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As your company grows and becomes more successful, you’re likely to hear the words ‘best practice’ more and more often.
They feature in conversations with colleagues, technical standards, motivational art and pretty much anything else you can imagine.
But what if best practices aren’t best after all?
Could following best practice be holding your company back and stopping you from reaching your full potential?
At a time when the world is undergoing rapid change and experiencing more uncertainty than ever,
it’s vital to ensure that you are giving your company the best chance of survival.
So maybe it’s time to consider removing the words ‘best practice’ from conversations about your company’s future.
What is best practice in business?
Best practice is an important part of organizational learning, and is based upon knowledge research that is carried out both inside and outside an industry.
It takes knowledge that has been gained through trial and error, validates the results and determines the approach that is likely to produce optimal results.
This then becomes established as the standard approach (best practice) and provides a guideline for achieving good outcomes in the future.
Best practice policy may be set internally for a specific organization or can be set by the industry’s governing body.
What are the downsides of following best practice?
It’s easy to assume that successful companies always follow best practice,
but closer examination often reveals that best practices aren’t actually critical to their success.
In fact, a best practice approach can have a negative impact on the performance of a business, especially if the associated dynamics are ignored.
Here are four reasons why following a best practice approach could be holding your business back from success:
Best practice stifles creativity
Following best practice without questioning why is a great way to destroy the innovation and creativity in your business.
Creativity occurs at the edges, so it’s important for organizations to look at problems from all angles if they want to come up with innovative solutions.
“Because that’s how we’ve always done it” or “it was the highest ranked answer on
Google” or “this is how “they” do it and they are a successful company” are shortcuts that will get you to an end point,
but you could miss out on a better option along the way.
After all, the scrum process and agile methodology were created over 20 years ago and were born out of the best practice at the time.
They in turn became industry best practice, and then a new set of practices (e.g. Spotify Model, Safe Model) developed out of them.
This cycle of innovation and development is how the business world evolves and rigid adherence to the best practice model will only stifle improvement.
Blindly following best practice can also cause serious operational problems in a world where new challenges emerge daily.
Imagine insisting on your scrum framework Daily Standup meeting when your company really needs to sit down and focus on the impact of a global pandemic!
Best practices can dilute differentiation
Differentiation is vital if you want your company to stand out in the marketplace,
but how can you stand out if you’re doing everything exactly the same as everyone else?
If every company follows industry standard best practices, then they will all look the same to the customer.
So if you want to differentiate in the marketplace, at some point you will need to take the decision to ignore industry best practices.
This is a brave decision but one that needs to happen if you don’t want to look just like all of your competitors.
Best practices can enforce limitations
Ever heard those dreaded words “but that’s how we’ve always done it”?
They are a clear illustration of the limiting effect of the best practice model, which will hold your company back if you allow it to persist.
Just think of all the changes that have taken place in your industry over the last 20 years. In retrospect,
the decision to make any given change seems obvious – who can believe that at one point we used to hand deliver photocopied memos to each recipient?
But all of that progress happened because someone said “What if we…” and ignored the laughter that they probably heard from their colleagues.
So try to think of best practices as just one of the tools in your toolkit and recognize that best practices are often replaced by better practices.
By considering how you can serve your customers better,
rather than just blindly doing things how they’ve always been done,
you could change your industry forever. Just don’t forget me if doing so makes you rich!
Best practices can be used to control power
Good business practices can be a great starting point when you want to assess and improve your company’s operating procedures.
But best practice can also be leveraged by executives who choose to put their own personal progress above the best interests of the company.
Simply mentioning “functional area best practices” can be enough to stifle innovative thinking and will ensure that power rests in the control of a limited few.
In this scenario, best practices act as a roadblock that is hard to challenge,
particularly for those who are lower down in the organizational hierarchy.
Moving away from best practice policy
Looking at how other organizations operate is great, but it’s vital that we know how to be flexible.
We need to look at how our competitors are like us and what results they are obtaining from their practices.
If they have distinct differences from our own organization, we may not see the same results.
Best practice for your competitor may not necessarily be best practice for your organization.
So try things out, run experiments, examine the results.
It’s important to define what you see as success because something which is only 80% effective may still be worthy of further tweaks and trials.
Once you understand the value of these new practices,
only then can you decide which of them you want to adopt.
Accepting industry best practices will hold you back from looking for better practices,
and will impose limits on your organization.
Don’t be afraid of change, go forth and get better. Don’t worry if you don’t reach ‘best’ and please,
please try to resist the idea that anything that isn’t best practice is necessarily ‘bad’.
Our world is ever-changing and our practices should always be improving.
So let’s call the ones we’re using now ‘our 2022 practices’ or ‘our current practices’ – anything but best practice!
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