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Strategic benchmarking and the armée de Terre

Roughly painted French flag

This blog is the first in a series of articles benchmarking the armée de Terre—an external, equivalent and contemporary exemplar for the Australian Army. The author currently serves as a Liasion Officer in France.

Leading organisations of all types and sizes, including armies, benchmark. And with good reason. Benchmarking—comparing one organisation against another—is extolled by management professionals and commended in countless books, articles, blogs and business degrees. To paraphrase management guru Peter Drucker, benchmarking external, equivalent and contemporary exemplars is what an organisation needs most for its decisions, particularly strategic ones.

The armée de Terre shares a distinct ‘likeness’ with the Australian Army; equivalent objectives, programs, opportunities and challenges. This strategic ‘common ground,’ in addition to similar values and philosophies, as well as opportunities and challenges, means there is a lot to be gained by the Australian Army benchmarking the armée de Terre. The fact that both armies take different approaches to achieving comparable objectives and programs—while imbuing common values and philosophies, exploiting equivalent opportunities and confronting comparable challenges—enhances benchmarking’s potential benefits.

So what are the benefits of benchmarking? Well, strategic benchmarking promotes an organisation’s situational awareness, self-learning, open-mindedness and adaptiveness. It breaks inertia, limits organisational bias, arrogance and discourages complacency. Benchmarking encourages positive change and effective prioritisation. In sum, benchmarking enables continual improvement, which in turn creates an enduring competitive edge.

Amongst the ever-expanding physical and virtual libraries on the art and science of benchmarking, four principles are typically touted.

Firstly, do not benchmark as a quick fix, or in an ad hoc, ‘one-off’, ‘nice to have when we have time’ manner. For it to be effective, and worthwhile, benchmarking must be continuous. It must have a long-term focus that is not distracted by the day-to-day. It must be emblematic of an organisation’s deep desire for continual improvement. The most successful benchmarkers are those who establish strategic partnerships.

Secondly, benchmarking is most valuable when comparing ‘like’ organisations. ‘Likeness’ is characterised by similar objectives—and often values, philosophies, opportunities and challenges. To gain the most from strategic benchmarking, it is best to compare organisations pursuing common objectives via different approaches. Analysing diverse approaches to achieving equivalent objectives offers the greatest opportunity for self-learning, open-mindedness and adaptiveness.

Thirdly, organisations that benchmark must be prepared to have their perceptions and practice—in some cases long-standing examples of both—challenged. Challenges to organisation perception and practice can be very confronting, even bruising.

Finally, avoid the common pitfalls and potential drawbacks of benchmarking. Strategic benchmarking is not about ‘copying and pasting’ another’s template. Context is everything, is often unique and must be respected. Benchmarking is best used to inform, not mirror. Misapplication of benchmarking can produce unwelcome outcomes. Common criticisms include ‘paralysis by analysis’, unnecessary conservatism and the stifling of initiative (entrepreneurism in the private sector).

The French Army, the armée de Terre, is a highly professional Army aspiring to be the ‘leading’ army in Europe and the ‘number 2’ army in the ‘free-world.’ The Australian Army is progressing a ‘partnership’ with the armée de Terre characterised by key people-to-people links, routine benchmarking and the pursuit of opportunities promoting mutual learning, support and interoperability.

This blog is the first in a series of articles benchmarking the armée de Terre—an external, equivalent and contemporary exemplar for the Australian Army. All the while respecting the principles of benchmarking, this series of articles will analyse the armée de Terre’s structure, training, modernisation, future concepts and human resources. In doing so, it will allow the Australian Army to realise benchmarking’s benefits when it makes decisions, particularly strategic ones. 

The views expressed in this article and subsequent comments are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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