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Best Training Practices
Will Kenny
3927 York Ave N
Robbinsdale, MN 55422
612-978-3050

Is Collecting "Best Practices" A Best Practice?

better performance or stronger resistance?

(reprinted from The Training Tipsheet)

One of the most common sources of training activity in large organizations is "spreading best practices". This is the notion that different departments, or different geographic locations, might have slightly different ways of doing things, and that the best of those approaches can be identified and then standardized across the other units.

My experience is that upper management and executive staff often love the idea of "best practices". And the employees on the front line hate the phrase.

Look at how best practices flow around a large company, and you'll rarely see an even distribution. More typically, one or two units -- whether defined geographically or functionally -- tend to generate the best practices for everyone else. Except for those couple of units, everyone else is on the receiving end.

That leads to a perception that "outsiders," to some extent, are telling the receiving units what's wrong with how they do their work, and how to fix it. While a few exceptional organizations may manage to collect and spread best practices fairly and effectively, in many more companies, the "Best Practices Program" is just another annoying top-down feel-good effort that gets minimal real support from the front line employees.

Contributing to that lack of interest, on the receiving end, are the "coincidences" associated with those one or two units that generate a disproportionate share of official best practices. After all, it is just coincidence, is it not, that most best practices come from a unit that is:

  • Working in the biggest office, or biggest market, of all the facilities of the company; or
  • Located in the same region as most of the executive staff of the company; or
  • Based in the ancestral home, the original starting point, of the organization; or
  • Delivering the hottest product or service for the company, at the moment.

Why does this matter to the training function? First of all, it sets you up for, if not failure, at least for disappointing results. "Best practices" sounds like such a sensible approach that it is easy to assume that everyone will embrace the program.

But the devil is in the details, and best practices programs frequently evolve into programs that breed indifference at best, resistance at worst.

Your training staff work at the junction of the top-down and bottom-up views of any given best practice. If the best practice really does apply well to other units, your professional skills and enthusiasm can help overcome the bad taste the phrase "best practices" often brings with it.

If it needs some adaptation to work in the new location or function, again, your training expertise can be invaluable.

And if it is a bad fit, if it is more about power and influence and wishful thinking than it is about making the entire organization more productive and effective, your courage in bringing feedback and recommendations to executive management can make a valuable contribution to the future success of your company.

© 2013 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny

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