You’ve undoubtedly heard and likely used the term ‘best practice’ in referring to organizational trends, procedures, and initiatives. But have you taken the time to really consider what the term means, exactly what you’re comparing against – and more importantly, why – when you refer to best practice?

In general, a best practice describes a professional procedure that’s promoted (and often accepted) as being the most effective and/or beneficial in a given discipline (e.g., HR or Information Technology), or industry. And while they may in fact be the most effective for some – or even many – organizations, like a template, they often fail to take into consideration important factors such as size and nature of organization, state of evolution (e.g., start-up), profit or non-profit status, vision and direction, culture and values, clients, and community, etc.

Unless you specifically want your organization to be similar to others and/or to maintain the status quo, a best practice for another organization (or even several organizations) may not hold true for yours. Accordingly, simply putting in place a similar practice doesn’t offer any guarantees for a favourable experience, and almost certainly won’t lead to the same outcome/impact as for others. And here’s why. While you can adopt any practice – best or otherwise – if you don’t pay enough attention to the following critical components, it’s highly unlikely that the hoped-for impact or outcome will look the same across organizations:

  • Alignment – aligning the practice with your culture, vision, values
  • Systems – clearly defining and building out the practice, associated systems, and structure
  • Training – imparting knowledge, sharing experience, communicating, and providing clarity, ideally beginning at the leadership/management level
  • Accountability – holding leaders/managers accountable to adopting, using, promoting, and training their teams on those practices and associated systems
  • People – holding the rest of the team accountable, once trained, as well as supporting them at all levels throughout

Now, you might argue that there are baseline best practices that all organizations should adopt/lean towards. In that case, it’s important to differentiate them from compliant practices, such as minimum employment/labour standards, privacy, and human rights legislation. These aren’t so-called best practices, but rather non-negotiables. It’s how your organization adopts and defines these areas, and ideally builds upon them in line with your unique vision, culture, and values that makes them better or best for your organization.

You may also feel you need to adopt best practices (such as specific benefits and perks) in order to competitively attract and retain the best talent. If your primary competitor provides 4 weeks of vacation to start, should you as well? Maybe. But maybe not. If you offer a genuinely kind, supportive and innovative culture, provide a high degree of flexibility (e.g., for various types of leave, work hours, working remotely) and/or you pay above the market median, do you also need to provide 4 weeks of vacation? Again, maybe, maybe not. It’s not about what they do… it’s about how and why you do it. Even when we provide our clients with specific recommendations (often based upon a comprehensive review/ analysis of their practices and conversations with their people), how those recommendations (if adopted) play out in every organization may look very differently – based on all of the factors we outline above.

Ultimately, the concept of best practice is at odds with innovation, risk-taking and leading the way – and doing so with fire, heart, and courage. So, while you may look to other organizations to see how they do it (including – ideally – industries that are very different from yours!), and consider what you can learn and borrow, we encourage you to consider how you can infuse the spirit and energy of your unique organization into it, such that it’s your best practice, not theirs.

As Mike Myatt, a Forbes contributor, put it: “Be disruptive in your approach and don’t fall into the trap of doing something in a particular fashion, just because others do it that way – think next practices, not best practices… best practices maintain the status quo and next practices shatter it.”