The Importance of Benchmarking

bench·mark: to evaluate or check by comparison with a standard.


verb — gerund or present participle: benchmarking

example: “we are benchmarking our performance against external criteria”

The entrepreneurial community sometimes views the corporate fascination with benchmarking as a symptom of large company conservatism: when you don’t know what to do, check to see what your peers are doing instead of trying something new. Benchmarking is often dismissed as “paralysis by analysis” hated by fast-moving startup CEOs and institutional VCs.

But benchmarking against best practices occurs for good reason. Over time, best practices emerge based on the experience of what actions led to successful outcomes. This is especially important in a field where there is little to no formal education, no certifications, and relatively distant regulatory agencies. In real estate, law, or medicine, for example, there are licensing processes with required coursework, independently administered written examinations, continuing education and active oversight. There is no such procedure to train professionals who work in corporate development or innovation. MBA classes in venture capital or corporate innovation, like the ones I teach at USC and UCLA, are few and far between. The collective wisdom of what worked previously is the best our industry currently offers.

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