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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. 


  1. Great Post.
    Another way to look at it is that there are at least two types of best practices. One is a fairly mechanical process where the inputs and processes are controllable resulting a reliable output. For instance building a mechanical device. These best practices can more easily be adopted.
    But when the best practice is for a complex system or process where the inputs are highly variable, such as patients arriving at an Emergency Department, then simply adopting a Best Practice will not be as successful.
    The good news is that there is a process that the organization with a Best Practice went through to develop their own best practice. It is that process of continuous improvement that developed their best practice which can be learned from and applied to your organization to develop your own Best Practice.
    The other bit of good news is that in a competitive complex environment with constant change there is a life cycle for best practices and they will need to be reinvented to stay competitive. The Best Practice for a complex process will not be the Best Practice of tomorrow. So you can still catch up and surpass the competition.

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