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Benchmark to escape from Lake Wobegon

Alan Betts (Warwick Manufacturing Group, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK)
Simon Croom (Supply Chain Management Institute, University of San Diego, San Diego, California, USA)
Dawei Lu (Warwick Manufacturing Group, University of Warwick, Coventry, UK)

Benchmarking: An International Journal

ISSN: 1463-5771

Article publication date: 30 August 2011




This paper aims to investigate whether an employee reports an accurate view of the relative performance level of the organisation for which they work.


Utilizes a survey of 2,517 senior managers, managers and team leaders from 120 different organisations in nine different countries.


There is significant and consistent overestimation of performance with 75 percent of the management team reporting that their organisation is above average, and only 5 percent rating their organisation as below average compared to its competitors. A very significant finding is that where there is likely to be a greater degree of knowledge of competitor's performance estimation improves.

Practical implications

The implication of this misrepresentation of the true position is to make it less likely that an improvement initiative will succeed as managers will not be sufficiently motivated to improve an apparently satisfactory status quo. The paper calls for greater focus both on the activity of benchmarking and in the process of spreading knowledge of the benchmarking activity.


This paper extends issues such as the Lake Wobegon effect and socially desirable reporting which have been investigated in depth in the area of personal self‐assessment and applies them into a different arena, that of the employee's view of the performance of the organisation.



Betts, A., Croom, S. and Lu, D. (2011), "Benchmark to escape from Lake Wobegon", Benchmarking: An International Journal, Vol. 18 No. 5, pp. 733-744.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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