The destination mirage:
We seem to have a developed a reverence for “best practice” which suggests that it is a destination – a single change that moves us from mediocre Point A to stellar Point B – this is a snapshot view. The reality is a moving target and an array of “best practices” to consider – much more like a vacation video:
- As organizations implement one “best practice” they learn about how to make it better, and perhaps consider customizing or modifying it for a Phase 2, 3, etc implementation.
- Not only that, theoretically any, in fact every, practice can be made better.
As organizations take a strategic approach to which improvements might yield the greatest ROI (as measured in cost saving efficiencies or effectiveness or in desired revenue), it becomes clear that this journey is more like an escalator than a staircase.
The quest for “best practice” is a marathon where the road ahead is being built as we approach it.
“Best Practice” is a moving target. Practice can be considered a noun AND a verb. It is generally accepted that to improve one must practice – in “Outliers” Malcolm Gladwell goes so far as to suggest that 10,000 hours of deliberate practice is the bar.
For anyone interested in “Mastery” do check out the book by the same name by George Leonard – he devotes a chapter to “Practice”. A couple of quotes:
- “Practice is the path upon which you travel, just that”. It is a journey toward “Best”.
- “The master of any game is generally a master of practice” and yet the master still practices regularly and often.
So maybe “Best Practice” is the best way discovered so far. It is being practiced – iterated and refined. That “Best Practice” gets replaced with new and improved approaches as they can be introduced.
What I like about this approach is that it presents plateaus where learning can be leveraged and users can adjust and gain confidence. The climb toward the next plateau presents challenges and opportunity in a scope that is manageable then there is another plateau to adjust.
The concept of “Practice” allows, even expects, ‘mistakes’ (tolerable because one learns from them thus investing in becoming better). Users do not face fear of failure – they face expectation of progress. The plateau is the current “Best Practice”.
The sweet spot – embracing a culture of innovation:
What does this mean for the organization’s culture? For any competitive organization it means that learning to change quickly must become part of the culture – the change culture.
This does not happen naturally – in fact, most often, employees resist change.
Creating a change culture requires a determined, planned and sustained approach that includes: a particular type of leadership, organization design and development, compensation structures, planning, business casing, risk management, change management and project management.
Many organizations package this around the notion of “innovation” which is at the forefront of developing “best practice”. This is the sweet spot where “best practices” can create competitive advantage.