“Best practices” is a term that we love to bandy about. Even I will find myself relying on it at times, although I try very hard to avoid uttering its syllables. Best practices are frequently espoused as the essential and optimal means of attaining results. Generally, they are absolutely nothing of the sort. Nonetheless, many use the term as a proactive defense to justify their preferred way of working, or an after-the-fact rationalization the actions they have taken. This is my attempt to explain as clearly as I can why this is a dangerous and inappropriate idea.
Strategic engagement is hard at the best of times. When we have to do it remotely while working through a pandemic, it gets that much more complicated. We often think of online meeting solutions as a poor substitute for communicating in person. Used conventionally, they arguably are. So how can we rethink how we engage in strategic conversations online in a way that makes them work exceptionally well? Some initial thoughts.
Rules define how we approach virtually all aspects of life, not least of which is how we function in our organizations. There are the written rules, and the unwritten ones. Both shape our behaviour, and they interact with one another in fascinating and sometimes unpredictable ways. The larger question is how we interact with the rules around us—and whether or not it is safe, appropriate or advisable to do so. That depends a lot on the organization around us, how it functions and how we perceive our role within it.
It’s the unwritten rules that arguably most influence the culture of organizations. And organizational culture spills over into customer experiences. What is not necessarily clear is where the unwritten rules come from. In many—if not most—instances, they are a reaction to the written rules. Sometimes the influence is constructive. When the written rules are bureaucratic, unthinking or unfeeling, the unwritten rules and resulting behaviours can also be subversive. And sometimes they’re just destructive.
Cultural understanding is critical. Figuring out how we understand culture is a little bit more challenging. Models and frameworks help to understand the broad brush-strokes of culture. But if we want to understand the critical nuances, then we need to know the rules of how things get done. And that’s where things get complicated.
Culture shapes how things get done in organizations. It also defines what gets believed, and what we accept as truths. We create a shorthand for what’s acceptable, and we broadly understand where the lines are that we should not cross. That’s all well and good, until we actually need to challenge the truths, and consider crossing the lines. When we need to stand up and stand out, things get interesting.