How long ago did you first hear the term “best practice”?
Probably a (very) long time.
It’s one of those ideas that found its way into management and leadership and just hung around until it became part of the furniture.
We don’t like it.
To some, that’s probably a controversial call.
Allow us to explain.
But first, a definition or two
Here’s one from Investopedia:
“Best practices are guidelines, ethics or ideas that represent the most efficient or prudent course of action in a given business situation.”
Another from the Merriam-Webster dictionary:
“…a procedure that has been shown by research or experience to produce optimal results…”
“…a procedure or set of procedures that is preferred or considered standard within an organisation, industry, etc.”
One more from Gartner:
“…a group of tasks that optimises the efficiency (cost and risk) or effectiveness (service level) of the business.”
All fine examples.
And some truth to each.
So what’s our beef?
It’s simple, really.
By any definition, the “best” of anything has only a limited lifespan until something “better” comes along. And that “better” thing, again by definition, is now the “best”. It starts to feel like the dog (or cat, depending on your preference) chasing its tail which always leads to:
It can take a lot of time and attention to keep up, especially in the 21st century. Probably, even AI wouldn’t make it easy.
None of the above definitions really focuses on this fleeting nature of being the best of anything. Nor do they deal with the fact that best practice is a highly contextual concept, by which we mean that it can be very industry-specific and even business-specific within an industry.
But our biggest beef is how some businesses so slavishly follow the idea of adopting what they believe to be best practice that they become highly resistant to change.
“But we follow best practice,” some leaders say when challenged.
And that’s a difficult mind to open. But we like to try.
Potential pitfalls of best practice
Let’s be clear…every business should aim to optimise outcomes for all stakeholders. A business should be purpose-driven, clear on its vision and build a solid strategy to help it deliver on both.
What frequently happens, though, with a singular focus on best practice, is that one or more of those pieces of the puzzle – purpose, vision, strategy – can become misaligned. Here’s how…
“Off the shelf” best practice.
Accepting a best practice at face value may or may not get you the result you want. Your business is different. So why should it adopt a practice that perhaps all your industry peers think is great? For example, the hot topic in business right now (apart from AI) is remote/hybrid work. There’s plenty of coverage that says best practice is hybrid. Maybe so for many businesses…but for yours?
Who says it’s best practice anyway?
There could be a pile of research that “proves” someone’s best practice point. How current is that research? As we’ve already pointed out, it doesn’t take too long in any field for “best” to be replaced by “better”, and suddenly, you’re operating with second or third-best practice. Oh dear…
And do you really need “best”?
We’re going out on a limb and using tech as an example here. We have a view that some businesses never really optimise their use of existing tech infrastructure before spending a heap of money upgrading to the latest shiny thing in the pursuit of best practice.
Current capabilities might enable employees to deliver great, client-focused service, but that doesn’t stop some businesses from taking the leap to the latest and greatest. That doesn’t just cost money; it likely means lost time training users and potentially disrupted client service. It becomes a case of the tech tail wagging the business dog…
Business best practice vs functional best practice.
It’s interesting how best practice thinking can be anything but. In our experience, businesses introduce (what they believe to be) best practice into functional areas without necessarily considering its impact on the broader business. The tech example above is also relevant here. Without a “whole of business” approach to strategy, introducing a functional best practice can have unintended consequences.
What’s a better way?
It may sound like we’re condoning the application of “near enough is good enough practice”.
We’re not…far from it.
But we have a firm belief that the concept of best practice is dead. Instead, businesses should look for “right practices”.
You have a clear vision of where you want the business to be and have achieved it in future to enable it to be true to its purpose.
And you’ve developed a strategy to help you realise your vision in a purpose-driven way.
So, with all that “uniqueness”, wouldn't you rather adopt practices that are right for your business? Does it really make any sense whatsoever to opt for practices that someone else, with no knowledge of your business or what you’re hoping to achieve, says are the best?
Are you a slave to "best practice"?
Are you constantly on the lookout for the next big thing?
Are your employees suffering best practice fatigue?
Do you feel like you may be straying from your purpose, vision and strategy as a result?
The advisers at GrowthCatalyst can help you get back on track and on the road to long-term, sustainable and profitable business growth.
Contact us to arrange a face-to-face or virtual conversation.
Alternatively, you can book a time for an initial discussion here.
In other news...
GrowthCatalyst has joined forces with a number of like-minded professionals to form the advisory group Konektis (check us out here). Collectively, the Konektis team provides integrated, multi-disciplinary advice to SMEs to deliver a "one strategy" outcome.
Take the Konektis Pulse Check and receive immediate, actionable ideas to grow your business.
Why not subscribe?
If you want to ensure you never miss an update from us, please provide your details on our Insights page. We'll add you to our list!