Best Practices Suck

Best Practices Suck

No matter what kind of job you have, I’ll bet that a large percentage of your work day is devoted to one, single activity:

Coming up with an answer or a solution to a problem you face.

That’s what we do. We come up with answers. We figure out how we are going to sell more widgets, or design better widgets, or partner with others in the widget industry, or create a better performance review system, or train our managers to deal with Millennials more effectively, or break down our internal silos, etc. All problems in search of answers/solutions.

So where do we look for answers? Best practices! We look at what has worked for others (consultants, bosses, peers, etc.) and come up with answers that feel pretty good. Yet the answers frequently let us down. What’s up with that? How is it possible that all these fine-looking answers fail to deliver the results we want?

The answer is going to frustrate you:


I have been saying this for years. We get so wrapped up in devising beautiful answers that we fail to see the broader context. When you live in Denver, it is absolutely a best practice to drive east if you want to get to Kansas City by car. But if you apply that “best practice” when you live in St. Louis, you will never reach Kansas City (not without involving a boat or a plane, anyway).

Context matters. The answers you design MUST be tailored to your context. In organizations, that means they must be uniquely configured to your culture.

  • Is transparency a best practice? Not if you’re wasting too much time telling everyone everything and then nothing actually gets done.
  • Is innovation a best practice? Not if you’re inventing a new train every week, yet none of your existing trains is running on time.
  • Is agility a best practice? Not if changing your certification standards every ten minutes means people will stop taking it seriously.

Believe me, I think agility, innovation, and transparency are important. I wrote about them way back in Humanize, and they are three of the eight culture markers that we measure in our culture assessment when we do work inside organizations. But the answers you come up with related to those markers need to be customized to your context and what drives YOUR success. So ignore best practices and start creating a more powerful organization.

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