Enough! I think I've finally had my fill of "best practices". Everywhere I turn someone is talking about "best practices" as if that's the mantra for perfection. I think it's time we turn the concept of best practices on its head, for several reasons.
First, best practices should matter if they are important and relevant. If another firm demonstrates that it has the best practices at navel gazing and lint collecting, do we necessarily want to understand or match those practices? We need to improve practices and processes that are important. Do you know which ones those are?
Second, best practices are, at best, leveling. What I mean by that is that what we call best practices are really just well documented practices capably delivered. They are usually efficient and flawlessly executed, but that doesn't mean they add value or will necessarily improve our value proposition. At best we achieve what others have already achieved.
Third, best practices by definition are copied, so there's really not a "best practice" for very long. There's a "common" practice that we've all agreed seems to work well and we've all adopted. This also means that my firm, by adopting another firm's best practice, has eliminated another area of differentiation and made it more difficult for individuals to ascertain differences.
What I think we should do is decide what factors or capabilities in our business need to be "best practices", which need to be "best in class" and which capabilities or factors we believe we practice the best. Note that I am turning the phrase around on purpose. Too often we simply want to achieve "best practices" but we don't stop to consider what we do best and focus on that. I guess I'd rather be really good at one or two things and just ok otherwise rather than completely average and completely similar to everyone else.
So, here's the test: What processes or capabilities within your organization are:
- below best practices
- at best practices
- best in class
and what capabilities, attributes or knowledge does your firm have that it "practices the best?" In other words, what do you do that no one else can even come close to doing as well?
Let's use retailers as an example. I'm going to guess that most of Wal-Mart's processes and cost management are best in class, if not the practice they do best, but they don't have the best customer service or experience. I doubt that Nordstrom's is best in class at purchasing or inventory control, but they excel at customer service and customer experience. These two firms have chosen to focus on specific capabilities and reinforce those in their work. I doubt that Wal-Mart cares what JC Penney's best practices are, and neither does Nordstroms.
Instead of trying to reach some industry average and "blend in" - why not reverse the question. Rather than align to best practices, why not describe and reinforce the practices where you are the best?