Best Practices: How They Can Cause More Harm Than Good

Why Best Practices are Prevalent

Companies engage consultants and explain how their problems are ‘unique’ and have various nuances.

However, when consultants offer unique and insightful solutions, many companies take a step back and ask for ‘best practices’.

“Has this been tried earlier?”

“What are some of the industry practices?”

“Why should we take the risk of breaking away from practices that already work for some companies?”

Best practices can certainly provide some insight into what the industry could be doing right, but they have their flaws as well.

The Problem with Best Practices

If Steve Jobs had continued with the best practices other phone-making companies were following, we might never have ended up seeing iPhones. Best practices create the following challenges for companies:

1. They make you average. They take competitive advantage and strategic differentiation away and make you like everyone else in the industry.

The uniqueness of your business model and operating strategy is lost in the quest to be like everyone else.

Of course, for aspects such as compensation and benefits, market benchmarking and best practices can be useful. But, if you are starting a gourmet restaurant and choose to use the best practices of McDonald’s and Domino’s, you’re unlikely to succeed.

2. They don’t provide the ‘how.’ Even if you adopt some practices from other companies, implementing them could be very different. Do you have similar roles and infrastructure to implement them?

For example, a few years ago, an HR: employee ratio of 1:100 was publicized as an aspirational number for IT companies. However, would the ratio need to remain the same irrespective of the number of locations, the use of technology, the overall culture of the company and other aspects?

3. They ignore the cultural factors at play. Best practices cannot be plug-and-play. Just because something works at Google or Microsoft does not necessarily mean it would work for you.

For example, Netflix has an expense policy that is summed up in one line. Other organizations trying to implement the same might fail because they may not have the same culture of empowerment and autonomy.

4. They may create negative long-term effects. Best practices, without a timeframe could have the opposite effect of what you are trying to achieve. You may find leaders sacrificing long-term wins for short-term ones.

For example, leaders with stock options may try to take greater risks, increase cash burn, and push up share prices to get financial benefits. In the long-term, this could be detrimental to the growth or even the existence of the company.

How you can make them work

However, despite the possible negatives, best practices can be useful tools to understand what the market is doing. If used wisely, they can provide useful trends and an overall understanding of short-term and long-term effects.

Using them as guides to create your own custom course of action is the most effective approach to support long-term success. The idea is not to abandon them but to use them meaningfully and adapt them to your context before implementation.

To know more about how we can help you not just implement, but actually create best practices, reach out to us at [email protected].

About the Authors

Sam Reeve
Sam Reeve, CompTeam founder and managing consultant, is a pay and talent performance expert and a certified global compensation professional. His extensive experience with pay programs and competitive compensation analysis, career architecture, and talent management allows him to help clients of rapidly growing firms see accurate, measurable results, including increased productivity and significant pay savings, year-over-year.
As an innovative thinker with practical application, Sam strongly believes that everyone needs to be healthy and happy in their own lives to strive as a high-performing contributor. He is driven to help organizations match their employees with the work they are passionate about and reward their people for outstanding work.
Sumit Singla 
Sumit has been working in HR & HR consulting roles for 16+ years across sectors and verticals and specializes in
organizational design, wellbeing, storytelling & design thinking, and performance management. In his career with consulting firms such as Aon, Deloitte, and Accenture, he has successfully led programs aimed at total HR transformation for clients.
As Associate Director for India Consulting at Deloitte, he recently worked with clients on cultural transformation, HR processes, and policy design. He also organized and spoke at conferences and events about various topics relevant to HR today.
Now self-employed, he works with clients across the globe on various HR solution areas.
Howard  Nizewitz
Howard Nizewitz is a compensation advisor and strategic HR consultant, a crusader for “Break Free From Spreadsheets,” and an advocate for changing the dynamics of the compensation conversation. He wants to put the fun back in compensation!
His extensive expertise in compensation management comes with a 30-year track record of implementing strategic and successful compensation programs globally and regionally in the financial services and technology industries. His other areas of expertise include HR consulting, deferred compensation, incentive plan design, and talent management. Transforming Compensation teams from administrators of outdated, time-consuming activities to strategically focused business advisors.
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