Start benchmarking in five minutes


02.08.13 Thumbnail BenchmarkThe hardest part of starting to track your performance is to just start. So, just start quick and dirty. It’s worth it — you’ll dramatically boost your odds of achieving your goals by spending 5 minutes setting up benchmarks.

Share this article!


The hardest part of starting to track your performance is to just start. So, just start quick and dirty. It’s worth it — you’ll dramatically boost your odds of achieving your goals by spending 5 minutes setting up benchmarks.

My client Gary did this, scoring himself on meditating and saying “no” to more things — and reported “huge improvements” in his attitude and focus in only three weeks. Tracking his activity helped him stick with it.

Average MPH and miles traveled in 24 minutes for a beginning runner.

I found myself more serious about my fitness when I started sharing my treadmill times with my coworkers, just posting a line graph where it could be seen in my cubicle. Martin and Dan were serious athletes, and would encourage me whenever I posted new numbers.

Those are two big boosts from benchmarking — self-awareness of progress, and social rewards.

Ready to start? Here are the steps you can follow in under 5 minutes to start benchmarking something important to you.

Backward Chaining

Before you start the timer, be clear on your goal. Mine was fitness. What was the measurable outcome I was trying for? Several things — weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, a feeling of vitality, and muscle tone, among others. I could have come up with a dozen things to track.

Don’t. Too many measures are as bad as none. Just pick a couple.

The other two problems with my list of measurables are that they are outcome measures, and many were hard to measure. They might take weeks or months to improve, and I wasn’t set up with the equipment to measure my blood pressure or cholesterol quickly or easily.

So, don’t benchmark outcomes at first. Work back up the causal chain to the things that create results — the leading indicators. (And make sure they are super-easy to measure.)

Results come from outward-facing activities. (Sales come from sales calls.) Outward-facing activities work only when there are supporting inward-facing activities. (Sales calls work better when there is a prospecting system, and some message to deliver — that message needs to be created and tested.) And inward-facing activities rest on a foundation of learning, growth and alignment. (Salespeople need sales training. Marketers must learn about the product. Both groups need regular professional training, and an incentive system that aligns their actions.)

The First Minute

Spend 60 seconds sketching out the causal chain that leads to your outcome. Don’t worry overmuch about categories, just take a shot at it. Don’t worry about making it complete, perfect, or exhaustive.

Causal chain for lowering blood pressure through exercise:

Lower Blood Pressure
…comes from
Regular Exercise like Running
…comes from
Having the Facilities or Means
…along with
Having the Desire and Commitment

Causal chain for leasing real estate:

Selling a lease
…comes from
Conversations with qualified buyers
…comes from
Finding qualified buyers
…along with
Having properties to lease, and being trained to sell

The Second Minute

Spend another 60 seconds considering ways to tell if you have the desired thing, or not. If I had qualified buyers, how would I know? How would I count them? (Maybe just count the names on the list each week on Monday.) If I’m having conversations with qualified buyers, how would I know? (Maybe I just count on Friday the number of conversations I had that week.)

For fitness, I could count how many days of the week I got dressed and went to the gym, and how many minutes I spent on the treadmill, or how far I ran in 24 minutes.

Just jot down some things you could count or measure. See if you can get 2-3 measures for each part of your causal chain.

Here’s a sample:

Conversations with qualified buyers

  • Number of conversations
  • Duration of conversations
  • Content of conversations
  • Did they seem interested?
  • Were they really qualified?

Finding qualified buyers

  • Number of people on list
  • How likely they seem
  • Have we met them?
  • Do we have a mutual friend who can introduce us?

Being trained to sell

  • Hours of training
  • Score on exams or quizzes
  • Self-assessment or peer assessment

The Third Minute

There are usually three categories to measure — quality, quantity, and time.

Spend your third 60 seconds with this chart, putting some of the measures you created into the most likely cell. Don’t try to be perfect, just make some guesses. Go quickly.

External Activity
Internal Activity
Learning, Growth


Here’s the chart with the sales metrics added:

External Activity: Conversations



Number of ConversationsDuration
Internal Activity: Find Buyers

How Likely

Have we met?

Can be introduced?

Number of Buyers on List

Number of Likely Buyers

Hours Spent
Learning, Growth: Be Trained



Hours Spent


Having the chart will prompt you to think of measures that might belong in each cell — the Time measure for Find Buyers was not in the list from minute 2, but the empty cell prompted me to add “Hours Spent” as a potential measure.

The Fourth Minute

Now take 60 seconds and look over the metrics — pick out the ones that are (a) easy to measure and (b) feel useful and (c) maybe feel scary. I would reject “hours spent” on finding buyers because I don’t care how long that takes — I find it not useful. However, someone who was deeply reluctant to find buyers — who was scared of that activity — might find that measuring hours could help them to do the work.

It’s a great idea to measure something that scares you. Facing your fear empowers you. Social feedback from your peers helps you overcome the fear. The more you face a fear, the smaller it becomes.

For example, salespeople usually hate hearing a “no.” That’s why the highly successful sales training group “Go for No” teaches reluctant salespeople to count how many “no” responses they get — and to try to get more. By pursuing the “no” they remove the fear — the “no” answer is just a prospect who didn’t need your product. Nothing wrong with that. The faster you get to “no,” the quicker you can talk to the next person, who might say “yes.” (Read about their approach here.)

Here’s the chart with only the top two metrics selected:

External Activity: ConversationsNumber of Conversations
Internal Activity: Find BuyersNumber who are Likely
Learning, Growth: Be TrainedHours spent

Having pared it down and tweaked the Internal metric to be “Number who are Likely” I can pick my two. Your two might be different.

The Fifth Minute

Now create a super-simple tracking chart or form, and post it publicly.

Bingo, you’re benchmarking. Well done.

(See also these previous articles on benchmarking and creating metrics.)

Tom Cox is a Beaverton consultant, author and speaker. He coaches CEOs on how to boost performance by building workplace trust. 

Latest from Oregon Business Team