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March 22, 2020

The Problem with Best Practices

Conscientious leaders and strategic planners will often say that investigating best practices is one of the most important steps in ensuring organizational success. What approaches, tactics, and strategies have generated success for other organizations? If they were successful in other organizations, there’s a good chance they will work for your organization, too, right? After all, having been identified as “best practice” implies they have been fully vetted and deemed worthy of widespread adoption. 

Yes, it is logical to investigate what approaches, tactics, and strategies have generated success for other organizations. Considering what other organizations have learned through trial and error can help inform your own strategy, and learning from others’ mistakes can help you avoid similar pitfalls.

That said, the key to success may not be related to how many best practices and proven strategies your organization adopts. In fact, the key to success may actually be just the opposite.

The problem with adopting best practices that have generated success in other organizations (including your competitors) is that doing so makes you more like those organizations. Do you really want to be more like your competitors? In saturated markets where differentiation is critical to long-term organizational sustainability and success, the goal is to become different than the competition, not more like them.

While some best practices are indeed worthy of widespread adoption, others may erode your competitive advantage and threaten your organization’s long-term viability. As a leader, it’s your job to decide whether it makes more sense to jump on the bandwagon or buck the trend. Comply or innovate. Follow or lead. Regardless of your ultimate decision, consider if the “best” in best practices is what’s truly best for your organization and its long-term success. 

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