Overcoming Denial About Laboratory Benchmarking: Room for Improvement

I’ll always remember my first consulting project. A senior VP of a community hospital in the mid-Atlantic region asked us to validate a report by the state hospital association that his lab was overstaffed by 33 percent. During my first visit, I knew the report was at least directionally correct without having looked at any data. The lab was not busy. Techs were mulling around. There were the surreptitious glances from the staff and the occasional magazine on the bench. Lab management insisted that they were appropriately staffed.

You know this story does not end well; we confirmed the hospital association report despite fervent claims to the contrary. What was surprising to me was that these folks were not being disingenuous. They truly believed that they were busy, that they were working hard! How could there be such a gap in perception?

It turns out that there is a natural tendency for all of us to overrate our performance. A recent article by CBS News gave some insightful examples:

Individuals rate themselves as a 7 out of 10 in most surveys; Drivers consistently rate themselves above average; 94% of professors think they have above average IQ compared to their peersPsychologists call this phenomenon “illusory superiority.” It is a belief that we are better than we actually are. We recognize others’ shortcomings, but “when it comes to us, we think it is all about our intention, our effort” rather than our outcomes.

How does this apply in our world? Illusions abound in benchmarking. Lab directors can be reluctant to believe their results—they can’t possibly be in the 30th percentile. There must be something wrong with the data, the methodology, the peer group, the this, the that…this is denial. Mathematically, everyone can’t be in the top percentile. There is almost always someone that is better than us, someone who can teach us.

Today as you go about your work, try to be open to measurement and feedback:

If you benchmark at less than the 50th percentile for unit costs, try to understand why—What could you do to improve your performance?  What can other labs teach you? What best practices can you adopt? Sounds simple, but it is hard to do;
or at least for those that are less than extraordinary—not us, right? 🙂

Kathleen A. Murphy, PhD
Chief Executive Officer
Chi Solutions, Inc.

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