«Comparing to Improve, or Simply to Assert? A Case Study of the Application of the Benchmarking Theory within the Public Sector Lii Lindgren Wictor ...»
5. Analysis of Empirical Findings This chapter will discuss and analyze the findings stated in the chapter of empirical results. The presented analytical model will serve as a base to discuss the data obtained, in order to identify underlying conditions of the position of the issue. Italics have highlighted the different steps that constitute the analytical model, to further clarify the accomplishments reached in Network Södertörn.
5.1 Application The benchmarking process attempts to make organizations maneuver more effectively and efficient (Tillema, 2007). The establishment of the network and its life span denotes that an active decision to engage, in a niched benchmarking process with these specific municipalities, has been made. Benchmarking needs to be a recurrent process (Peters, 1995; Kouzmin et al, 1999), which applies to network Södertörn since it has been identified as an integrated part of the municipalities operations conducted each year. Thus, the interviewees found the question concerning if the cooperation has ensued in more effective organizations hard-hitting to retort, arguing that it is relatively elusive to differentiate exactly which endeavors impact what in their municipalities (i.e. if alternations comes as a result commencing matters from the network or if they are contingent from other things). This implies that the participating municipalities do not seem to become more effective from concurs in the network, of which any palpable outcomes can be derived. Thereby, it can be questioned whether the benchmarking process can be regarded as truly performed according to its impositions, or if the factual denotation with benchmarking to some extent is being lost in the process.
5.2 Adjusting the Situation The analyzing and planning steps of the benchmarking process, which focuses on determining areas to compare (Peters, 1995) is thoroughly conducted. The employees within the network have over the years managed to discover certain areas that are not working well, and where difficulties to measure have been identified. Thereof, some areas have been removed and others introduced, further implying that it is importance to consider aspects of uncertainties, of which might hamper the work. This denotes, a critical approach that could be beneficial to further adopt regarding other aspects in the networks operation, e.g. structure and knowledge.
5.3 Adequate Competence Drury (2008) contends that organizations can save time and money as a result from avoiding potential mistakes by using benchmarking in a prosperous manner. Regarding network Södertörn, this would constitute of analyzing and making use of the good examples that ascend during the year, as well as on the conference day. In that stance, Peters (1995) emphasizes the requirement of experience and competence in order to implement the process oriented part of benchmarking thoroughly, which can be regarded as an interdependent step in the process to generate performance improvements. In relation to the constellation of the workgroups, and their identified mixture of background (i.e. experience and expertise), it can be questioned if this aspect constitutes a potential challenge for the analytical conduction. The analytical process is not an established part, indicating that experience of this within the specific context to some extent is absent. From one viewpoint this could be seen as beneficial, in terms of adding different perspectives when managing how to do things better in the municipality. Thus, when it comes to the question of being able to perform the work within the network this also implicates some drawbacks, since this type of process is not an intrinsic part of their everyday work tasks. This further correlates to the statement made by one official, whom claimed that participants in the workgroups can be somewhat bad at analyzing, because the apposite prerequisites do not always exists.
5.4 Actions in order to Improve According to the statistical (result oriented) step, it is stated that an organization should analyze what aspects that need to be improved, and further look at best practice examples to establish a ground of which the continuous work with ‘secondary’ analysis in the process oriented benchmarking can proceed from (Peters, 1995). However, the operation of Network Södertörn assumes an inverse approach in practice. In this stance, KPIs are chosen based on what is regarded as interesting for the municipalities’ respectively operational areas, as opposed to looking at areas in need of improvements. This indicates some divergent tendencies between theory and practice, thus questions can be raised whether this can be presumed to be of advantage or disadvantage for the comparisons to be made.
From the interviews it was evident that the data and information that is attained and compiled appears to function as a good assembled presentation of which indicates the municipalities’ performance in relation to each other. Hence, this constitutes a reporting function towards its overall target group, politicians, of which the usage of resources and obtained outcomes becomes foreseeable with a relative perspective. Consequently, this has the potential to culminate to an insight of which aspects respectively municipality needs to set the focus on, in order to continue to improve the operational performance and thereof, enhancing the creation of social good. This by constituting the theoretical referred institutional pressure, of which substitutes the absence of existing market forces, as argued by Bowerman and Ball (2000). Moreover, this creates incentives to perform to avoid ending up in the bottom. Thus, this further implies the adoption of taking on an approach of defending and justifying accomplished performance, rather than integrating the benchmarking information by centering a monitoring and analyzing approach of the results, which argued by Tillema (2007) generally is the case. Hence, a phenomenon, that in accordance to the empirical findings, can be identified as a potential drawback in the establishment of the benchmarking process within the network. It is further argued that politicians are in favor of comparisons in terms of receiving updates regarding the municipalities’ situations. Although, tendencies of any further usage, in terms of increased demands against the municipalities operation or identify areas and actions for performance improvements, was conspicuously absent.
