Benchmarking is making its way out of corporate TQM programs and into the boardroom where it can help you develop your own best practices in corporate governance. Some expert tips:
Before you evaluate, meet with the board to determine the criteria for success. Cynthia Raybourn, a senior trainer with benchmarking firm American Productivity and Quality Center, suggests you answer the question: What are the specific things we would choose to identify as best practices? Look at nuts-and-bolts board matters such as board meeting frequency and length, agendas, information flow, committees, and board/management relations.
Many boards are still shy when it comes to talking about how they function, so be innovative in hunting for benchmarks. Start with your own directors. Chris Bogan, president of Best Practices Benchmarking in Chapel Hill, N.C. suggests that your board members and top execs put together experience packs of how things are done on other boards they serve. "Poll your board members on what they find optimal on their other boards, how agendas are handled, how they meet, and so on," he says. This is anecdotal material, but it's also valuable real-world intelligence.
The Internet, annual reports, and various directories will tell you some public information on other companies' board practices, but for real substance, you'll need to approach them directly. "Find the benchmarkers in the company," advises Raybourn, suggesting you start with someone in the company's quality-improvement office. Most likely, this contact will put you in touch with the corporate secretary who should have some valuable boardroom metrics.
Raybourn says you may find the corporate secretary's office quite willing to share its boardroom metrics with you provided you let them know you're willing to share the results you develop with them. If you get an OK, fax an information form to them immediately. Then make some follow-up calls.
You'd expect a benchmarking consultant to advise that you hire a benchmarking consultant, but there are some sound reasons for seeking outside help. "This is primarily empirical data, and a big benchmarking project may take up to six months," notes Raybourn. While your board benchmarking efforts likely won't be such heavy lifting, an outside firm may offer research and interpretation skills that you lack internally.