Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to identify the necessary or sufficient methodological elements contributing to benchmarking's effectiveness and to establish them within an acceptable theoretical framework: a theory of benchmarking. Design/methodology/approach
‐ A causal approach is applied to organizational benchmarking's current definitions and implementation frameworks. The resulting theoretical framework is compared with current benchmarking praxis to explain its effectiveness and satisfy historical criticisms. Supervenience and entailment
relationships between benchmarking parties, within the umbrella of Peircean Causation, determines the feasibility of a benchmarking proposition. Findings ‐ Benchmarking effectiveness can be established from an organizational axiom and five logical conditions. This
paper proposes a new encompassing definition of benchmarking, reduces its typology to a single form, explains current practices and addresses historical criticisms. The logical conditions also explain the effectiveness of business excellence frameworks such as the Malcolm Baldrige National
Quality Award and ISO 9000. Research limitations/implications ‐ A theoretical framework for benchmarking provides a platform for extending the theory of organizational improvement. Practical implications ‐ A theoretical framework for benchmarking
has potential to enhance organizational sustainability by reducing wasted effort. Originality/value ‐ The research establishes a new definition of benchmarking and the necessary and sufficient conditions for its effectiveness.