Is best practice best for you?

The old “what’s best practice” chestnut has been rearing its ugly head a lot lately. I get it, in the absence of any idea of how something could be done, looking at what others who are successful are doing can seem like a pretty good place to start. The key phrase here is place to start.

Some of the best practice areas I’ve run into – all in the last two weeks – include brand (of course), customer experience, values, change management and process design.

And I have to wonder why people are so keen to do and have what everyone else does and has.

When people talk about best practice, generally they are referring to a way of doing something that has become the accepted standard and is thought to be the most effective.

My friend and associate Peter Tunjic frames it differently. He says: “when people talk about ‘best practice’ what they are really talking about is ‘most practice’.”

There are certainly some places where you want accepted standards followed. Food preparation, sanitation, network security and electrical work to name just a very few. I’m not talking about those kinds of areas.

Your business is unique. Sure there might be some basic commonalities with others, but if you look at the most successful organisations and their brands, there is nothing most practice about them – they joyfully, resolutely and with great discipline tread their own paths.

A few weeks ago I came across a super-duper example of a company wilfully ignoring most practice. The company is Valve, a games developer in the US. In the space of a week, I heard about their employee manual a couple of different times. Which made me curious, so I took a peek (you can see it here).

No hint of most practice shows up in the way Valve thinks about its business and how it’s run. Hierarchy and job titles – nope, who you are is the thing that matters.

Assigned projects and roles – nada; start your own or convince a team they need you to help with theirs. Approach to compensation – their own model called stacking. Office set up – on wheels, literally. And on, and on.

The subtitle of the handbook says it all: “A fearless adventure in knowing what to do when no one’s there telling you what to do”. It then continues:

“This book isn’t about fringe benefits or how to set up your workstation or where to find source code. Valve works in ways that might seem counter intuitive at first. This handbook is about the choices you’re going to be making and how to think about them. Mainly, it’s about how not to freak out now that you’re here.”

Clearly we’re a long, long way from most practice land. And while I’ve highlighted Valve, you can look at any organisation highlighted in the pages of business magazines, written about in case studies and interviewed about how they got where they are.

You won’t find them talking about the most practice things they did to get there.

Organisations that are strong and resilient understand that you don’t get that way by thinking about most practice. They know that what is needed is “us practice”. They think about what will work for them; for their mix of purpose, values and environment, not what others have done. Because where “us practice” leads, others can’t follow.

(But shhh – don’t tell your competitors, “most practice” is perfectly OK for them).

See you next week.

Michel is an Independent Brand Thinker and Adviser dedicated to helping organisations make promises they can keep and keep the promises they make – with a strong, resilient organisation as the result. You can find Michel at or you can follow her on Twitter @michelhogan


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