A Role for Management Accountants in Best Practice Benchmarking

Francis, Graham; Hinton, Matthew; Holloway, Jacky and Mayle, David (1998). A Role for Management Accountants in Best Practice Benchmarking. The Open University, The Open University Business School Working Paper.


Best practice benchmarking (benchmarking for short) generally refers to the pursuit by organisations of enhanced performance by learning from the successful practices of others. Comparisons of processes which contribute to strategic success are made with other parts of the same organisation; competitors; or organisations operating comparable processes in a context which is in some way relevant. Benchmarking continues to grow in popularity in both private and public sector organisations – but does it always produce the desired outcomes? Although spectacular gains from benchmarking are claimed particularly in practitioner literature, there is also growing evidence of disappointment with the effectiveness of benchmarking. It can be very time consuming to undertake and manage, and ensuring that sharing information with competitors is to the mutual advantage of partner organisations is difficult. With this in mind, it is important to recognise that management accountants play pivotal roles at organisational interfaces and therefore could play a (more) significant part in successful benchmarking activities. This paper will report on an ongoing research project at the Open University Business School, funded by the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants, aimed at understanding, in depth, the processes which are undertaken by Management Accountants, in the name of benchmarking. The project team are using postal questionnaires and case studies to identify the features of successful benchmarking practice, and the characteristics of benchmarking organisations or benchmarking processes which are considered to be problematic. This research centres on an extensive survey of Management Accountants. This research has begun to identify the contribution which Management Accountants can make to successful benchmarking and the factors which have led organisations to abandon benchmarking activities. This study is also facilitating better understanding of the relationship between organisational size and level of benchmarking activity, the impact of benchmarking clubs, and the perceived costs and benefits of benchmarking to stakeholders. The final phase 3 of this research will focus on providing innovative ways to make the findings available to management accounting practitioners.

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