If best practices aren’t actually best, then why do they exist? What is the point of process, of practices, of standards even, if they don’t reliably produce good results? While some standards have value, and there are simple situations where there might be a best way of doing things, when it comes to the strategic work that we take on, we are far removed from those statements being true. Even when we want there to be a way of working, one that is consistent and repeatable, the reality we find ourselves in is usually very different. It helps to know what to draw on instead if we are going to be successful.
“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.
2018 has been a mad and crazy year. Throughout, I’ve been able to get some writing done. Not as much as I intended or hoped for, but a surprising amount nonetheless. As the year comes to an end, I take the time to explore the writing that you most enjoyed, and offer some insights into where the articles came from and what they meant to me.
Beliefs and principles are useful. They guide us when we are dealing with unknowns and uncertainty. They also get in the way, because they blind us to being aware of when they stop working. This is particular true of process, where ideology often gets in the way of adaptation and a recognition of what works here (or what won’t).
While models can be awesomely useful, they are ultimately just constructs that were created because they were relevant to someone at some point. What’s more important is understanding where our models come from in the first place: how they are created, how they evolve and what they connect back to. We forget their underpinnings at our peril. But unfortunately we do that a little too often.
Culture matters. That might seem obvious to say, but we tend to ignore that when it comes to process design and organizational change. We can see that when implementing process, what works depends upon context. But the challenge is reading context accurately, and making appropriate choices that work. We need to lead with culture and follow with practice, not the other way around.