Which “Best Practice” is Ruining Your HR Operation?

There is a brilliant article over at the Harvard Business Review titled, Which Best Practice is Ruining Your Business, by Freek Vermeulen (I’m naming my next child “Freek” by the way!).

Best practices” are a sore spot for me when I attend HR/Talent conferences. No matter what the conference you’ll find some HR/Talent professional talking about their “best practice,” and God bless them, you’ll see a standing room only audience of HR/Talent Pros trying to find out all about this “best practice’ to take back to their own shops.

Therein lies the problem. From Vermeulen’s article:

Most companies follow “best practices.” Often, these are practices that most firms in their line of business have been following for many years, leading people in the industry to assume that it is simply the best way of doing things. Or, as one senior executive declared to me when I queried one of his company’s practices: “everybody in our business does it this way, and everybody has always been doing it this way. If it wasn’t the best way of doing things, I am sure it would have disappeared by now.”

But, no matter how intuitively appealing this may sound, the assumption is wrong. Of course, well-intended managers think they are implementing best practices but, in fact, unknowingly, sometimes the practice does more harm than good.

One reason why a practice’s inefficiency may be difficult to spot is because when it came into existence, it was beneficial — like broadsheet newspapers once made sense. But when circumstances have changed and it has become inefficient, nobody remembers, and because everybody is now doing it, it is difficult to spot that doing it differently would in fact be better.”

Do you want to just equal your competitors?

Best practices aren’t new ideas; they are tried and true ideas, proven out over time to work well for the organization that started using them. Theoretically, if you use another organizations “best practice,” the best thing you can hope for is that you’ll equal what they’ve accomplished.

I know a ton of business leaders that would kick you out of their office if you came to them saying “Hey! I’ve got an idea that will allow us to equal our competitors!” Most leaders want ideas that will allow you to beat your competitors, even when you’re trailing in the industry that you’re in.

I’m not saying that many HR/Talent shops can’t improve by using a best practice from another organization. That actually might be true. But, again, you’ll only improve, at best, to the level that other organization has achieved.

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You’ll never be industry leading; you’ll be industry following. I always assume when I hear a best practice that it was something that worked really well for that organization, at a specific time, and then ask, “what are you doing now?” Almost always, I’ll get a response of something new they are actually working on – but it’s not yet a “best practice” in their eyes! That’s what I want to hear – the new stuff – not what they’ve been doing for five years

Why not be a best practice creator?

For me, true innovation does not start at best practice – that is an ending point. If you truly want to innovate and turn your HR Shop into World Class, you have to be a best practice creator, not a best practice follower.

I’d rather hear presentations at SHRM (or any other conference) about stuff people haven’t even tried yet – but they think it could be out of this world and why they think it would be great! Then we both go back and try it, fix it, try it again, and compare notes.

So, which “Best Practice” is going to ruin your HR Shop this year?

Tim Sackett, MS, SPHR is executive vice president of HRU Technical Resources, a contingent staffing firm in Lansing, MI. Tim has 20 years of HR and talent background split evenly between corporate HR gigs among the Fortune 500 and the HR vendor community ? so he gets it from both sides of the desk. A frequent contributor to the talent blog Fistful of Talent, Tim also speaks at many HR conferences and events. Contact him here.

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