By Mike Loughrin, CEO for Transformance Advisors
Jolted To My Core
During recent conversations, two colleagues demolished my comfort zone by saying a focus on best practices is not the path to success.
Hearing them bash best practices was like an earthquake tossing me off the couch while taking a well deserved nap on Sunday afternoon!
Now, these two colleagues are people I admire and respect; why would they say things not aligned with my view of the universe?
The first bashing was how best practices only get you as good as your competition. The logic is how everyone knows the best practices and you really need to beat your competition. It’s not good enough to just match the things your competition does.
The second bashing was a proclamation there are not any best practices; there are only better practices. The logic reflects the spirit of continuous improvement and how anything classified as the best today will no longer be best tomorrow. Those things we call best practices are just better than most.
Having been jolted to my core, I began pondering my deeply held beliefs concerning best practices.
A belief in the definition of best practices: a procedure, demonstrated by research and experience, which produces superior results and is suitable for widespread adoption as a standard.
Have I been a fool wondering in the dark?
Time To Ponder
Taking a long hike on the Little Switzerland Trail, I thought about the challenges of some common best practices. As I examined different practices, I kept finding examples where organizations had created a competitive advantage by following the success of others.
And then the fog began to lift. While the concept claiming best practices will only get you equal to your competition sounds rational, it has a big assumption.
It “assumes” your competition has successfully implemented the best practices in question! This assumption is painfully incorrect in many cases.
While leveraging best practices does seem to provide an advantage, what is typical when you look at the actual “practices” for many organizations?
Let’s take a closer look at a few examples.
Achieving your vision and mission requires effective Strategy Execution. One optimistic report says 70% of those with a strategy will fail at execution. So, let’s say 30% do it right. But many have not articulated a strategy. So, let’s go with 20% have a strategy and are able to implement it.
For many, the key aspect of strategy execution is saying No to the great ideas you will not work on. The key is crafting those 3 to 5 strategic initiatives which will receive the support and resources they need.
Show me an organization with 50 top priority projects and you will have shown me an organization with no priorities and heading in the wrong direction!
The number 1 improvement program in the world is Lean Transformation. I ask a few questions during my lean presentations and routinely find only 20% of people doing lean are doing it correctly.
Most organizations who claim to be working on a lean transformation are just hacking at costs and missing the big benefits. Lean is a cultural transformation which must leverage key concepts such as the 5 Principles of Lean and must be focused upon the goal of creating a sustainable organization.
Everyone seems to have lean on their resume and many organizations desperately hope they can buy their way to lean by hiring someone with big claims of past achievement. Unfortunately, many of these new hires are charlatans whose chaotic costing skills have left a wake of destruction for others to deal with.
Sales and Operations Planning
A process which has been called “the ultimate best practice” is Sales and Operations Planning, or S&OP. Based upon my travels and observations, I can optimistically estimate only 20% of people are doing an effective job with S&OP.
In many organizations, you see wasted efforts on feeding a software monster which is attempting to create thousands of item level forecasts. The accuracy is predictably poor and there is only a casual glance at the aggregate volume levels of demand. The “operations” part of S&OP is often missing completely. The supply planners are too busy fighting fires started by reliance on those item level forecasts. Who has time for a thoughtful assessment of volume level capacity requirements?
An exceptional approach for driving the right behavior, through better performance measurements, is known as the Balanced Scorecard. For most, awful counter-productive performance measurements are still the norm. Let’s be optimistic and say 20% of organizations have a balance of measurements which drive the right behavior.
The number of purchasing people rewarded for low price vs. least total cost is astonishing. Other examples hit us everyday by just reading the news. Let’s reward people for developing software to cheat on vehicle emission testing. Let’s pay bonuses to brokers who give mortgages to those that cannot afford to pay for them. Let’s reward healthcare providers for curing illness, but not for keeping us healthy.
The concept of getting everyone aligned and working toward the same adjectives is astonishingly effective. So few do it well.
Some Easy Math
The above are just a sampling of best practices.
Others involving new product development, sales, marketing, customer service, information technology, manufacturing technology, carbon footprint, risk management, or whatever may be more important for your organization.
Regardless of the best practice, just consider what it means when only 20% of those attempting to achieve the best are actually able to do so.
Pick 4 best practices which would drive competitive advantage for your organization.
My list from above is Strategy Execution, Lean Transformation, Sales & Operations Planning, and Balanced Scorecard. I have been very generous and estimated only 20% of organizations who attempt each practice is successful at executing the practice.
Running the math, we find 20% times 20% times 20% times 20% equals 0.16% of organizations are successful at all 4 of the selected best practices.
Think about it, if you implement 4 best practices which can drive competitive advantage in your industry, then you will be better than 100 – 0.16 = 99.84% of your competition.
Call to Action
The prize awaits. It’s time for you to:
- Discuss the current and future best practices which could provide your organization a competitive advantage
- Select a small number you will commit to do correctly
- Integrate these best practices with your 3 to 5 strategic initiatives – if you don’t have 3 to 5, then you better pick Strategy Execution as a best practice you need now
- Stay the course and focus on becoming the best
And now, back to my colleague who claims there are only better practices.
He is right in how the best practices of today will not be the best tomorrow.
You will need to practice continuous improvement and become a leader in making your chosen best practices even better tomorrow. That will be our way of saying continuous improvement is a common feature of all best practices.
Thus, the best practices of today will evolve through continuous improvement. Brand new best practices will emerge from the experiments which the thought leaders are exploring today.
About Mike Loughrin
Mike is passionate about helping people create sustainable organizations. He brings exceptional experience in both industry and consulting services and has helped organizations such as Levi Strauss, Warner Home Video, Lexmark, and Sweetheart Cup improve their performance.
Using a balanced approach to defining strategy, improving processes, and leveraging the appropriate technology, he keeps the focus on ROI and delivers results by leveraging skills in leadership, knowledge transfer, project management, and the application of best practices. As a frequent speaker at conferences and other educational events, he provides informative and energizing presentations by leveraging his passion for excellence.
Keeping a commitment to a balanced life, Mike loves downhill skiing, bicycle rides, and hiking in the mountains. See one or more of his trails of the month, such as Tomorrow River or Little Switzerland.