Dec 21 2011
Best Practices – like fingernails on a blackboard
“Best Practices” are like fingernails on a blackboard. I’m physically uncomfortable when I hear people blindly promoting best practices. And we’d all be better off if it made everyone uncomfortable. There are two major difficulties with the idea of Best Practices.
Who says what’s best?
Who is the authority and by what standard does anyone say what’s “best”? Who can say what’s best: in the world; in the world for all time; for our small local organization at this point in time; in what culture? Best for what, who, when, where?
David Creelman, writing in PeopleTalk magazine says, “Outstanding companies often have unorthodox HR practices.” Best to be unorthodox? Not in all cases I’m sure. But it’s certainly not an not an argument for “same”.
In 2005, Vancouver cardiologist John Webb developed a procedure for replacing defective heart valves with a catheter rather than with open heart surgery. Best Practice in 2004 was no longer best in 2005. What will be best practice next?
Which leads us to the second issue.
We’re OK, we’re following best practices
“Betterment is a perpetual labor”, says surgeon Atul Gawande in his book, Better. In October, 2010 The Globe and Mail encourages workplaces to try out “a single new idea”; to experiment “with just one idea”.
The idea that there is a Best Practice tempts us to relax while continuing to develop is exactly what’s called for.
Best Practice? Get rid of the idea of best practices. It’s more like, best-we’ve-seen-for-us-so-far-at-this-point-in-time-and-we’re-continuing-to-experiment practices.