See how colleges’ senior leaders are using benchmarking to improve performance and student outcomes. Whether the catalyst is the need to shape the cost-base to improve student outcomes, or to identify potential savings, or to monitor growth or investment plans, benchmarking delivers invaluable strategic insight to college leaders. But what is the best way to approach such an exercise? The following checklist covers the most important aspects of a successful benchmarking project.
1. Have you used good quality data from each of your core college systems (eg. HR, Finance, and the Student Management System)?
You have to be certain about the quality of your benchmarking inputs and your core systems should contain the most up to date and accurate data available.
2. Make sure your approach looks at activities, not structures.
Colleges may all face similar challenges but in our experience no two colleges operate the same structure, so looking at your activities irrespective of your college’s structure (eg Teaching, Support Services) will provide you with a better frame of reference for when you wish to compare yourself with other colleges, whilst also reducing the time required to ‘normalise’ the data ahead of those comparisons.
3. Ensure you have identified and involved the right people from the start [accuracy, buy-in, ability to act on the results]
Gaining buy-in from across the college is essential – done correctly, a benchmarking exercise will collect and analyse data from every function, so it is important managers understand the purpose of the exercise and their contribution towards it. In this way, all key stakeholders are engaged with the process from the start and can help validate data (e.g. how Student Services Administrators’ time might be split between Teaching administration, Student Services administration, Admissions administration). This helps set the foundations for effecting any changes recommended as outputs from the exercise.
"Looking at your activities irrespective of your college’s structure (eg Teaching, Support Services) will provide you with a better frame of reference for when you wish to compare yourself with other colleges."
4. Do not overlook or underestimate your decentralised costs.
It is highly unlikely the assumed cost of your Support Services functions will be accurate. In general, we find the actual cost of functions such as IT Services, Student Services, Finance and Marketing and HR tends to be between 15% and 35% above the assumed cost. Take time to understand the cost-base properly to avoid making decisions on headline data.
5. Take time to understand your mix of teaching staff.
Understanding your teaching staff mix adds context to the results. How does your mix of Department Heads, Curriculum Managers, Lecturers, Instructors etc influence average pay levels in teaching?
6. Create a plan to embed benchmarking as a regular exercise to maximise the benefits of your efforts
Benchmarking has the greatest impact when it is part of a culture of continuous self-assessment and performance improvement, rather than a one-time event. Benchmarking should be included in the performance management information available to your leadership team – it’s a vital tool in your management kit-bag and provides high-level performance indicators that are suitable to be shared in a governance and board context. Benchmarks of relative performance are useful and objective ways of measuring distance travelled and ensuring your organisation keeps on track with its strategic plans.
"Benchmarking has the greatest impact when it is part of a culture of continuous self-assessment and performance improvement."
7. Use your financial benchmarking data in conjunction with qualitative data to deduce value for money from your activities.
Combining qualitative measures with financial benchmarking analysis for your departments enables you to measure value for money and gives greater context to resource allocation decisions. A marketing function might vary from the benchmark average in terms of spend but bringing in quality of service analysis might show a high level of value for money, in which case, resource allocation discussions may take on a different angle.
8. Engage with other colleges undertaking benchmarking exercises.
Identify the colleges that are of most use to you and establish how they are benchmarking. These might be similar size colleges, those with similar aspirations, colleges considered to be operating best practice that you might wish to emulate, or those offering similar curriculum or with a similar student profile.
"Identify the colleges that are of most use to you and establish how they are benchmarking."
9. Act upon the results.
Having achieved buy-in with your stakeholder group, collected and validated your datasets and produced the objective analysis, act upon the results! Make sure you use your objective evidence and analysis to effect change.
10. Inform your strategy and planning decisions.
As the Benchmarking sector experts, we know the full scope of benefits a benchmarking project can deliver to your college’s strategy and planning, especially when comparing against the most granular and accurate financial data-set in FE. If you wish to identify savings, efficiencies and areas for investment, and objectively measure the value for money delivered by your Support Services, we can help you unlock the full power of benchmarking and help you move your college forwards with confidence.