practice alliance management with others.”


Informal Benchmarking Every Day

There are formal tools that help gather and evaluate partner and internal feedback, of course. There’s the aforementioned ISO-based PCAP, which Twait and many others have used over the years to assess their organizations’ partnering capabilities and obtain guidance on how to improve them. Alliance health check surveys have been used seemingly since the dawn of corporate collaborations to provide a means for partners to assess their counterparts. (See “How’s Your Alliance’s Health?,” Strategic Alliance Quarterly, Q4 2023.)


But Twait also proffered a unique notion of “informal benchmarking,” or simply gaining ideas from “the interactions that you have daily with others.” This can manifest itself in observations of “the way that leaders lead meetings and make decisions,” for example, according to Twait. “Are they collaborative?” 


The lesson: “When you hear the word ‘benchmarking,’ don't jump to the conclusion that it has to be a formal process. It can be, again, something that you're doing daily,” said Twait. 


Gather Insights, Share Them Delicately, Then Do Something About It 

As for the actual benchmarking initiatives themselves, Twait had a few tips for optimizing them: 


  • “Make sure that you've got a commitment that you can and will do something about those benchmarking results,” he advised. “I hate to do an alliance health check if there's not a commitment from alliance leadership to really listen to that feedback and take action.”
  • “Think about how benchmarking could give you information that has a direct link to either adding value or losing value,” he said. “Can you, through benchmarking, gather information that really can help add value to your company?”
  • “There are a lot of egos in this business,” he noted. “You have to think about how you share the results of benchmarking because oftentimes we work with executives that believe that no one can do it better than they do, so you need to be really careful about how you present results from benchmarking.”


Is This the Real Life? Trust Makes Transparency More Than Just Fantasy

The groundwork for great benchmarking initiatives is laid from the start of the alliance relationship. If partners build a strong rapport over time, they will be more comfortable and willing to share feedback that can be used to further strengthen the partnership. 


“When you have trust, that's when you can ask others questions about benchmarking, and that actually makes benchmarking easier,” said Twait. “The more trust you've got, you can be super transparent about sharing best practices.” 


Twait extolled the return of face-to-face gatherings that had declined during and in the wake of the pandemic. He said bonding events, such as the Japanese custom of group karaoke, will make all stakeholders more willing to share the good (best practices) and the bad (criticism) with each other, even if, for example, you bite off more than you can chew and try your hand at one of Queen’s lengthier ballads. 


“I have a shared learning that I'm going to pass on: do not ever suggest that you do ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ [at karaoke],” quipped Twait.