View from the Trenches: Best Practices Research

Many organizations are interested in identifying best practices to help illuminate a path for growth. Often, the task is more complex, and sometimes even more treacherous, than it appears. If you’re not careful, best practices research can turn into a misguided odyssey into literature that ends up serving no useful purpose for the organization that needs it. From my own experiences in the trenches, I offer here some guidelines for approaching best practices research.

What works:

  • Drill to find the real area you are looking to improve – taking time to reflect on the concerns of your organization can lead to identifying the real pain point that needs to be addressed. Often, the best practice information that would truly help is not the same information that was initially requested. One case I encountered was a company that requested best practice information on reducing advertising spending in an important market. What that company really wanted to understand was how industry leaders optimize media allocation across markets – a very different topic than the one initially requested; the key question was about holistic allocation, not spend reduction.
  • Broaden your horizons – look beyond your own industry. There is a rich world of innovation and expertise that can be drawn from places you least expect. A great example comes from a medical center that not only observed, but also brought in a NASCAR pit crew to help improve the teamwork and communication of its trauma unit.
  • Take a step back and let the findings come to you – Periodically pause, ruminate on the findings, and see what is emerging. Oftentimes, this detachment will help you identify key pieces of information you may have missed. More importantly, getting some distance from your research will give you the opportunity to synthesize so that you can rise above the data to identify actual findings. Remember that unless you’re lucky, best practices aren’t available from one definitive source, you have to discern them.
  • Find the implications for your organization – tether the best practice to the realities of your specific organization. It’s not enough to simply report your findings from the marketplace. Push further to identify not just how it worked for other organizations, but how it will serve the strategic growth objectives of your organization.

What doesn’t work:

  • Assuming that one size fits all – Not all practices will be easily emulated for many reasons including scale of the firm, available technology, market maturity, and company maturity. Sometimes a best practice for one organization can be totally useless to another.
  • Foisting a best practice onto one’s firm, without consideration of culture – consider whether the best practice, no matter how great, would be embraced and followed in your culture. Netflix, for example, offers unlimited PTO and is lauded for being progressive, but is able to do this because work is often accomplished remotely while employees are on paid vacation. There is a policy of unlimited PTO but the reality is, employees are given substantial workloads and have high accountability to complete that work. Not all cultures have that level of trust or decentralized work environments. In the case of PTO at Netflix, the best practice could create major issues at most other organizations if implemented without consideration of these factors.
  • Allowing preconceived notions to limit your research and not remaining objective – Objectivity is important in all research, but it is imperative when identifying best practices. If you are determined to validate your own ideas, it is quite easy to bend the facts or statistics to your will. Let the facts dictate an objective narrative of your findings.

In summary, here is my shortlist of key attributes of a good best practice:

  • Transferable and adaptable – can be adapted to your industry and business
  • Replicable – the behavior or action can be recreated by your company
  • Stretch – can stretch an organization to think differently and go beyond its comfort zone
  • Substantively sourced – curated from content that is highly relevant and of high quality
  • Has an implication – relevant and actionable against your organization’s own realities

Best practices should be completed on a case-by-case basis and highly tailored to your organization’s reality. Comprehensive research, objectivity, and a true desire to improve and learn from the best will likely help in identifying best practices that guide your organization to its own true north.

Share this post

Related Posts