Why Human Resources should shed the Best Practice shroud
I have an issue with the term ‘best practice.’
First, the word ‘best’ implies that ‘this is it.’ We got ‘the best’ and things cannot become better. With these two words, we stifle continuous improvement, innovation, and development.
The second issue is that it never takes into consideration the environment that helped make it ‘best.’ The practice cannot, and should not, be separated from the setting in which it is applied. What works for GE may not necessarily work for BP. In fact, even within the same organization, what worked in the USA probably will not work as effectively in China.
So… does it make sense to talk of best practice?
The only way we can make real use of best practice is to understand it better. If we start thinking of organizational or human resource problems in the same manner doctors view diseases, we can offer better solutions and practices. In such a scenario, best practice would be analyzed so we can understand what made it work in that particular company. We would also attempt to understand what factors would contribute to making it less (or more) effective.
Whatever we do, however, we need to stop using the word ‘best.’ Words have power and everything ‘best’ is a death warrant to improvement and innovation. We should be thinking instead of ‘effective practices’ or borrow the beautiful term ‘High Performance Work Systems (HPWS)’ from organizational development professionals and scholars. After all, our role as human resource professionals is not really to ‘best’ anyone at anything but to ensure our organization, and its people, perform in the way they need to.
What I find especially attractive about the concept of HPWS is that it includes some principles that organizations should adopt like empowerment; extensive training and development; transparency; and rewarding job designs. What HPWS does not include however, are specific guidelines on how these principles should be implemented, managed, or controlled. In fact, the whole point behind HPWS is that every organization should continually strive to understand and develop the practices that contribute to these principles.
Guidelines, not practices.
In fact, that’s the third issue I have with best practice. The practice part.
The Oxford Dictionary defines the word practice as “the actual application or use of an idea, belief, or method, as opposed to theories relating to it.’ Principles, on the other hand, are “A general scientific theorem or law that has numerous special applications across a wide field.” The idea of performance management, for example, is a principle: Maximize your organization’s performance through alignment to the goals. The specific methods you choose to implement performance management, however, are practices. Your performance appraisal system, your competency frameworks, and your pay-for-performance policies are all practices. They might work, and then again, they might not.
My personal observation after working and consulting in the HR field for 25+ years is that most of these ‘best practices’ don’t work as effectively as their title claims. So let’s stop touting the ‘best practice’ banner and focus instead on developing our own “High Performance Practice.”
Layla Halabi, Partner at Learnactive, is a performance specialist with a broad background in Leadership and Management Development with more than 25 years’ experience in the GCC and the Middle East. Layla has extensive experience with the private, public and not-for-profit sectors both as an internal and an external consultant and has been involved in a multitude of projects including organizational audits, performance improvement, training and HR-related projects such as competency systems. She has worked with some of the leading organizations like General Electric and the United Nations system.
Established in 2008, Learnactive is a Human Resource and Organizational Development consultancy based in Dubai, UAE, serving the GCC and Middle Eastern region. The company specialized in developing human resource as well as learning and development professionals through providing the ability to implement practical solutions using innovative, creative and fun methods that have been strategically formalized through it international partners and associates like the Kirkpatrick Partners, Center for Accelerated Learning, Performance Makers Group and others.