I am toying with the idea of running a new series (hopefully weekly) titled “The Case Against” and then picking a generally agreed-upon topic to pick apart to challenge conventional wisdom. Mostly because I am pedantic by nature and like to overanalyze any situation put before me. Also because I think it’s time for some fresh thoughts on many of the areas in business that we have long held to be a certain way “because that’s they way it’s always been”. In my humble (and semi-professional) opinion, “because that’s the way it’s always been” is usually awful justification for just about anything in life and generally causes us to choose cop-out answers to complex problems in the interest of time or energy required to develop original thought/content. To start this series, I have chosen to take a stab at industry best practices.
Since the beginning of time, it seems, firms have been pushing “industry best practices” as a means for companies to succeed. And, on the surface, it makes perfect sense. If you want to advance your team or organization, take a look at what the big names in the industry are doing. If they’re pursuing people management or business intelligence as a means to drive productivity – you should do the same. Right? Well, not quite.
- The judge of “best” is often someone who doesn’t really have a say or someone who has selfish reasons for determining “best”: the consultancy that helped company XYZ develop a particular process/technology will look to their own solution as the “best practice” so they can go implement that type of project elsewhere.
- In other cases, the judges of “best” are merely analysts who are throwing darts at a dart board: typically, “researchers” at Gartner/Forrester are too far removed from industry to really understand why something may indeed offer massive benefit or ROI for a company.
- Best practices have a shelf life: unfortunately, in modern day Corporate America, truly innovative and next generation solutions are yesterday’s news as soon as they are implemented. Consider if you were an airline that was looking for a revolutionary way to offer in-flight entertainment – does it really make sense to pursue overhead TV screens when those have been deployed at competitor’s airlines for a few years? Or would capital better be invested in determining what your users think is even better, such as TV’s in the headrests…
- Best practices are usually only the best for a specific company in their own organizational context: if one company really needed a robust business intelligence reporting solution for their field workforce because they have such geographically diverse delivery models, would it really be smart for a small local or regional company to chase the same level of reporting if they are more standardized in their delivery model? Of course not!
- Most companies don’t need to be “best in class” at everything: one of the smartest operations guys I ever met said that, frankly, he didn’t know that his company needed to be the “Four Seasons”. Perhaps they were currently operating at a “Best Western” level and just needed to get to “Holiday Inn Express”. I thought it was a very sharp and intuitive way to look at it and firmly believe he is right. While it sounds great to chase the leader in the clubhouse, a lot of times it’s smarter to employ investments that make the most sense for your company given your context (i.e. play your own game).
I swear I’m not just trying to be a professional services contrarian or fly in the face of conventional wisdom for publicity purposes (lord knows if I was truly anti-best practices, I’d really struggle to find a job at most major consultancies or companies in Corporate America for that matter). I just think it’s about time we realized that a lot of these best practices are only best practices because they were better than the other options (which, in many cases, was doing nothing). Comcast moved to 2-hour appointment windows because they had defined that as a something that would increase customer satisfaction. And, in the absence of doing anything differently with appointment windows, the rest of the cable companies immediately looked to that as the “best practice” for scheduling/appointment windows. Does that make it right? You be the judge.
Til Next Time,