Why the Most Successful Leaders Go Beyond Best Practices

What are best practices? It’s important to understand that there is a big difference between proscriptive company rules and guidelines that have a basis in legal compliance, and best practices which are designed to move the business forward efficiently. They’re good to have, but sticking to them no matter what can prevent good companies from getting to great.

If you got sick in the middle ages, there’s a good chance that the village doctor would prescribe a course of leeches to your skin, or just go ahead and cut you so he could bleed the troublesome humor right out of you. I could be wrong, but if your doctor tried that today, you might want to sue them for medical malpractice.

Best practices are the best way we knew to get results at a given time. But when times change, those practices need to change, too, and you should constantly be thinking next practices, alongside best practices. Here are a few things to remember:

Best practices have an expiration date

Best practices change over time, across cultures and from industry to industry. It’s not just medical advances like the one above that go out of date, other technologies change, too. You wouldn’t think of circulating important information by telegram rather than email, but 100 years ago it was standard. As recently as a decade ago, working from home was a perk few people enjoyed but now it’s viewed as a great commute alternative, and can make employees more productive and more motivated. Industry leaders see the benefits of change early and adopt practices that leverage those benefits.

Technology changes faster than best practices

Best practices get to be best practices by delivering consistent results most efficiently, but best practices are never cutting edge. To become accepted as a best practice, any process needs to be adopted widely, and earn acceptance across the industry—and that takes time to establish. As a result, best practices can lag technological advances by months or even years as technologies emerge. New technologies can be expensive, but the benefits of early adoption—from preferential pricing to being recognized as an expert when the tech goes mainstream—can often outweigh the cost.

Complacency leads to disruption

Compliance can lead to complacency, and in some industries, disruptive technologies can wreak havoc or steal market share from established players at a blistering pace. From taxicabs to vacation rentals to networking events, organizations that clung to best practices and resisted change all lost ground to more agile digital competitors that chose not to be bound by the same rigid rules. The real conundrum here whether your best practices put the customer at the center of what you hope to achieve, or whether your best practice is simply a hoop for someone to jump through, a roadblock on the way to excellence.

In the end the best, most timeless best practice you can adopt is to empower every employee to ask why—why do we need a best practice? Why do we need that specific best practice?—and to explore how the problems we face can be overcome creatively.


Duncan Connor

As Content Strategist, Duncan helps create content that helps agencies create a repeatable new business process to support their agency growth goals.