We are bombarded with “Best Practice” processes, models and thinking and they seem to be particularly prevalent in HR. Our proposal is that organisations and HR functions operate on a common-sense basis and embrace some of the notions of a learning organisation - practice is something evolving and living; something which is reviewed, refined and reconfigured in line with the changing state of business needs.
We are tempted – urged, even – to attempt to resolve every issue with a “best practice” solution. But a “one-size-fits-all” approach does not permit adaptability - even if the solution purports to be the “best” practice possible. It stifles creativity and adaptability, it makes businesses focus on the wrong things and de-personalises work. What works for one organisation does not necessarily do the same thing for another. Not every company can - or should try to - be Google! We need our organisations to be freed from the restrictions of trying to implement best practice and focus instead on what works for them.
Almost worse, in adaptability terms, is that proposed "best practices" are by definition usually described after the fact. Whatever is defined as the "best practice" is not necessarily what caused the desired outcome - it was a combination of circumstances: the unique starting point, the insight and understanding that went into developing the solution and the individuals and teams who implemented it.
We believe this hack ties in very closely with the approach and methodology of the “Chuck out your chintz” hack, which lays down the challenge to “create your own best practice”.
The CIPD is calling for increasing “agility” in leadership and management. This recognises that fixed, firm “best practice” processes undermine the will or ability to be agile and responsive. We are seeking to enable our HR practitioners to think for themselves, to work flexibly, with integrity and intelligence across their profession.
Those of us working on this hack have enough anecdotal and experiential evidence to show that having “Best Practice” firmly and unquestioningly in place supports an HR culture of risk-aversion, process & policy inflexibility and fear of legal repercussions. Requiring our profession to think for itself, and “create your own best practice” as outlined above, means decisions are reached that deal with specific issues, at the point of contact. This encourages greater responsibility to be taken for sensible, practical, effective outcomes to be achieved.
Ideally, implementing this hack would take place as part of the “Chuck out your chintz” hack, which goes wider than the specific target of “best practice” of this hack. We would add a further question to the “chintz challenge” that should be asked in conjunction with it:
- “Is there anything we are doing just because we believe it to be, or have been advised it is, best practice?”
If the answer is “yes”, define it and discuss it. Who needs to be involved in the discussion will depend on who it involves and who is on the ‘receiving end’. For example, if you have what is considered to be a “best practice” performance management scheme, get out and talk to the people who are actually using it on a day to day basis. Does it deliver what they need? Is it asking - and answering - the right questions to help the business move forwards? Or is it a perfect piece of paperwork that sits on a shelf from month to month, year to year and adds no value to the conversations that take place? It is no longer acceptable to answer managers’ complaints about the process with “ah yes, but it’s best practice so we can’t change it”.
Work out what needs to change to make it more valuable to your organisation. Do you need to bin it and go back to the drawing board? Try a different tack? Or are there just some simple tweaks that will make it better?
Part of the ongoing solution is to encourage HR Practitioners to question and reflect on their own experiences. To instil a culture of curiosity in our Profession, where they can investigate, inquire and learn for themselves and from each other, rather than going to a book or a manual to look at what “The Answer” is.
We suggest HR meetings are less about process and more about reviewing learning. We encourage looking at specific “cases” and reviewing how these have been handled. We encourage Action Learning models – where issues are brought to a forum and people discuss the personal and professional implications of handling a case in a particular way. We encourage mentoring from Senior HR professionals to newer entrants; we encourage the use of Social Media, networking and attending CIPD/non CIPD events to ensure HR Professional knowledge is relevant, flexible and constantly evolving.
Keep looking, keep reviewing, keep trying to improve. Ultimately, that is the aim of this hack - don’t just do stuff because it’s someone else’s idea of “best practice”.
HR solutions and approaches will be more tailored to organisations. HR teams will no longer waste time and resources trying to implement someone else’s idea of best practice. It should help organisations make more money.
Managers will be more empowered to suggest improvements to systems and not be met with a blanket “it’s best practice” answer.
HR teams will have increased self-confidence - they know what is best for their organisation and they should no longer feel that they are somehow under-performing because they aren’t trying to achieve the same “best practice” outcomes as everyone else.
Adaptability and innovation in HR and business practices will be increased - we are looking for the best solution for us - not something that would be transferable across other companies and sectors. This should be genuinely liberating and exciting for HR professionals.
Businesses will introduce more individually-appropriate activities, processes and approaches. This should increase engagement, commitment and, ultimately, output.
To implement this hack (and the companion “chintz” hack) will firstly need a motivated and “up-for-it” HR team. Overturning years of being bombarded with “best practice” concepts will be hard to overcome. It will need a good understanding of the business and how it operates with the ability to think about HR differently.
As with any major cultural shift, there may be a sense of inertia that will have to be overcome. The “but we’ve always done it this way” response will need addressing through a sustained communication and discussion programme. The critical element will be to ensure that as many people as possible are engaged in the activity.
Because this is about identifying the right practice for individual organisations, it would make no sense to suggest following any particular gurus or looking into other company’s practices. However, connecting with like-minded HR professionals will help to highlight areas that proved a successful starting point in other organisations that would give a suggestion as to where to start.
Identify any areas in which the organisation is slavishly following "best practice" - either as interpreted by the staff or as advised by external influencers. As part of the hack discussions, we have identified that in some organisations, the infamous "Ulrich model" might be a good place to begin. Often touted as the best way to set up a HR department, it often has both negative impacts and unintended consequences (and in the hack team's experience, what most people think of as the Ulrich model isn’t really what he was trying to suggest anyway).
Shift your HR meeting structure and start looking at Case reviews and Action learning.
Use the Chuck out your Chintz methodology on 2 -3 key areas and review.
Write up the results – maybe for People Management, CIPD conference, a small talk somewhere.
Repeat, with the benefit of the lessons learned.
Gemma Reucroft for suggestions and in particular her own excellent hack
David D'Souza for comments, suggestions, support and encouragement
Kev Wyke for linking us to the thinkpurpose blog and involvement in the discussion
Everyone who has commented, debated and chipped in through the MIX Hackathon website. Your input has helped to shape our thinking even if you may not see it directly reflected in the final draft - thank you!
Storify of a Twitter conversation: http://storify.com/TimScottHR/there-is-no-such-thing-as-best-practice
Doug Shaw's blog: http://stopdoingdumbthingstocustomers.com/communication/best-practice/
thinkpurpose blog: http://thinkpurpose.com/2012/04/21/stick-around-you-might-learn-something/