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Chasing Best Practices – How to Find Them

Chasing Best Practices – How to Find Them

While it’s fashionable to seek out best practices, the problem is finding them in the first place and then deciding what to do with them when you find them.

Do you implement them? Do you adapt them? Do you assess whether they will work for you? Do you learn why they are best practices? The notion of best practices is a good one, but you have to attack the concept with a good understanding of your purpose and what you will do when you find them.

The first thing to consider is what a ‘Best Practice’ really is. Best for who? Best in what situation? Best when?

The definition of Best Practices, from the Cambridge dictionary online, is:

"a working method, or set of working methods, which is officially accepted as being the best to use in a particular business or industry, usually described formally and in detail"

The assumption is that what's best for one organization in their situation and at this time is also best for yours. In reality, Best practices are only a guide, not an absolute, and understanding why they are best practice - why they work - is much more important. That way, you understand the principles and can apply them appropriately for your organization and situation.

I prefer to call them Leading Practices, which better describes what they really are.

Managers need to continuously look at practices others use to see which can be used (or adapted) to achieve improved results/efficiency/cost reductions/customer service, etc.

Some leading practices are quite general in the industry and fairly well known even if you haven’t yet adopted them while others are new and not well known, perhaps implemented experimentally or by organizations willing to take a risk on a new approach, technology or process.

Some managers turn to traditional benchmarking to find out about leading practices, but this usually only provides numerical comparisons that tell you where you are strong or weak, but don’t tell you what practices you need to implement. Others use their own experience, possibly from a past role, to implement change in their current role. Unfortunately, this may only be repeating practices that are not in-fact leading, or won’t work in the current situation.

The best ways to learn about leading practices are:

  • Read industry magazines to see what others are doing. Expand your range of reading, however, since other related or specialty magazines may have stories and ideas you won’t get from others in your industry.
  • Go to conferences and attend the seminars to learn about other approaches. While you are there, spend time on the trade floor and talk to vendors to see what tools, equipment, supplies and processes are available that you might otherwise not know exist.
  • Network locally with other managers and discover what they do to get results in their organization. Again, don’t limit yourself to managers in the same industry, who may even feel threatened and keep their good ideas to themselves for competitive reasons. Even suppliers can be great networking options, since they may be able to tell you more about what others are doing.
  • Do an ‘Intelligent Benchmarking’ exercise, which goes beyond the traditional benchmarking comparisons and looks at practices. This usually includes a smaller number of organizations with interviews and more detailed examination of their org structure, procedures and approaches, not just their numerical results. If necessary for confidentiality reasons, engage a third party to conduct the benchmarking study for you.
  • Conduct an operational review using an outside expert (who doesn’t have a vested interest in the status-quo). This is a third-party review of your organization, structure, training, processes, job descriptions, work activity and more. These experts are usually exposed to a wide variety of other organizations and can also point you in new directions.


As long as you are always looking for ways to do things better by seeing what others are doing and assess them for your own situation instead of assuming the status quo is enough, you are likely to find those elusive 'best practices' that work for you.

About Michel Theriault

Michel is the founder of Success Fuel for Managers. He is an author, speaker and consultant focusing on topics relevant to Managers and aspiring Managers in businesses of all sizes who want to get results, get attention, and get ahead. He is also a contributor to Forbes and AllBusiness Experts . Michel is available for speaking engagements, training and consulting. Connect with him or send an email.

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