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Here’s Where ‘Best Practices’ in Corporate Culture Go Wrong

We can all acknowledge that not every best practice is indeed best. This has just become a blanket term for any practice in the corporate world that people seem to be a fan of. To be fair, best practices can surely be beneficial if you understand how to sort through everything to find the gems. However, relying too heavily on what someone else says is a best practice can lead to corporate culture gone wrong. This is the main theme of an article by Jane Watson. Watson notes that there is not always sufficient justification behind the implementation of a best practice:

Given these questionable motives, it can be difficult, I think, to assess whether a ‘best practice’ is effective, or simply the latest craze. Looked at from this (albeit cynical) viewpoint, it all seems a bit bizarre, doesn’t it? An organization implements a program because one of its senior leaders read an interview with XYZ Corp’s CEO touting the effectiveness of said program, and a trusted contact who is a high-priced consultant says that several Fortune 500 clients are doing the same. She thinks: “If influential organizations are doing it that way, then it must be the best way to do it.” The propagation of the practice continues, with industry experts speaking at conferences about it as ‘the new industry standard’; attendees returning back to their own organizations intent on not being left behind, eager to implement a similar program at their organizations. And to make a long story short- a ‘best practice’ is born.

Watson also suggests that New Institutional Theory offers an explanation as to why certain corporate choices are being made. “It is grounded in the belief that organizations who operate in an ambiguous context are often driven to pursue ‘institutional legitimacy. That is, an organization will be driven to act in ways that seek to legitimize its existence, status and power by conforming to prevailing notions of what such an organization ‘should’ look and act like,” says Watson. In other words, organizations see the other guy succeeding, and they want to copy those tactics thinking that doing so will equate to success.

Keep in mind; it is not to say that all best practices are faulty. In fact, many actually earned the title of “best” by working time and time again for organizations. However, we must keep in mind that those practices are, in reality, few and far between. As is true with most things in life, be sure to take your best practices with a grain of salt.

About Anne Grybowski

Anne is a former staff writer for CAI's Accelerating IT Success, with a degree in Media Studies from Penn State University.

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