Mark Hammer

“Best practices” alternate between being an absolute scam, and something useful. All too often what I see touted as a “best practice” finds its validation in the fact that this company or that among the Fortune 500 or 100 used it. In other words, if a company that made a lot of money did it, ergo it was the smart thing to do. I hasten to remind folks that once upon a time Enron and Worldcom and Goldman Sachs were near the top of that list. So what I insist upon as validation of a best practice, is a much closer examination of how it accomplishes what it does, and what the ideal context for its success is. Knowing that a wealthy company used it counts for diddley squat, because they could be filing for bankruptcy protection or doing “the perp walk” tomorrow.

I also find that, with some notable exceptions (e.g., be organized, be fair and truthful with people, etc.) best practices are not universally applicable, and are often stumbled onto not because the organization was brilliant and possessed of remarkable foresight, but because the naturally-occurring circumstances favoured its development and implementation. Sometimes, an organization’s circumstances are so highly idiosyncratic that it is pointless to try and emulate what they do. Could another organization just pluck that practice and plug it in their own context and expect the same outcome? Doubtful.

Now, if you want to talk “good practice” or “recommended practice”, that’s another thing, since it makes no promises of miracle cures, and has a bit of reticence or necessary qualificaton built into it.