Simply copying what has made others successful, often under the guise of "benchmarking", is not always the best way forward for every company. According to organisational development expert and president of PNA, Inc., Adrian Savage, companies that adopt standard industry best practices in areas like evaluating and developing their executives and staff could be headed for trouble.
Each company, regardless of size, has a unique set of circumstances and requirements: best practices used by one company are unlikely to fit another. "The best companies do not follow industry practices - they set them," says Savage. "By the time something becomes best practice, everyone is doing it. It no longer differentiates."
There is no single answer
The holy grail of corporate desire if often to find the one thing that has led someone else to success: in fact, an industry has sprung up to help. Copying what the currently most successful companies have done assumes that there is a causal link between the particular practice and success, whereas often there is no link at all.
It is almost always more effective to stand back and ask yourself what the precise situation calls for rather than seek some panacea from elsewhere. "If there really was a single, sure fire answer," says Savage, "you can be sure that you could not afford to buy it!"
Lead, don't follow
According to Savage, the seemingly endless interest in benchmarking themselves and their people based on standard best practices can actually prevent companies from achieving success. Companies might believe that if they are using an established best practice, that is good enough. The assumption that they are using the best available methods can lead to a false sense of security. But, in actual fact, this approach stops companies from thinking clearly about what they need to do to develop in their own, unique circumstances. It takes away conscious choice and draws them into the habit of following instead of leading.
The term "industry best practice" implies that it is a universal path that all companies in the industry should follow. But that isn't necessarily true. While it is often sensible to look around and see what others are doing, what works in one context might be useless or dangerous in another. Once it is clear what others are doing, companies should take that as an indication of the very least that is acceptable. According to Savage: "See it as the minimum standard. Industry best practices are what you have to exceed, not copy, if you wish to stand out."
It is also common sense to wonder who decided it was best practice and how that decision was made. And, of course, many of the genuine best practices are kept closely guarded secrets, since they confer strong commercial advantage. The ones companies talk about and demonstrate have probably already delivered their benefits and are about to be replaced.
Develop and grow talent
The most solid and reliable way to realise potential is through the people in the business; by developing strong internal sources of innovation and creativity. This gives the business a consistent edge. By helping its people to broaden their thinking and to make breakthroughs in performance, a business can maintain the only truly sustainable source of competitive advantage: having better people and keeping them. "In the end," says Savage, "there is no substitute for talent. The company that has the most talented people and keeps them developing and growing has no need to follow anyone else. The others will all be scrambling to follow them."
The good old-fashioned questions: "where are we going? what do we need? and what does the situation call for?" need to be asked. The answers will point to the best way forward without having to depend on others' best practices. Find, develop and retain every possible source of talent, and you will have the best possible security in an increasingly uncertain world.
What TPS is
The Potentia System (TPS) is a qualitative diagnostic approach that produces a picture of potential in individuals, teams and organizations. It is based on three key principles: exploring future possibilities, reawakening deliberate choice and working from strength. Companies that use TPS focus on understanding and maximizing the potential in individuals, teams and organizations, as an essential element of leadership and an effective and proven approach to creating positive change. The techniques of TPS have been in development and use for more than 15 years throughout Europe, Africa, the Middle East, Australia and the Far East.
For a free copy of Adrian Savage's new white paper, "The Nature of Potential," contact Brenda Nashawaty or Christine Stuart.
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E-mail: Brenda Nashawaty or Christine Stuart