I heard a great quote from Chuck Harris, long-time CEO of the South Hampton YMCA. He’s been in the game a long time, about to retire actually. Here is what he said:
“Best practices is the new box of mediocrity.” Oh I really love this.
See there really aren’t best practices anymore. Or if you do get to a point where you can script out your best practices, they are obsolete the moment you type “Best….”.
Why mediocre? Best practices take too long to assess, create and teach. Likely your work landscape has changed throughout this period. If so, the result will be… meh.
So why are so many still obsessed with “best practices”? Because the very title “best” implies finality. I wasn’t the best…but now I am the best. I have reached the pinnacle of best-ness. My work here is complete. Also, doesn’t it feel good to work hard on any system, study it, tinker with it, rework it and when you determine what works best with it… BE DONE WITH IT. Dang, that does feel awesome sometimes.
Problem is… systems are too organic to ever be done with. Also, systems are too complex to be boxed into your idea of what is “best” for them.
And forget about it if you want to be a true leader. I rarely have seen a leader who is a staunch defender of “best practices” succeed. Why? Usually that type of leader is big on “practices” not on outcome. Usually that type of leader is someone who needs a tremendous amount of control and little room to flex. I have seen leaders so obsessed with making their subjective best practices work, that they bulldoze other good thought-contributors out. Some may say ones obsessed with “best-practices” are usually only obsessed with their best practices.
There is a very popular Salvador Dali quote that states, “Have no fear of perfection, you’ll never reach it”. That rings true here and in our context is very freeing. You’ll never reach a best-practice nirvana and if you do, based on the speed of business, it won’t be for very long. Having systems to get things done is OK. But never strive for your best practices to be the endgame.
Dawn Burke, founder/advisor for Dawn Burke HR, is an HR leader, speaker and writer specializing in new HR practices, engagement and workplace culture. Her HR/leadership career has spanned the last 20 years, most recently serving as VP of People for Birmingham, AL’s award-winning technology company, Daxko (And yes, Kris Dunn and Dawn are making Bham the HR capital of the world! Who knew?). You can also check her out at DawnHBurke.com and a variety of other interesting places. Google her, it’ll keep you posted on what she is up to.