Benchmarking

Imagine two professional baseball teams.  One team measures every aspect of every player’s performance—the number of at bats; number of hits, walks, and strikeouts; batting averages against right- and left-handed pitchers; slugging averages; and fielding percentages.  They also measure each pitcher’s earned run average, number of base on balls, strikeouts, wild pitches; and so on.  The other team decides it’s too much trouble and keeps no statistics whatsoever.

These two teams will meet each other eighteen times a season.  While well matched in player talent, hustle, and desire, and though each team possesses competent management and coaching, one team dominates the other season after season.  Would anyone be surprised to discover which is the dominant team?

As everyone knows, this example is ludicrous because every baseball team measures players’ performance and uses this information to make crucial game decisions.  What is it that baseball managers understand that some club managers don’t seem to grasp?  The fact that everything in life follows patterns. When patterns are tracked and analyzed, they can be used to predict future performance and set goals.

Benchmarking, the act of measuring and analyzing operating performance, seeks to understand the patterns underlying a club’s operation.  Reasons to benchmark include:

  • Benchmarks can be used to establish performance goals for future operating periods.
  • Benchmarks help identify under-performance and best practices.
  • Benchmarks from past periods can make budgeting for future periods easier and far more accurate.
  • Tracking revenues and comparing them to historical benchmarks allows management to measure member response to products/services and new initiatives.
  • Benchmarks create the measurable accountabilities for each manager’s work plan.

The club’s monthly operating statements provide good basic information, but these summary numbers can mask troubling trends within the operation.  For instance, higher food revenues can be a result of less patronage, but each member spending more because of higher menu prices.  The manager is happy with the higher revenues, but is blissfully ignorant of declining clientele.

Benchmarking is best accomplished by department heads who have bottom line responsibility.  Most performance measures will fall into the following broad categories.

  • Revenues and expenses, both aggregate and by type
  • Inventories
  • Retail sales mix to determine buying patterns of members

Most of the raw data necessary to benchmark comes from point-of-sale (POS) reports.  Much of this lode of daily information gets looked at briefly by department heads or the accounting office and is then filed away, rarely to be seen again.  The real value of this information comes from tracking it over time to determine trends by day of week, week to week, month to month, and year to year.  This makes it necessary for managers to pull the information from POS reports and enter it into spreadsheet software.

A few caveats:

  • There are as many aspects of an operation to measure as time, resources, and ingenuity will allow.  Focus on those most critical to one’s operation.
  • Data used in benchmarking must be defined and collected in a consistent manner.
  • When comparing data, always compare like to like.
  • Ensure benchmarks measure events with only one underlying variable.
  • Do not draw conclusions from too small a sample.  The larger the sample, the more accurate the conclusion.
  • When two pieces of data are compared to generate a benchmark, both a small sample size or extreme volatility in one or the other, can skew the resultant benchmark.

Benchmarking is not complicated, but it does require discipline and persistence.  It is best accomplished by setting up routine systems to collect, compile, report, and analyze the information collected.  Like a baseball team, the knowledge gained by benchmarking will bring a club to the top of its game.

 

Thanks and have a great day!

Ed Rehkopf

This weekly blog comments on and discusses the club industry and its challenges. From time to time, we will feature guest bloggers – those managers and industry experts who have something of interest to say to all of us. We also welcome feedback and comment upon the blog, hoping that it will become a useful sounding board for what’s on the minds of hardworking club managers throughout the country and around the world.

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