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3 Jul 2014

The Untold Secret of Best Practices


When we buy processes without assessing fit to culture, we are buying clothes without checking to see if they fit.

Processes trigger our emotions for security, for certainty. All too often processes become the end, not outcomes. Providers of all kinds, from hair treatments to management consulting, tap this emotional trigger by touting their processes, systems and practices. The untold secret of these best practices is this: more often than not they only work for certain clients meeting certain specifications.

For example, Julian Birkinshaw of the London Business School writes in “Beware the Next Big Thing” (Harvard Business Review, May 2014 edition):

But all too often, the practices used successfully at one company prove disastrous at another.

For instance, consensus decision-making only works if the business culture is geared for it. If a company has been organized autocratically or advisorily, this process could easily falter because people are not accustomed to informing themselves and knowing extended discussion is not decision-making. Yet, when clients don’t fit into our “proven processes,” we conveniently assume there is something wrong with the client. In fact, the process might be wrong for the client.

How often do we hear, “Our people are our greatest asset?” Yet, we tend to assume that the same process will work for two different sets of people. Therefore, indirectly we are adding the caveat, “But, that asset is like everyone else’s.”

Culture and relationships trump processes. That means as Birkinshaw answers the question, “Where do new management practices come from?” that “the vast majority come from corporate executives experimenting with new ideas in their own organizations.” In other words, they are trying to figure out what works for them, not unilaterally applying what worked someplace else. It’s applying trial and err to perfection.

When we buy processes without assessing fit to our culture, it’s akin to buying clothes without checking to see if they fit.


2 Responses

  1. “Culture and relationships trump processes.” In other words, we need COMMUNICATION to understand culture and build working relationships! The processes will then emerge with broad acceptance and success! Sadly, much too frequently, such dialogue at the start is avoided as a waste of time!!!

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