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Best. Blog. Post. Ever.

I had a conversation with a vendor today about performance management technologies. He used the phrase “Best Practice” like 57 times over the course of the hour we met. “This is a best practice…that is a best practice…it’s all a freakin’ best practice.” All this rubbish, aside from souring my mood, got me to thinking…

What the hell is a ‘best practice’? Who says it’s ‘best’? Best for what? Best for whom? In order for something to be the best, doesn’t it have to be better than everything else? And in order for it to be better than everything else don’t there have to be standards to measure it against? Since when can the multi-dimensional, unique, and complex dynamics of the workplace be reduced to a “standard”?

When it comes to the world of work, and particularly when it comes to the application of Human Resources, be very careful about the quest for best. “Best” is fickle and fleeting…it has a very short shelf life…it might not even exist at all. If I tried to pluck a ‘best practice’ from another organization and implement it at face value in mine, said practice (and I) would fail miserably. You know that, I know that. The only way you can get to ‘best’ in your HR practice for your company, is to build it with your company and your company alone in mind.

Next time a vendor tells you this is a “best practice,” put on your best smirk and ask, “says who?”

Next time some stupid magazine gives you a list of “best places to work,” go get a grain of salt.

Next time a recruiter tells you “this is the best candidate,” make sure it’s by your standards and not theirs.

Next time some self-righteous blogger tells you this is “the best way to do something,” ignore them.

Image Credit: Says Who Studios

  • Karin

    This post made my morning. Now, when I talk to people about the whole “best practice” mantra (seemingly an HR thing) I can say Charlie thinks so too :-)


    (my parents always said that saying Thank-you was a “best practice” in life-that I believe)

  • John


  • John Jorgensen

    Amen…I have developed an annoyance with “best practices” and it is ranking with “seat at the table”. I think it should be changed to “damn good practice….for us”.

  • April Kunzelman

    Our company is on one of those lists….. that being said, we certainly are one of the best places to work, for a certain type of person. Not for all types of people. Not even close. I know we’d be a version of hell for some.

    It’s all about your own standards. We’re a heck of a lot more proud that our people told friends, family and others we were a best place to work long before we were ever on the list than we are of being on the list.

  • Trish McFarlane

    Agree! I don’t want what is best for someone else. I want to work with innovative thinkers who create something new. Otherwise, HR will still be the same 20 years from now.

  • AC

    A-freakin-men Charlie. Great post!

  • Rob Hernandez

    Spot on Charlie. Your perspective is refreshing. In my opinion, a tech company who boasts best practices has invested too much money in marketing and not enough in research and development.

  • Seth McColley

    Good stuff. Reminds me of a former boss of mine who got fed up with all of the “HR/Corporate speak” and actually posted a note outside of his office that banned the use of some words in his office. Words like “world class”, “robust”, “best practice”, etc.

  • Richard Sherman

    I’m standing on my chair and clapping as if Tinkerbell’s life depends on it!

    Right ON!

  • Greg Harris

    I challenge the notion that “Best Places to Work” programs are stupid. Those that are based upon valid survey data provide a meaningful glimpse at company cultures. But we agree about the term “best practices”. Few terms are emptier. Recognizing great workplaces is a worthy effort. The risk is trivializing the steps a company takes to become great. Having an Olympic event and handing out trophies is good. Putting pictures on a Wheaties box and telling kids that they’ll be Olympians if they eat cereal is not so good.

  • Charlie

    @Greg – no one said the survey data wasn’t ‘meaningful’…but to then use that data to dictate which company is “best” and really how “best” they are (ranking) is a stretch in my mind. it’s no less misleading than the Wheaties analogy…sorry.

  • Michael Nelson

    At the CSC Leading Edge Forum, we don’t focus on “best practices.” Instead, we try to seek out and highlight “next practices.” It’s much more useful to try to find radical new ways of doing things, whether applying Cloud computing or motivating employees by using social media or trying to identify the “double-deep” employees you need to solve complex problems.