Let’s pause for a minute and reflect on the management functions that we’ve discussed so far: planning, organizing, and leading. As founder of Notes-4-You, you began by establishing plans for your new company. You defined its mission and set objectives, or performance targets, which you needed to meet in order to achieve your mission. Then, you organized your company by allocating the people and resources required to carry out your plans. Finally, you provided focus and direction to your employees and motivated them to achieve organizational objectives. Is your job finished? Can you take a well-earned vacation? Unfortunately, the answer is no: your work has just begun. Now that things are rolling along, you need to monitor your operations to see whether everything is going according to plan. If it’s not, you’ll need to take corrective action. This process of comparing actual to planned performance and taking necessary corrective action is called controlling.
A Five-Step Control Process
- Set the standards by which performance will be measured.
- Measure performance.
- Compare actual performance with the standard and identify any deviations from the standard.
- Determine the reasons for the deviation.
- Take corrective action if needed.
You can think of the control function as the five-step process outlined above. Let’s see how this process might work at Notes-4-You. Let’s assume that, after evaluating class enrollments, you estimate that you can sell one hundred notes packages per month to students taking a popular first-year geology course. So you set your standard at a hundred units. At the end of the month, however, you look over your records and find that you sold only eighty. In talking with your salespeople, you learn why you came up twenty packages short: it turns out that the copy machine broke down so often that packages frequently weren’t ready on time. You immediately take corrective action by increasing maintenance on the copy machine.
Now, let’s try a slightly different scenario. Let’s say that you still have the same standard (one hundred packages) and that actual sales are still eighty packages. In investigating the reason for the shortfall, you find that you over-estimated the number of students taking the geology course. Calculating a more accurate number of students, you see that your original standard (estimated sales) was too high by twenty packages. In this case, you should adjust your standards to reflect the expected sales of eighty packages.
In both situations, your control process has been helpful. In the first instance, you were alerted to a problem that cut into your sales. Correcting this problem would undoubtedly increase sales and, therefore, profits. In the second case, you encountered a defect in your planning and learned a good managerial lesson: plan more carefully.
Benchmarking could be considered as a specialized kind of control activity. Rather than controlling a particular aspect of performance (say, defects for a specific product), benchmarking aims to improve a firm’s overall performance. The process of benchmarking involves comparisons to other organizations’ practices and processes with the objective of learning and improvement in both efficiency and effectiveness. Benchmarking exercises can be conducted in a number of ways:
- Organizations often monitor publicly available information to keep tabs on the competition. Annual reports, news articles, and other sources are monitored closely in order to stay aware of the latest developments. In academia, universities and colleges often use published rankings tables to see how their programs compare on the student satisfaction, salaries of graduates, and other important dimensions.
- Organizations may also work directly with companies in unrelated industries in order to compare those functions of the business which are similar. A manufacturer of aircraft would not likely have a great deal in common with a company making engineered plastics, yet both have common functions such as accounting, finance, information technology, and human resources. Companies can exchange ideas that help each other improve efficiency, and often at a very low cost to either.
- In order to compare more directly with competition without relying solely on publicly available data, companies may enter into benchmarking consortiums in which an outside consultant would collect key data from all participants, anonymize it, and then share the results with all participants. Companies can then gauge how they compare to others in the industry without revealing their own performance to others.