Using Best Practices in Different Organizations

Very early in any engagement, or discussion I have with individuals representing an organization, I hear the same declaration:

We’re different.

True. Anyone who’s been associated with more than one organization (which means you’ve been working more than five years) can testify that no organization is like another. In fact, if you think of two organizations typically considered close competitors, you’re probably thinking that they’re not only different, they’re complete opposites. (We have a tendency to accentuate differences and diminish similarities – but that’s for another time.)

Based on the fact that all organizations are different, the logic of implementing a “carbon copy” (for you Millennials and late era Boomers, “mirror image”) practice that was done in another organization is flawed.

If no two organizations are alike, then why does it make any sense to pursue “best practices”?

There are a few reasons why organizations frequently seek best practices:

  1. As social organizations we continuously compare ourselves to others.
  2. As social organizations we continuously seek to exceed others.
  3. As commercial organizations we continuously seek maximum effectiveness at minimum effort.

Quite simply, we want to know how we compare, compete and function relative to others. The same motivations drive individuals.

Despite the self-evident reality that all organizations are different, “best practices” are alluring because they feed our needs for comparing, competing and functioning at optimal levels.

Beyond allure, there are legitimate reasons why a quest for best practices makes sense.

Best practices can legitimately inform similar efforts in other organizations.

Note especially the terms, “inform” and “similar.”

The key to making best practices work across organizations is to extract the key principles, actions and lessons and then adapt them to fit in other organizations.

Implications for Best Practices:

  1. Replication is not the goal. It has to work in the new organization.
  2. HOW is more important than WHAT. It’s all about execution.

When pursuing “best practices” be sure to take time to consider HOW a given practice can be, or is implemented in a different organization. It’s much more important to know how (or why) a given practice adds value than to precisely replicate said practice step-by-step.

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