"Best practice" ignores the most important factor – the people who are working with the practice or model.
Many managers have fallen for the attractive prospect of "best practice." And many consultants claim to be able to bring best practice to your organisation. What is usually meant by this term is that they bring models or processes they’ve used or developed in the past, which they can implement with new clients.
There is certainly value in the experience consultants have had in other organisations – it can bring a new perspective to what is going on in your organisation.
The idea of best practice goes further than this – it implies that the same outcomes are possible in your organisation using the standardised best practice or models adopted in other successful companies.
In an interesting post "On Models and Scaling Up," Chris Mowles makes the point that the effectiveness of any model is due in part to the quality of the model and in part to the people working together with it, and so you can’t really separate out the contextual from the generalisable. This is the problem with ‘n-step’ approaches to change – the claim is that by following an 8 step or a U turn model, you will successfully implement change.
It is significant that the people working together with the model are just as much a part of the effectiveness as the model itself. In fact I think the people involved are much more important, and most managers are aware of this too, which is why they know that picking the right team is so important.
And yet best practice and its forebear benchmarking both divert attention from the people and the context, focusing entirely on the disembodied prescription or model, as though it can be implemented anywhere and get the same successful result.
Note that the process of naming something as "this" simultaneously names everything else as "that." So if I call something a circle, then I am also calling everything outside that circle "not circle." So by naming "circle" I have actually created two categories, ("circle" and "not circle") even though I am only focusing attention on one category – the one I have named. The other category becomes almost invisible in this process. So if in talking about "best practice" we are making the "people working together with the practice" almost invisible.
The emphasis is, in fact, on the least important factor – the model or the best practice itself. Concentrating on "best practice" risks leading to a selective interpretation of social facts – an interpretation seen only in terms of the "best practice." According to Axel Honneth, this can significantly reduce your attentiveness to meaningful circumstances in a given situation.
Instead of looking at best practice, focus your attention on the particularities of your situation, trying to understand all the factors at work, not just those prescribed in your model or best practice. Reflect on how your own participation is affecting, and is affected by, the way these factors are playing out in your organisation. That way you can help to make sure your attention is on what really matters so much more than a best practice or model – how you and others are interacting with each other and influencing each other in the process of getting the work done.
Photography by Ruby Cumming