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Sunday, May 06, 2007

The Myth of Best Practices

Adoption of best practices, borrowed from national or international organizations, is a much abused concept in business organizations. There is a widespread feeling that once you have adopted a best practice, things would change for the better. Nothing could be more wrong. Behind every best practice, there are many underlying variables which made the best practice a success in the first place.

The problem with adoption of best practices is that people adopt best practices without giving much thought to the variables that influence the success or failure of a best practice in context to a particular organization. Best practices don’t work on their own. They have to be driven through multiple other initiatives all going on simultaneously. This is one area where organizational mandarins err. They focus on the best practice but forget or don’t give much thought to the drivers of best practice.

Take technology for instance. Yes, it’s true that technology works wonders and it has almost become a necessity for every business. But very often, companies make a mess of adopting technological best practices and end up with confusion all around, not because of technology but because of variables that drive effectiveness of technology. Say, a company decides to become information driven throughout its hierarchy. It gets some good technological platforms installed in its quest to become information driven. It gets centrally connected as far as various information regarding operations is concerned. Next, it decides to automate various operational and non-operational activities, say, online approval of various exceptions related to sales, meetings and minutes management, tasks and actions, online secondary sales tracking, online competition tracking, online scheme management and gift disbursal system, online sales portal, online claim settlement, and the list goes on. It sounds very impressive, isn’t it? Well, the reality generally is quite different. Let me elaborate why it is so –

In this particular example, what are the drivers of this proposed transformation of the company into information driven organization. Following are some of the drivers that come to my mind;

- Software vendors who develop the technology
- People who run the technology
- People who champion the adoption of technology
- People who ultimately use the technology

Now assuming that the technology best practice you are going to adopt is very relevant and appears great for your company, how will the actual implementation turn up if you hire software vendors who lack experience and expertise but come cheap; or the people who will run that technology are not competent enough to handle it; or the champions of technology fail to drive down the objectives and benefits of the technology to the people across organization; or the people who are supposed to use it are not capable of using it. It results into a concoction that tastes bitter and is also bad for organization’s health! So you end up with too many initiatives; none of them works as desired, and they consume enormous amount of managerial time without any productivity enhancement. Definitely all the drivers of best practice must be aligned properly to reap benefits. If they are not, disasters are bound to happen.

This was an example of technology. Other best practices work similarly. To make a best practice work, the drivers need to be identified, bolstered, and aligned properly with one another. Why a best practice worked in some organization is not always obvious from surface unless you scratch and look deeper.

It all boils down to the fact that best practices are not like panacea. Blindly following best practices is a recipe for disaster. To make a best practice work, you have to understand how it is going to fit into your organization. What worked somewhere will most likely not work somewhere else unless it is adapted to align it with realities of the organizations as well as with the drivers that are going to make a success out of it. Any best practice is as good as the people and processes that are going to adopt and implement it.

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