Best practice is defined in the Cambridge dictionary as “a working method or set of working methods that is officially accepted as being the best to use in a particular business or industry, usually described formally and in detail.” By inference, therefore, the best practice arose either by research or was deduced from experience to have produced the optimum results and should, therefore, be used as a standard for all to adopt. It has become THE way of doing things. It should be what all of us strive to achieve. However, it also tends to be used by some to defend their position on why certain things are done in a particular despite the results proving otherwise. Best practice is not always the way to go.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that we should ignore ALL “best practice”. In fact, this is usually where I start when I have to implement ways of improving results. The “easy” part of achieving success often comes from using best practice. In my role as a consultant, this is the logical place to measure my client’s performance against. However, this should not be the end goal.
Let’s look at this concept of “best practice” in context. The fact is that those acknowledged best practices do have limitations. They were generally practices that arose out of a specific set of circumstances that may or may not apply to you today. In addition, it is by definition, a practice that has had consensus agreement as being the “best”, which can sometimes mean that it is a reflection of the view of the sum total i.e. the average. Do we actually know the exact circumstances and criteria that applies to the espoused best practice?
For example, let’s look at digital marketing. Best practice today says that information sellers should drive all their customers to a landing page to sell their product. So new marketers slavishly follow this “rule”. Then someone decided to challenge the best practice and, instead of driving his customers to a landing page, he drove his customers direct to his shopping cart. By all accounts, he did incredibly well. In this particular case, slavishly following best practice did not give him the best results. We forget that in marketing the number one rule is actually to test, test and test again. Best practice is not always the best practice! Industry leaders do not become leaders simply by always accepting the best practice as the ultimate goal. They pushed the boundaries of what could be. They challenged “the rules” and guidelines and eventually, their breakthrough became the accepted best practice.
The number one marketing rule to test, test and test applies to everything else too – not just marketing. In my early days of running my accounting practice, we were always told “everybody” charge employees out at three times their salary. One-third to cover their pay, one-third to cover overheads and one-third to contribute towards profit. That formula assumed that charge out rates would be based on dollars per hour. However, what happens when (or if) a firm switch their pricing policy to charge based on outcomes. Suddenly, the best practice formula no longer works.
Having a goal of achieving “best practice” also implies that once we achieve best practice, we have done the best we can and we can stop. It also implies that no sane and sensible person would challenge “best practice”. But we must challenge it and be prepared to test the waters. Business mastery is about asking HOW can we keep doing it better. Napolean Hill said, “Whatever the mind can conceive and believe, the mind can achieve.” Creativity in looking at the HOW is the key.
It is only through challenging the accepted “best practice” that we can truly grow and improve. However, if you do choose to depart from using the accepted best practice, then you must put in place a system to monitor the results. What you can monitor and measure, you can manage. Monitor the results regularly and make the necessary adjustments to the change or you could end up with dire consequences on your business causing mistrust, misunderstanding and misinformation in the workplace.