“Best practices” are bullshit [in one paragraph!]


Managers and consultants are often obsessed with the search for best practices — those activities that appear to separate leading organizations from the rest of the pack. The idea behind this search is that once identified, best practices can be adopted by other organizations, which will then experience similar gains in performance. While there is certainly some truth to this idea, the supporting evidence is decidedly mixed. Organizations frequently struggle to implement new tools and practices and rarely experience similar gains in performance. In many industries, the performance gap between the top and middle performers remains stubbornly difficult to close. A key reason for these failures is simply that organizations are complex configurations of people and technology, and a set of tools or practices that works well in one context might not be equally effective for a major competitor — even if that competitor is located just down the street.

That couldn’t be more true.

Standard organizational thinking

  1. “Some metric is down.”
  2. “We should copy what this competitor is doing because they seem to be doing better.”
  3. “Sounds good.”
  4. “In this process I noticed we don’t have the people or tools necessary to do this successfully.”
  5. “Who cares?”
  6. “Right, we still making money!”

The real deal here

Thinking is largely dead inside companies.

What people value is execution.

People get so caught up in execution that they believe they are ungodly busy and have no time for anything else.

In reality, most of these people are just checking boxes.

But let’s gloss that over for a second.

Execution focus leads to “Temple of Busy.”

“Temple of Busy” further pushes out “thinking.”

So whenever something — any concept — goes south, no one stops and thinks about what to do.

Instead, they hire a consultant or try to ape a competitor.

The consultant often apes a competitor, or applies the same “strategic plan” to every client while preaching “customization unique to your business needs.”

So this idea of “best practices” becomes very square peg, round hole.

What would orgs need to realize to change this cycle?

  1. People matter.
  2. People are different.
  3. They have emotions.
  4. Teams are different.
  5. People respond to the tech stack differently.
  6. What works in A doesn’t always work in B.
  7. Process and tech don’t solve everything.
  8. Just because you apply a set of rules and procedures to people or a concept doesn’t mean it will actually play out that way.
  9. Life and business are messy even if you deeply believe in your processes.

So you shouldn’t try for “best practices?”

No, you should. But they need to be your best practices, for your people and your tech and your platforms. Stop stealing and copying. It’s not going to work.

Ted Bauer

One Comment

  1. I have always taught that best practices are for a time and a situation. I usually ask the class if they use best practices => universal yes. I then ask if their organization has a six sigma or other continuous improvement program. Nearly a universal yes. I then ask them why, if they are already doing things the “best” way, they feel they have anything to improve. It usually starts a discussion allowing them to come to their own conclusion – best practices are both time and situationally limited and doing things because “that’s the way we’ve always done it” is the most expensive practice they could possibly institutionalize. In my experience, it is useful to discuss “best practices” only insofar as to establish benchmarks and brainstorm ideas, from which you can then develop what is best for you.

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