The myth of best practices

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Photo by Inactive. on

Probably one of the most misleading things in organizational life is the concept of best practices.

The idea that we can copy or duplicate the practices of a particular business or organization and we will get the same results.  Copy the success of Company A, and Company B will experience the same success.

This has led to endless frustration on the part of organizations trying to duplicate the success of another.  After following their formula to a “T” we collectively scratch our heads wondering why it didn’t work.

What’s missing?

What’s missing is Tribal Knowledge. Tribal Knowledge is the stuff the organization does, or people within the organization do, but don’t formally institutionalize.  It is the stuff that helps to make the organization a success, but it is unique to them.  You can’t duplicate it because you’re not them.   It is usually hidden in nuances, subtle “understandings” people within the organization have that are not necessarily talked about, they are “understood.”

It could be something related to and surrounding the founder and President of the organization.  It could relate to certain values he or the ‘tribe’ have that contribute why they do things the way they do.  For example, let’s assume the founder of the organization grew up as a vegetable farmer’s son.  His father believed in manually hoeing weeds out of the rows of vegetables, rather than cultivating with a tractor.  This translates into a view of excellence that has a picture of “weed free rows” and turns into a kind of perfectionism.  He founded his organization based on that understanding of excellence.  It’s just how he thinks.  He holds a value of personal attention to something rather than just leaving it to machinery (or technology).  He’s a “hands-on” kind of guy.

What we should focus on, however, is best principles.  Principles are transferable from organization to organization.  Excellence is different to different organizations, but it is still a principle worth pursuing.

When you understand the concept of best principles, you can find those principle in many different organizations, done different ways, yet, you are pursuing excellence within the realm of your tribe or organization.




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