Best Practices…Who Says?

Best Practice

Life is full of best practices.  These are the things we should all be doing because they worked for someone else.  We get caught up in copying the P90X workout, or the Zappos marketing campaign, or the Salesforce.com sales presentation, or even parenting based upon the sage advice of best practice preachers. For those with children, do you remember the book What to Expect When You’re Expecting?; it’s a best practice book! But what are best practices?

The most common definition I could find on the Internet says best practices are commercial or professional procedures that are accepted or prescribed as being correct or most effective.  But by whom?  Who says they work? Where did they work?  When?  What kind of business did they work in?

I have nothing against best practices in general.  However, when organizations take an approach that proudly states they will deploy best practices to accomplish their objectives, I must admit…it does make me a bit curious.

My experience has taught me that an organization’s culture trumps even the best of best practices.  I’ve spent 13 years of my career in the payroll and human resource outsourcing space.  Several times I’ve attempted to deploy what was considered a best practice at one firm into another only to see it fail due to a cultural difference.  Like hiring one of your competitors top sales people only to find they were unable to be as successful selling in your company, implementing best practices from one place to another doesn’t always work either.  Top sales people many times excel in environments where they are provided with autonomy and the latitude to get a deal done.  Placing that same sales person in a company that requires their managers sign-off on everything they do is a certain recipe for failure both for the sales person, the company, and of course the customer.

Before thinking about copying a best practice be honest with yourself and your team.  There’s a difference between being capable of doing something versus being able.  Having the ability to change is quite different from having the capability of changing.  Most of us are capable of a lot more than we’re doing today.  The reason we’re not doing more is because we’re unable to…unable to cross the chasm…unable to make the change…unable to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

We should always be interested in, and on the lookout for best practices.  Just be sure to consider how far you’re willing to go to implement those changes.  How much change can you endure in order to make the needed change?  The truth is, for best practices to work, it’s entirely up to you.  It’s not about the practice itself but about how you and your organization can execute that practice that makes it work…that makes it a best practice.

3 Philosophies of a Great Company

Greatness-vs.-Mediocrity

You work for a great company, right?  You know what your customers want.  Your product, your service, your company has got it.  You’re the best out there and you know it.  You’ve built things from the ground up or possibly revamped an existing infrastructure to improve your sales effectiveness and efficiency.  You installed a sales CRM tool, you’re looking at a marketing automation system, and you just bought a prospect list that will help you focus on where to fish.  You’re ready.  You’re set…and off you go!

But wait.  You’ve spent months focused only on the internal aspects of your company.  You’ve developed plans based upon a certain set of assumptions, all of which, are best guesses based upon what you know.  But herein lies the problem, it’s not what you know that presents the risk of failure…it’s what you don’t know.  And  right now you’re missing the biggest piece of your success equation – what does the customer want and how do they want it?

Most companies still operate from an inside-out viewpoint.  What do we sell?  Why are we the best?  What makes us different?  Why is our product or process better?  This is why we’re special.  This is why you’ll love our solution.  And on, and on it goes.

So what separates average companies from star performers?  While there are many things that go into creating a great company I’d offer the following three philosophies as perhaps the most critical:

  1. Outside-in view.   Placing the buyers needs first is crucial to a company’s growth and success.  This requires dedicating time and resources to studying and understanding your prospective buyer.   Sirius Decisions, an expert in the integration of sales and marketing, developed a proven process that companies can use to identify and define their various buyer personas.  These personas provide deep insight into the buyer, who they are, how they operate, where they go to gather information, and their preferred methods of absorbing information.  Without this deep understanding of your prospective buyer, your sales and marketing efforts will continue to produce disappointing results.
  2. Thirst for knowledge.  Great companies are also learning companies.  They apply different techniques to deepen their awareness and familiarity of the marketplace.  Leadership gurus like Noel Tichy have introduced various methods for gaining and using this knowledge, inside of large organizations, that can also be applied to small businesses.  Tichy’s Virtuous Teaching Cycle, introduced in his book The Leadership Cycle, provides clear steps for how to gather, assimilate, and cascade knowledge throughout an organization.  Companies that commit to this quest for knowledge are better prepared to take the lead when the opportunity arises.
  3. Commitment to talent.  It’s no wonder that the companies on the list of Fortune’s Great Places to Work have some of the strongest performance results around.  For years, we have read the studies and seen the data that prove a direct correlation between employee satisfaction and high performance.  Today, we see companies like HubSpot, Zappos, and Square2Marketing providing benefits to employees ranging from “unlimited vacation time” to “pet friendly work places”.  Companies are beginning to see the benefits of providing more control and accountability to their employees.  Brian Halligan, HubSpot’s CEO said, “we hire very smart people who focus on the growth of our company and we expect them to use common sense”, and they have done just that since this HubSpot’s unlimited vacation policy was introduced in January 2010.