We Should Not get Stuck with Best Practices

Posted on August 26, 2010

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I was reading this quote posted on Twitter by Dan Shawbel and inspired me to write this article.

“The single biggest reason companies fail is they over-invest in what is,
as opposed to what might be.” – Gary Hamel

In our daily professional life we often make references to Best Practices when trying to figure out the best solution to a challenge. What should I do here? What others are doing? What decision should I take to make sure I don’t look like a donkey?? But are Best Practices really used properly helping us innovating or are they actually at the core of the status quo?

Wiki definition: A Best Practice is a method or process that is believed to be more effective at delivering a particular outcome than any others when applied to a particular condition or circumstances. Best practices can also be defined as the efficient and effective way of accomplishing a task, based on repeatable procedures that have proven themselves over time.

That is where the problem lies now-days; the term “Best Practice” is not used for good ideas anymore but refers to what, in fact, became the sacrosanct rules that no one dares to challenge anymore, even when they conflict with each other. As soon as a particular method of doing something or a product have been filed in the “Best Practices category” it is very hard to get it out of there. It’s a bit like a legal record. Very hard to alter…

Here is the real untold meaning of a Best Practice:

– Cannot be improved
– Must be followed to the letter
– Applies in all circumstances
– What the customers will always want

BREAK THE RULES – Unknown, Dick Fosbury, turned his back on the bar.

This story is known and doesn’t need further explanation. On that day, Dick Fosbury challenged the status quo and took a risk. He could have been the biggest joke of the 68’s Olympics. Sure he could have been…

Launch YOUR brand – Cut through the clutter

When creating a new brand there is no point copying or replicating what others have already done, even if done very successfully. Because if you are successful, you will only be second best no matter what. There are so much going on out there in every industry, so much clutter, that you just cannot afford to have a product, a brand or a communication mean that doesn’t have its clear Unique Selling Points or points of differentiation. To be drastically noticed you need to be drastically different and have YOUR own way of answering customer needs and expectations. When not evolving a Best Practice becomes a Common Practice. And then a boring practice.

Innovators and entrepreneurs are admired. Followers are ignored. In the world that we live in today, in constant and exponential evolution, there is no room anymore for practices that have been proven efficient 10 years ago. Even 5 years ago. Remember how we were using a Nokia mobile phone three years ago…

Best Practices in the hotel industry

Even if it can be true to any industry or company, the concept of applying Best Practices has been particularly virulent in the hotel industry over the past 30 years or so where a frame work has been set in stone with sacrosanct rules (A.K.A the Standard Operating Procedures). While remarkable break-through have been achieved in the late 70’s and early 80’s with real innovative hotel concepts and methods, the industry has been stagnant or evolving very slowly since.
it is very rare now-days to see any Head of Department from a hotel pre-opening team who still writes fresh new (innovative) SOPs. Simply because 1/ it is very time consuming to re-write them from scratch and 2/ It is backed-up by the Best Practices stamp of approval. The hotel industry is full of Best Practices that are never being challenged. Be it operationally: the renown front office counter, the check-in procedure, the operating hours, the room set-up etc. or in Sales and Marketing: hotel brochures, advertising headlines, sales kit folders etc. Hotel Best Practices are being handed-over from generation to generation like a Patek Philippe watch.

Going even a step further, there are brands, such as W Hotels, that have created real break through in the industry, but are now being copied over and over. These brands must accept the fact that their own original Best Practices and ideas are now becoming Common Practices and Common Ideas. These brands need to evolve if they want to stay at the top.

In a nutshell

Best Practices are indeed a necessary stepping stone in anything we do if we want to start on the right foot. They are not to be ignored but are only a mean-goal, not an end-goal. They exist to be challenged and to be evolved at every touch point.

The Best Practices that have worked in the past will not be considered enough to our customers that are expecting us to face the future and to embark them onto the 21st century. Something they have not experienced before.

If you look for inspiration (nothing wrong about that), I suggest you look into parallel industries (airline or fashion industries) as opposed to copying or recycling good ideas from your neighbours. When going through some new airports, I always wonder how some hotel lobby would look like if space management was handled in the same way. There is no reason why a lobby has to be such a huge waste of space.

And, to conclude, I would recommend we all start using the term “Good practices” as opposed to “Best Practices” as it does suggest it can possibly be improved or at least keep the door opened to possible alternatives. And we should not be afraid of using the term “Common Practices” when appropriate…

Fabrice Burtin – August 2010

Related post:
Innovation – victim of certainty
Innovation – why has the hotel industry missed the train?

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