Thursday, January 9, 2014

Beware of Best Practices

“Best practices” is the buzzword currently used to describe recommended approaches to business processes. These are the magic words that open boardroom doors and put a spell on countless executives, seducing them with their obvious power. Sadly, few are able to resist. If they stopped and thought, and asked the ultimate question: “Do best practices really offer the best solution to my organization’s specific challenges?” The answer would be a resounding: “Not always.”

Industry experts speak confidently about cutting-edge benchmarks; business consultants come armed with success stories of other companies dealing with challenges that seem the same. It’s a “no-brainer” – drop everything and jump on the bandwagon, right? Wrong! Your company’s business environment may be subject to a different set of circumstances; it may operate according to a different set of values and rules. Don’t be deceived into complacency by assuming that a cookie-cutter approach that worked for one company else will automatically work for yours.

A simple example of where best practices can fail is, by definition, in innovation. Benchmarks are all very well when it comes to aligning yourself with others in your space, but sometimes you need to break out of the box and create a brand new standard. Now, we’re not advocating reinventing the wheel – please, examine the approaches that others have taken and learn from their mistakes, but don’t just stop there and become a mere follower. Try it; learn from experience, make improvements and see if you can take it to a higher level. Don’t be afraid to “break the rules” (within reason). This approach can take you much further than your competition could even dream of.

While third party experts can provide a valuable outside perspective, skilled talent on the inside, with an intimate understanding of the challenges facing your organization, can make better-informed choices about whether and how a best-practice approach will work for you. It takes effort to nurture this inside talent. Challenge your managers to prove they really understand the problem and to convince you that the suggested approaches are right for your particular situation. Do they understand why these practices worked for others? Are they sure that they will work for you? And if they are, can they guarantee that they really are “the best?”

Whether you’re starting from a clean slate or attempting to untangle a business puzzle, checking out the best practice approaches commonly used in your area of operations will give you a great starting point from which to address your company’s challenges. Use them as a template to build practices that really are the best for your organization. And let’s make 2014 the year to challenge the status quo!

Dmitry, Rachel, Daniil

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