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Best Training Practices
Will Kenny
3927 York Ave N
Robbinsdale, MN 55422

"Best Practices" :
Gain, or Just Pain?

employees can tell you if you're really changing anything

(reprinted from The Training Tipsheet)

Want to make employees roll their eyes, hide under their desks, and mutter and whine to each other?

In many large organizations, you can do all that simply by uttering this powerful magic phrase:

"best practices"

Why do so many people people cringe when they hear that phrase? After all, the basic concept is straightforward enough.

Ideally, good ideas come from the field and spread throughout the organization. For example, a company might be divided into several regions, one of which comes up with a great way to enhance customer service, or close more sales, or improve product quality. Someone captures that method of doing things, puts together some communications or documentation, and issues it as a procedure for all regions in the company.

It's a great idea, but I've seen countless companies drain all the energy out of these efforts by:

  • Forgetting that principles that work well in one division or region may not apply in a different environment. Without a "local' perspective, you can make things worse! (When a well-known national department-store chain had only one store in Minnesota, that store reported to a California "region" and didn't stock heavy winter coats!)
  • Flipping a "bottom up" process into highly authoritarian "top down" mode. Companies just churn out directives without attempting to get any buy-in from the field.
  • Delivering the "Best Practice Fad of the Month". Best practices are mandated before they've been thought through and tested, and when they don't work, a new best practice is hastily cobbled together to replace the one that failed.
  • Gathering all the new ideas from a favored region or division. When most of the company decides they are always following the ideas of just one certain market or department, expect a lot of resistance.

The biggest problem? Poor communication. Best practices are imposed on other regions, functions, and divisions without an explanation of why they are better, and with very poor training on how to implement them. Employees learn that a new "best practices initiative" means time lost listening to, or reading, stuff that doesn't make much sense, and doesn't really help them work in new ways.

In the worst cases, by the time management is done refining and disseminating the best practice, the group that came up with it in the first place doesn't recognize it. They have to abandon the best practice they invented, only to adopt a bastardized version that has been through a meat grinder to prepare it for wider dissemination.

The cure for all these problems? Patience.

Best practices that will transform the organization overnight are rare, so take the time to make sure they work where they were invented. Carefully evaluate how they will transfer to other situations, and develop high-quality communication tools that include both the "how" and the "why" of the new methods.

Best practices are a great concept. It's too bad more companies don't apply best practices to collecting and spreading best practices.

© 2007 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny

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