I couldn’t agree more.
Do a Google search for “best practices” — it will return over 60M entries. While best practices may not be as popular as they used to be, these stupid things still enjoy widespread adoption.
So, why do best practices not work?
The answer is simple: culture.
Most likely, you don’t know anything about the underlying culture of the group where the best practice was developed. And if you are about to deploy a best practice in your organization — chances are that you are also not focused on the underlying culture of your organization either. This is where the system breaks down.
Think of culture as the operating system of your organization — the foundation on which you build your business. If a best practice was developed in a Windows environment, and you have a Mac environment — your best practice will crash.
Let’s move away from the abstract and focus on a couple of concrete examples.
Assume that a set of best practices related to quality assurance (e.g., silent monitoring of live calls, reviews of post-call IVR surveys, or continuous improvement through peer-to-peer evaluations) was developed in a call center of a company that is 100% customer-centric. By that, I mean an organization where everyone is empowered to do what’s right for the customer — including having the autonomy to independently make spending decisions to fix a customer’s problem. Let’s further envision that the company’s culture is one that is built on trust, and one where everyone “lives” the corporate values. Not an unrealistic culture — you could probably point to some companies or groups like that.
Now imagine rolling out these “best practices” into an environment where people don’t trust management. Or one in which management treats their employees like children (no you cannot go on social media during business hours). A company that may have a well crafted mission or vision, but one where as soon as you pass the lobby you realize that nobody could recitate any of it. Also not an unrealistic scenario.
What do you think would happen to your best practice effort?
The problem becomes compounded when organizations try to roll out “standard” methodologies like Kanban, Six Sigma, or Agile/Scrum. Many practitioners in these fields do not make any adjustments, whatsoever, for the underlying cultures in which those methods will be deployed. They deal with these roll-outs as if every group or every company is made up of the same corporate automatons — not humans who behave differently depending on their surroundings and context.
And therein lies the reason for the high failure rate of those method roll-outs.
Without putting humans and their culture at the center of best practices — they are truly stupid.