There are still people out there who believe that Henry Ford invented the automobile. Ummm…No…Not quite. There are also those, the somewhat more knowledgeable, who believe he invented the assembly line. Close….but no crankcase oil. What Henry Ford did was see the possibilities inherent in the assembly line and how it might revolutionize his industry. And then he made it so.
The story is told that he was watching the way animals were moved by conveyor belts through the slaughterhouse and noticed two things. First, the animal came to the man, not the other way around. Second, each man had his own individual task; a simple task that was repeated mindlessly/exactingly … perfectly… in such a way that the smooth running of the operation was ensured. Each man was trained for one task, learned it quickly, and became a cog in the industrial machine.
So, Ford took these concepts and brought them to the automobile manufacturing floor. Previously, cars were made by one man or one team, all of whom had to understand every step in the process. Each man had to be able to build an entire car. It was a time-consuming prospect that also included these men moving around the factory floor to bring the necessary pieces to the location where the car was being built.
Ford made every person a specialist. (One of his famous quotes: “The man who puts in a bolt does not put on the nut; the man who puts on the nut does not tighten it.”) He brought the partially completed car to the man, not the other way around. Eventually, Ford was producing one car every three minutes – and doing it so cheaply the average worker could own one.
He may not have invented the car, and he may not have invented the assembly line, but he definitely should be crowned “King of the Benchmarkers.”
Most auditors claim to benchmark. One of the main ways is that we benchmark other internal audit shops to find better practices. (We also, sometimes, do benchmarking for our clients. But, rather than get into that right now, just assume everything I’m about to say regarding expanding where we go to benchmark applies to those situations as well.)
But Ford had a better idea. He didn’t look at what other car manufacturers were doing. He realized that would only lead him to equaling what others were doing – there was no advantage. Instead he took a lesson from an industry completely different from his own.
Benchmarking in your own profession/organization/industry/field will only provide ideas on how to do things as well as everyone else. Benchmarking outside your paradigms gives you brilliant ideas that allow you to lead the pack.
Where do we go to find better ways to do the job of internal auditing? Where should we benchmark? Is there anyone out there that has really looked outside our own profession? Are we blind to the fact that other disciplines may have answers for us? Do we just refuse to look? (Quote from Seth Godin: “Oh, that's a fine example of how a company in the hockey stick industry grew, but we make lacrosse sticks. Do you have any case studies of how a lacrosse stick company has succeeded?")
I haven’t got the answer. I’m as blind as everyone else. I haven’t really looked. And I’m not sure where that new “look” should be. I don’t know if it is in manufacturing or legal firms or the DMV or the marketing department or the local “Gulp and Go” or the kindergarten classroom or the slaughterhouse. I just don’t know where those new ideas are. However, I do know that we need to find those new benchmarks if we want to do more than all self referentially build to the same level of good.
Better is out there. And sitting where we least suspect it is best. And buried in plain sight is hidden the idea that is so great it will knock us flat with how obvious it was all along.