Have you ever heard of the term Best Practices? If you’ve ever read a business book or an improvement book then you probably have. It seems like the term comes up all the time. One book says “best practices are amazing” and the other says “best practices are horrible,” but they never seem to define them. And it always seems to refer to big companies on the stock exchange and rarely about small business leaders like you and me.
Have you ever thought about where the term “best practices” comes from or how they’re decided upon? Guess what, most of us haven’t either. But I’ll tell you a secret: When you understand what best practices are, how to recognize them and how to apply them in your small business it can be like rocket fuel. But like any good thing best practices can have a down side too. Left alone they can become an excuse for the status quo; and the status quo is death for your company.
What are best practices anyway?
True best practices in business are the things that great, successful companies do on a regular basis that bring extra ordinary results. They can be the systems, methods or ideas that are put into “practice” every day and consistently bring about the “best” or above average results. Do you want your company to produce the best results? Of course you do or you wouldn’t be reading this.
What are we comparing to?
When my wife Kathryn and I started Half a Bubble Out we didn’t have any experience working in an advertising agency or marketing firm. I had a lot of small business marketing experience and I was a natural entrepreneur/experimenter. Kathryn also worked selling software for several years to city and county governments across the top half of the US, a really niche market.
My point is that we understood the basics of our business and marketing, and we learned advertising, but we never had a way to compare how we were doing with other agencies. Were we doing well or were we doing worse? Since we didn’t have the benefit of watching what other marketing firms and agencies did well or did poorly we had no benchmarks. We didn’t know what was considered average and we didn’t know what was above average. We didn’t really know which companies to pay attention to in order to observe some best practices.
That meant we had to make it all up as we went. It worked okay but it was a lot of work and I wouldn’t recommend doing it that way. It would have been nice to know some best practices and I’m convinced we would have saved ourselves a lot of hassle and time.
What is the context of the best practice?
One of the challenges to evaluating true best practices so they are helpful is understanding what the context of the best practice is. The question you and I need to ask is what average is the best practice better than? Let me say that another way. If the best practice is an above average result then what is the average result and where did the average come from? If you don’t know the average you can’t tell if the best practice is worth pursuing. It could be a company’s average or an industry’s average or maybe even the average result over multiple industries.
Here’s an example:
A company you know that is like your company has had great success. You happen to know the CEO and you respect her and everything she has done. She and the team of people working with her have achieved some amazing growth year after year. They aren’t going to show up on the cover of Inc. Magazine but they do very well.
You don’t know what she is doing that is different than others in your industry but her company is doing better than you so you ask for some advice. Because of your relationship with this CEO and her belief that there is more than enough business to go around she agrees to mentor you and shares some of the company’s systems and procedures. They just happen to be her “best practices.” They are only based on her company and yours and that’s a pretty small sample, but you know that when something works it works and my mother always said not to snub your nose at something that works.
This is an example of a small sample or average. In this example your friend’s company is performing better than yours so you are the average. But what if you knew that the average growth across the entire industry was 8% a year and she was growing 15% a year? That would be an industry average. That would make her best practices even more impressive.
Now assume that you knew from credible research that the average growth of all companies your size, across multiple industries, was only 7%. That would make her growth and the best practices she uses to achieve that growth even more credible and more applicable to business in general. Can you see what I mean? The wider the “average” that people are referring to when they talk about what a best practice is the more you can trust it and the more it could be a powerful leverage to you and your company.
Best practices are powerful things
They can really help your company grow. The better you become at evaluating best practices the better you can understand which ones are truly the best for you and which ones to ignore.