Thereof, information attained within the network is not utilized to its utmost, which further raises questions regarding its actual purpose. The risk of non-action when working with benchmarking needs to be acknowledged, as argued by Gable et al. (1993). This further denotes that organizations tend to resonate that they are performing well if their values prove to be better than those of comparison, although there is no recipe of how good that value actually is. In that way, benchmarking can be somewhat misleading, of which potential tendencies have been recognized in Network Södertörn. They measure and produce a report with all municipalities’ figures, although there is less evidence that any further actions actually have been carried out (in order to improve). Acknowledgments have been made, showing tendencies of each municipality to move closer towards the same level of performance. In that stance, it can be questioned whether its participants regard the currently level of performance as satisfactory, and if that potentially underlies as an influencing factor for the lack of engagement in addressing these figures any further.
5.5 Management and Institutional Pressure In the planning phase of the analytical model, a base for comparisons should be determined. It is substantial that proper indicators and objects are elected, in order to be able to accomplish efficient benchmarking (Peters, 1995; Kouzmin et al, 1999; Delbridge et al, 1995). In this regard, a lack of incentives for the work conducted has been noted, of which statements have been made indicating that the officials sometimes measures for the measuring sake. Catasús et al.
(2008) argues that too many KPIs might be evaluated, which applies with stated arguments regarding Network Södertörn. Thereby, the risk of losing the purpose with KPIs emerges, and excessive time might be spent on issues of less importance. A reduction in the amount of KPIs appears to be much needed. By initializing this, scarce resources of time could be saved and further invested in conducting the analysis in the process oriented benchmarking step.
From the interviews it was evident that the network lacks a consistent structure, of which the operation in respectively workgroup was carried out in an inconsistent manner, this, inter alia, as a result of a somewhat absent overall management force, as well as clear integrated directives. In this stance, it was acknowledged that the achievement made within the network directly correlates with the individual efforts and actions that are made. Hence, basically it is up to the workgroups themselves how they choose to conduct the work and thereof, how thoroughly the benchmarking process is carried out. This further indicates that, in most instances, some of the essential interconnecting steps of the benchmarking process seem to be neglected. Thus, recognizing the statement made by Almquist (2006), arguing that the more management, the better in terms of leadership and obtaining effectiveness, a feature that has shown to be missing in this context.
Furthermore, in order to improve the situation it is argued that more institutional pressure, especially from politicians but also upper management, is needed. Higher forces possess the ability to indicate a higher level of importance regarding the work undertaken, which further could produce incentives to the networks active participants. As stated in SOU (2005:110), it is important that a general understanding of the work is prevalent. In the current situation, politicians do not provide any direct demands regarding how the work should be performed, making it difficult for the participants to assess whether more could have been done. There is a need for politicians to raise the stakes regarding the material presented. In that stance, participant of the network can be provided with insights regarding how the work conducted could be evolved, to for example, include a more in-depth analysis of attained KPIs. This might further be useful information throughout the entire municipality, which in the long run could lead to performance improvements and decreased costs.
5.6 Communication and the Importance of Secondary Analysis Kouzmin et al. (1999) argues that in the course of the benchmarking process, a paramount matter for organizations to assess is ‘how’ they manage to do things better in specific areas, rather than deciding ‘how much’ they are doing better. Thus, putting this in relation to the operation of Network Södertörn, it is evident that the focus primarily lies in knowing how much they are superior over the other municipalities by only acquire the material and thereafter presenting this at the conference day, only followed-up by the published report. This further assumes a need for a secondary analysis performed in each municipal in order to find explanatory factors and possible change measures, i.e. take an active decision to use the benchmarking information to improve performance. Hence, something that the empirical findings have pointed out as lacking, which accentuates inconsistencies in the process in terms of enabling advantages of the comparing procedures.
The project directive also states that the workgroups should focus on public databases when collecting and attaining data (KPIs). The underlying reason for advocating the public databases is that the work tasks of gathering data has previously been recognized as too extensive in relation to the generated utility. Thereof, valuable time can be saved and instead be invested in conducting subsequent analysis. This further implies that a step in the right direction, namely towards enabling the opportunity to conduct the process oriented step of the benchmarking process, is prevalent. Thus, it can be questioned if this is something that have been realized and acknowledged by the participants of the network, and if not, where this saved time actually takes path.
As stated in the benchmarking theory, one of the most vigorous part of the cycle is the process oriented stage, in which organizations should identify and acknowledge why their figures are deviating as opposed to others and further, how these aspects can be addressed in order to improve. Meaning, this is where the municipalities should enable the analysis part of the compiled data. However, this feature that is intended to constitute a fundamental building block has, as stated throughout the empirical findings, been acknowledged as mainly absent.
Furthermore, according to Peters (1995) it is this last part of the benchmarking process where organizations usually are apt to abate and fail. In this stance, the requisite and prominence of a well-established and functioning communication within the organization, to be able to engage everyone, is viewed as exceedingly important. The lack of communication has been highly acknowledged by the majority of interviewees, both concerning communication within the network itself, as well as the communication of the project directive. This can largely be related to the fact that the communication within the network is not carried out to the extent that is needed. Peters (1995) stresses the importance of a thoroughly communication within entire organizations. Therefore, it could be of advantage for the groups to get more specified directives from CFOs, i.e. that someone set the scope for the project and the undertaken work.