Is benchmarking leading to mediocrity in our livestock industry? In my opinion it is.
Firstly it is actually just comparative analysis, and doesn’t provide “benchmarks” to aim for, just indications of what others are achieving. Targets should be set based on what is possible, not what others are doing.
For lovers of benchmarking who are preparing to launch at me, let me qualify all of this first. I quite like it for comparing enterprise types.
So given all of that, what do I have against them? Well there are a few things. Some basic, and some more philosophical. Livestock businesses are individual and rarely is it comparing apples with apples. Benchmarking tries to simplify things for comparison sake. Our industry is far too fixated upon being average, or better than average, or in the top 20 per cent. All of that would be fine if I thought we were anywhere near our potential. If benchmarking is how we set our sights for the future, then all we will ever be is better than the rest. But what if the rest really aren’t doing that well at all, and being better than them still doesn’t get us anywhere near where we need to be?
The most exciting thing about sheep right now isn’t the high prices, new technology, or scientific breakthroughs, but simply the untapped potential that sits within our industry. Science tells us that we can be doing so much better.
The opportunities exist through being better. Not bigger, not smaller, but better. I hear people tell me that they don’t have the scale. Scale is an excuse, and both the big and the small are guilty of using it. If we are going to keep ourselves ahead of the cost price squeeze then we need to be better, and we need to be more efficient. Keep a close eye on costs, benchmarking if you need to, and set production targets based on what is possible.
Let’s not kid ourselves that our industry as a whole is performing anywhere near where it should be. The industry talks in averages, which are barely where everyone should be. The fact that it is an average tells us that half the results are worse than that.
I guess you could say that my frustration isn’t with benchmarking itself, actually it plays an important role, but with the way that it is used. It has the potential for it to justify someone’s current level of performance rather than drive improvement – we are better than that. Stand up industry and show some leadership. Aim for what is possible, not what everyone else is doing.