Overview of Theory
Benchmarking as a business tool has blossomed in the Eighties. Industrialists tend to favour and uphold benchmarking in operational matters and are in constant search for industrial leaders' efficiency standards. The pursuance of operational level efficiency and paying the less-than-required attention to strategic level adjustment may result in a mismatch amongst the key management systems in the company.

Qualitative Best Practice Benchmarking is an approach that can transfer critical success factors across organizational boundaries, industrial boundaries, national boundaries and culture boundaries. The key concept is that the best practice will be adjusted and adapted to the specific organizational context, industrial context, national context and cultural context of the recipient organizations. The recipient organizations are therefore not straight jacketing the practices and efficiency standards of other organizations. Besides the technical competence, organizational strategies and leadership mind-set predominate in this type of transfer.

In this series of case study, the Total Quality Management framework developed by the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM, 1996) is used as the theoretical framework for selecting, analysing and reporting the Best Practices.

The EFQM Model advocates to isolate two groups of factors in an organization; one called "Enablers" and the other "Results". The Enablers are the factors that cause superior business achievements and they are Leadership, People Management, Policy and Strategy, Resources and Processes. The Results are People Satisfaction, Customer Satisfaction, Impact on Society and Business Results.

Leadership is the driving force for all the other Enablers and it involves the behaviour of all management staff. Leadership excellence comprises behaviour in six areas: initiating and guiding quality movements, cultivating and sustaining quality culture, recognizing and reinforcing positive behaviour, appropriate and timely resources allocation, continuous information exchange with customers and suppliers, and finally, the promotion and dissemination of quality knowledge outside the organization.

People Management is another enabler that contributes to organizational achievements and it comprises human resource planning, human resource acquisition and maintenance, performance management, employee commitment and empowerment, and communication channels maintenance.

Under Policy and Strategy, the key concern is the quality of the organizational objectives at all levels and the way they are being achieved. It involves excellence in the three key processes: Strategy Formulation, Strategy Operationalization, and Strategy Renewal.

As far as Resource is concerned, the focus goes beyond the usual financial and material aspect and is extended to information resources, technology resources and customer and supplier relationships.

The final Enabler is Process. In short, Process represents all value adding activities taken up by the organization. It is where inputs are converted to outputs. It is important to identify the processes that are critical to the success of the organization, how they are managed, how they are updated and improved, how innovative and creative are the process improvements, and how benefits of the processes are evaluated.
Definition of Best Practice

A particular term "Best Practice" has been used through this project and it is worth clarifying what exact is meant by this term.

It is commonly held that "best" is a moving target in modern society and it is contextual-specific or situational-specific. The approach to defining "Best Practice" in the present study follows that of Chevron's multi-level definition. In the vocabulary adopted in this study, there are "good ideas", "good practice" and "best practice" and they are delineated by the following definitions:

(a) Good Ideas: unproven, but make sense;
(b) Good Practice: proven by one organization; and
(c) Best Practice: proven by many organizations.

Selection of Best Practice Companies
The 30 companies studied and reported in this project have all been externally recognized as successful and outstanding organizations, majority of which have won the Hong Kong Top Ten Brandnames Awards of the Chinese Manufacturers' Association of Hong Kong in the past four years.
Study Method
As regards the study method, the team of consultants conducted for each company a two-stage audit; starting with an organizational viability and management system effectiveness audit, and followed by an in-depth Enabler Analysis. The first stage provides the information to pinpoint the particular functional best practice that is critical for the success of the company and the second stage focuses on the particular functional best practice, uncovering the critical success enablers for benchmarking transfer purpose.