Comparative analysis ? Here’s how to convince businesses to open their doors
WHICH approach would you choose? Do a solitary experiment by trial and error or learn from others what is practical and possible? Most organizations, even if professionally run, would still take every opportunity to benchmark themselves against model offices and factories, favoring those that have received national or international recognition.
The problem is that benchmarking opportunities are very few and far between.
This is the reason why companies would take a proactive attitude to offer a visit to a model company. In most cases, it is difficult to have this chance. After all, why would organizations allow other companies to visit them, unless they are suppliers, contractors, customers, or industry regulators?
Other than that, what would entice a potential host to accept unsolicited visits? Often these benchmarking visits take time. Even if you agree to allow other organizations to make a two-hour visit, chances are that it will consume a lot of time and effort in terms of preparation.
Also, there is this fear of an extreme case of sabotage, except when the host limits or denies access to visitors in sensitive areas.
Despite this, many organizations are at the forefront of opening their doors to visitors. Sometimes it is schoolchildren or students who do not have the purchasing power to buy their products. If you still can’t figure out why organizations open their doors to visitors, let me tell you straight out that – it’s all about PR.
If you have something to brag about, then why hide it from the public?
If you don’t believe in your own product, then somehow the crack will show, no matter how hard you try to hide it. On the other hand, organizations driven by their superior brand would love every opportunity to showcase their current practices and milestones, and learn from visitors as well. Take a cue from what fast-paced companies do, except it’s not always easy for them to give instant approval to every request.
You also have to be convincing. For nearly 30 years now, I have made over 250 visits to organizations known for their best practices here in the Philippines and Japan. During these years, I discovered strategies to convince a potential host to open their doors. Here are a few:
First, offer to reciprocate in a non-monetary way. In marketing, this is called an ex-deal or a barter, except we take it to the next level with a proposal that emphasizes its mutual benefit for both parties that includes a similar visit. A give-and-take visit can be extended to a later date, or even before a proposed date. However, this depends on the nature of the business, the size of its operations, its reputation, its leadership strategies and its profitability.
Second, focus on a specific area of management concern. You’re not asking for a wholesale showcase of best practices from a model organization, even if that matters just to understand the context of a system. Leave this decision to the host organization. For example, if your organization suffers from high turnover, it is best to get practical ideas from others who have always maintained staff loyalty. In the case of Toyota, the context may include its “Respect for People” strategy.
Finally, learn from leaders outside your industry. This is called non-competitive benchmarking where a service company (like a bank or a telecommunications company) learns from a manufacturer (like an auto assembler or a drug manufacturer) and vice versa. Somehow, with this approach, you may not be restricted by industry practices that limit creativity and innovation. It’s an easy route rather than asking a competitor to share their best practices and laugh behind your back.
If all things have been exhausted and you are still unable to get approval for a factory visit, the next option is to settle for a paper benchmark instead. Anyone could do this by contacting any company with a good reputation in a business community such as an export processing zone.
It can be started by anyone, with all preparations done through email exchanges or group chats. If at least three organizations agree, the one and only final face-to-face meeting may take place with a maximum of two representatives from each organization.
The meeting can be held in a neutral location such as a hotel. The cost of the meeting can be split via a Dutch treat, unless someone volunteers to host it for free at their company. If that happens, rejoice, even if they offer to serve meals in the cafeteria.
The important activity to do is for each participating company to answer a one-page questionnaire on a particular concern, for example on the question of customer satisfaction, waste disposal, delivery or other questions. The fewer topics to discuss, the better. Limit the quiz to no more than five questions.
If an organization wants to share more information, that’s much better.
All completed questionnaires must be in a sealed envelope and subject to a kaliwaan or exchange on the spot during the in-person meeting. When opening the envelopes, each company representative can ask each other probing questions. Anyone can refuse to answer by saying “pass” if and when they think the answer is too sensitive to discuss.
Trust is an important part of benchmarking. You have to respect that if you want to sustain a long-term professional relationship. One caveat though. Benchmarking could also mean having job opportunities in the future, as some of my friends have experienced.
Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management. Chat with him via Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter or send feedback via [email protected] or https://reyelbo.consulting