Best Practices: Reliable or Relics?

When you find a formula that works, it can become tempting to write it in stone. Here’s why it might be time to dust off your best practices, and how to ensure they evolve with the times.

Think Again.

This is the latest book from best-selling author and Wharton professor Adam Grant that my niece, Sonya, and her partner, Liam, gave me for my birthday. Subtle message, perhaps?

Grant, an organizational psychologist uses Think Again to “examine the critical art of rethinking: learning to question your opinions and open other people’s minds to position you for excellence at work and wisdom in life.”

I have to admit, the book made me do that again – think again. It forced me to examine my own brain’s wiring in the face of the four “mental mode” archetypes (preachers, prosecutors, politicians, and scientists) that Grant defines as how we all think. It also validated what I have long known to be the optimal approach for presenting a winning argument (a degree in rhetoric was valuable here).

The book was also chock full of meaningful pearls, my favorite being: “If knowledge is power, then not knowing is wisdom.”

But there was one issue that popped off the pages and took me by surprise:

Abandon Best Practices.

Whoa. As a consultant, I can’t recall when a client hasn’t asked to learn about best practices. After all, clients pay consultants for insights into what’s worked well so they can be sure to put their best foot forward and prevent mistakes in the future. In turn, we consultants are only too happy to share best practices we’ve either seen or developed. To suggest abandoning best practices felt sacrilegious.

But Grant makes a compelling argument. The term “best practices” suggests that the ideal already exists.

He points to performance-based cultures where once a routine is determined to be a best practice, there’s an unwillingness to reevaluate, make change, or inspire organizational rethinking. This can result in dire consequences, as cited in these examples: Research in Motion’s demise due to its intransigence over Blackberry phones, and NASA’s deeply entrenched flight processes that led to disastrous Shuttle explosions.

This is how we consultants do make a difference. We never recommend that clients adopt a best practice strategy only for it to become static. Rather, it’s our job to be agile in approach and design solutions that allow for expansion or change.

So, in pursuing, and not abandoning best practices, here are a few pointers:

Shift beyond a focus on outcomes and look to process accountability. Best practices are designed to drive performance and are typically outcomes focused. Beyond adopting a best practice to achieve this goal, there should be an equal effort to continually strive for better practices that improve processes and accountability along the way. This is akin to the Japanese business philosophy of kaizen, or continuous improvement.

Stay open to all new ideas. It’s important not to get wedded to favorite “best practices,” even when they’re customized to fit another company or business culture. Instead, encourage innovation from across an organization since the most profound “new ideas” often come from unsuspecting corners and when least expected.

Infuse frontline and end-user input into best practice development and organizational rethinking. Fresh thinking from employees and customers is essential for developing best practices and maximizing performance. Once a new system or process is in place, it’s equally important for decision-makers (often in their ivory towers) to continue to gather input from the frontlines, even taking the time to directly experience how a new system is working. This can be the surefire catalyst for organizational rethinking. If airline CEOs who pledge optimized customer service traveled economy class or had to manage a re-booking after a missed connection, would they have a different view on their processes and what needs to be fixed?

Get ready for Generative AI and all that it presents. Today’s new reality is that AI has arrived as a truly disruptive technology. It is primed to reinvent businesses with end-to-end capabilities that require extensive and coordinated changes across people, processes and technology. Getting smart about GenAI, particularly with an emphasis on Responsible AI – the principles that guide the design, development, deployment and use of AI – will be central to best practices.

Be selective about digital marketing platforms but ensure data and creative differentiation. Marketing best practices have shifted dramatically, focusing on digital platforms for broad outreach and lead generation. This requires the right mix of Martech solutions in support of RevOps – a best practice that integrates marketing, sales and service. In the new Creator Era, however, the fuel for these best practices relies on data collection (now first-party driven) and perhaps more importantly, creative differentiation that offers smart, sad, funny, or personal content that makes you think again.

Turns out, it really all comes back to that.

Further Advisory is a boutique management consultancy focused on converting strategic vision into business reality. We always go the extra mile, equipping our clients with critical insights and plans for navigating challenges and accelerating change.

About the author


  • Maria Lilly

    Maria has more than 25 years of experience in strategic marketing and communications with a focus on financial services.

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