• Wendy Castleman

The Death of Best Practices

Have you been adopting “Best Practices” for your organization?  

For many years, I described the central design group that I used to work in as a “Best Practices” organization.  We were focused on sharing UX, Design Thinking, and Lean Startup methods and tools with the employees at Intuit. We encouraged people to adopt these methods and to adapt them if needed.  It was a useful approach to getting an entire organization to get on the same page. We would get frustrated when people would choose NOT to adopt our approach, but we also spent a good deal of time trying to understand WHY and making improvements to our approach to adapt to the needs of the organization.  Although we did go out to other organizations and learn from outside of our company, we tended not to adopt THEIR solutions without making significant adjustments based on the unique context of our corporate culture.

Now that I’m off on my own, I have been talking with people to understand where I can best apply what I’ve learned about helping organizations change.  Recently, this brought me to a conversation with Matt Parrish.

Matt and I were talking about today’s challenges with HR organizations and some of the trends he is seeing in his role at ServiceNow as HR Transformation Leader.  In this role, he works with SVPs, CPOs, CHROs and other HR leaders. We spoke about the challenges of keeping agile and human-centered in a work world where change is accelerating.  We spoke about how systems and processes that HR organizations use are often archaic and focused on reducing risk for the organization. Then, our conversation focused on what organizations need to do to adapt to this constantly changing environment. 

Matt said, “Best practices are dead.”  He said that organizations try to adopt solutions that they find other organizations using.  In theory, this seems like a sound strategy. After all, if a solution is addressing a challenge successfully in one organization, why would you want to reinvent the wheel? What Matt meant was that you cannot just adopt another solution without adapting it to the needs and unique environment of your organization.  Sticking with the wheel analogy, it wouldn’t make sense to use a skateboard wheel on a bicycle.

In discussing this with Matt, we recognized that what needs to happen in our current world is that HR leaders need to start with gaining empathy for the people who work in their organization.  HR leaders need to design the “employee experience” based on the unique needs of their own company and employees. In many ways, this isn’t different from designing any other product or experience.  You have CUSTOMERS (in this case, employees and prospective employees) who are trying to accomplish a wide range of things, including hiring, onboarding, training, performance management, etc… and you are responsible for understanding their needs and context and creating a solution that helps them accomplish those things easily and successfully.

One of the keys to designing a successful employee experience is to understand that your organizational culture and the people working within it are unique and multidimensional.  In the book “The End of Average”, Todd Rose made the case that because humans vary on multiple dimensions, there is no such thing as an “Average” person. The same can be said for organizations.  Even if you are in the same industry as your competitors, you differ from them. Your people are different, your values are different, your location is different, your product is different…. Because you are different from one another, you might need a different solution for a similar problem.  Just because a shoe fits, doesn’t mean it’s the right shoe.

I recently took up running.  As any long-distance runner can attest, you have to replace your shoes every 300 or so miles.  At one point, I was getting close to time to replace my shoes and discovered that the model I was currently using was discontinued and I was going to need to find a new pair of running shoes.  I reached out to other runners for advice. A HUGE number of them gushed about Hoka’s. I went out to a running store and tried a pair on. They were COMFORTABLE. They had a great deal more cushion than I was accustomed to and I was delighted! Then, I started running longer distances in them… and discovered that they were too cushioned for me. I needed to feel the road more, to have more contact with my running surface.  Although they seemed like a good solution, they weren’t the right solution for me. If I’d thought about it from my own needs first, I would have realized this. I have wonky ankles, so I like to have a really firm and steady pair of shoes to support my feet well. I have a high arch and instep, and need shoes that let my heels and the balls of my feet be in closer contact with the shoe than the arch, so it can flex as it does naturally when I run.  Of course a highly cushioned running shoe wasn’t going to work for me! Doh!

You can't just copy what works in one organization. Determine what is unique about the people in yours.

Just like my experience with the running shoes, HR leaders who adopt other organizations solutions without spending time really understanding the needs of the “users”, will find that it’s not usually the right fit.  

“Best Practices are Dead”, Matt said, “Go talk to your employees.”

Great advice, Matt.  

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