Over the years I’ve always railed against the concept of “best” practice. It annoys me probably mainly because I’m a bit of an iconoclast. But less emotionally the concept jars for two reasons: first of all because “best” practice is something that a team achieves through learning, rather than something that can be simply adopted, and trying to bypass the learning often leads to cargo cult behaviours; and secondly because by defining it as “best” you’re implicitly saying that you won’t need to look at whatever it is again in the future.

Share examples of “good” practice by all means, and help teams across an organisation see how they they can learn from or adopt elements, but beware the “best”, especially if you are talking matters of people and the ways in which they interact.

Some things are practice, though, they just clever things. Inanimate objects can be transferred around an organisation much more easily, and establishing mechanisms for these kinds of innovations to propagate is crucial for organisations to continually take advantage of their operational scale. But what’s the difference between a Thing and a Practice? Let me tell you about Vanbrellas.

The modern car windscreen is a sophisticated thing. And replacing one requires dry conditions to enable the sealants to do their job properly. In Northern Europe, as one of the Belron subsidiary companies was finding, the wet months (read: most of them) were leading to very high rates of appointment cancellation. Windscreen replacement vans would turn up to clients, it would be raining, there would be no where dry to do the work, so the van would have to turn around and come back on another day.

The subsidiary started to experiment with awnings that could be attached to the top of the van, and when parked stretched out to create a dry zone large enough to carry out work in wetter weather. It was a relatively simple, relatively cost-effective way to improve both customer service and cost management.

Twice a year, the international organisation held Operations Forum events, where managers from across the group would get together to share ideas and catch up on broader strategy. Word about the Vanbrellas got around. Over time, three or four subsidiaries got together to advance the idea, and now it’s commonplace across the entire organisation.

What enabled this good idea to happen? Well, first of all, the ability to experiment locally (something that “best practice” thinking can often crush). Then rewarding managers and country heads for both sharing and adopting good ideas, and organising the communities through events for them to share them.

Innovation in organisations isn’t necessarily literally or figuratively Rocket Science. But providing the channels and breaking down the barriers and making it safe to try things – well, too often that’s the exact opposite of what happens when organisations try to do best practice.

Find out more about my #sharingorg research at http://bit.ly/sharingorg

One thought on “Best Practice versus Good Ideas

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