How to Set Benchmarks & Milestones

by Devra Gartenstein; Updated September 26, 2017
Businessman drawing white arrow above graph

Benchmarks and milestones are specific criteria for measuring short-term success, but their ultimate effectiveness depends on their alignment with your company's long-term vision. Achieving a benchmark or milestone provides encouragement and affirmation that your project is on the right track and proceeding on schedule. This feedback is useful to managers ultimately responsible for project results and employees interested in gauging their own performances. Well-designed milestones are clear, realistic and relevant.

Defining Direction

Whether or not your business has an official mission or vision statement, your business exists for a reason. This reason, or vision, may be as concrete as earning a living or as idealistic as improving world health. A healthy and successful business infuses its mission into its day-to-day activities through milestones and benchmarks that reflect progress toward this larger vision. Define your company mission before creating specific benchmarks to avoid false starts and unnecessary effort.

Creating Metrics

Set benchmarks and milestones using concrete, quantifiable criteria. These specific, measurable metrics allow you to clearly evaluate success. "Add 20 clients during the next 12 months" is a measurable milestone, while "Increase our customer base significantly" provides no definable metric for assessing results. Metrics should be meaningful, providing useful information that helps your business improve. For example, a manufacturing company may create a benchmark of units to be produced per hour. Success or failure relative to this benchmark provides information about efficiency, telling not only how many units your company is making but also how well workers are using their time.

Evaluating Results

Proactive managers use information about meeting or missing benchmarks to improve employee performance. Communicate and collaborate with workers to determine why their metrics are falling short. Offer support and resources such as additional training. Motivate employees by building on their strengths and offering challenges that stretch their limits without discouraging them. Document performance relative to milestones over time, as well as steps employees take to improve performance. Reward milestone achievements with financial compensation and verbal praise.

Adjusting Benchmarks

If your staff consistently has difficulty achieving the benchmarks and milestones you have created, it's worth revisiting these metrics to determine whether they are realistic. Benchmarks may become less useful over time as conditions change, and failure to achieve them may not reflect inadequate work but rather a need to reevaluate these goals in light of the current situation. For example, a real estate agent who aims to sell 24 houses per year by selling two houses each month may reconsider these milestones during a housing-related economic downturn.

About the Author

Devra Gartenstein is an omnivore who has published several vegan cookbooks. She has owned and run small food businesses for 30 years.

Photo Credits

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