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Best practice isn't always what's best for you


Best practice is culturally subjective.


Senior managers, CEOs and other decision makers are often told about best practice and how it is the solution to their people challenges. After all it is all supported by data and graphs and competitor analysis and how others do it etc. Yet best practice doesn’t always ‘feel right’ for the challenge at hand or the organization.


I have been taught that basing decisions on ‘feeling’ isn’t robust enough. And I know that basing decisions on ‘feeling’ is also a way to perpetuate bias and resist necessary change. And yet I know that listening to the feeling and exploring it is the best next step.


Here are a few tricks which I have found helpful to get from ‘it doesn’t feel right’ to ‘it doesn’t make sense’:

1) Articulate the challenge and spell out all the components of it. Then articulate what a great outcome looks like.

2) Articulate what doesn’t feel right in the best practice proposal.

3) In parallel test out the proposal with a wide variety of backgrounds, cultures, abilities, sexual preferences etc. This is important to check that your discomfort isn’t based on bias. At the same time check that the proposal is not disadvantaging to any particular group of people.

4) Perhaps the most important part is ask ‘why’ until there are no more ‘why’ to ask. Why is this data relevant? Why are we compared to these companies? Why is this best practice? Why why why?

5) Finally take your organisation’s values and behaviours and use them as lens to read the proposal. Do they align? If not explore what’s not in alignment.


Best practice in the HR world has been largely designed for and by anglo-saxon, white organisations. So when best practice is applied to an organization that doesn’t fit that cultural mold, it doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t work.


Take recruitment as an example. An organization is told that best practice in selecting candidates is to give candidates top scores when they say ‘I did xyz’ and low scores when they say ‘we did abc’. This organization happens to be grounded in Japanese or Aboriginal or Thai or any other collectivist culture. Recruitment best practice is not going to be right for this organisation despite all the data and the competitor information etc. Why? Because they need their new recruits to prioritise the group and answer in terms of ‘we’ rather than ‘I’. Because their collective success is more important than the individual achievements. Because they have grounded their values and behaviours into a non-western culture.


So I go back to my tricks above. One or several of the 5 will lead you to find out why it doesn’t feel right and what the right solution is for your organization.


When it doesn’t feel right, sometimes it’s simply because it isn’t!

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