Why best practice isn’t good enough – and what we need instead
we’ve all inherited a paradigm in which…
…everyone’s accepted the idea of ‘best practice’, but that very concept itself isn’t good enough?
The idea of best practice has been around for yonks: it’s the ‘go to’ phrase used by HR folk and business managers, when deciding how they should improve their policies and procedures. But it’s always raised nagging doubts in some people’s minds. ‘Best’ in whose eyes? And why? Against what criteria is this ‘best-ness’ being evaluated?
Interestingly, there are plenty of thoughtful articles online, which eviscerate the very concept of ‘Best Practice’. But no one, it seems ever to have come up with a satisfactory alternative.
So in 2015 we finally dared to let ourselves muse on a different way of thinking about the best way of designing and conducting IC activities, and created a new phrase for that ‘best way’. In so doing, we discovered some very obvious flaws in best practice. And these flaws can be of two types:
- The practices themselves may not be as good as they need to be
- Your ability to get the political clout to pursue these practices may be weaker than it otherwise might be.
So everyone’s inherited concept of best practice is likely holding you back – in your day to day work, and in your long term career. Might it not be a good idea, then, to start sharing a healthier alternative with your key decision-makers?
And the alternative we’re offering is to think in terms of practice which is ‘Demonstrably Fit for a Valid Purposes’ (DFVP)? We appreciate it’s way more of a mouthful, but if we compare this phrase to that of ‘best practice’, maybe it’ll become clear that it’s worth the extra eight syllables – for four reasons.
Almost any business activity will likely have at least two purposes. Certainly IC activities do:
- The purpose of internal communication itself
- The purpose of the business activity being communicated about.
And, unlike ‘best practice’, the DFVP phrase explicitly requires us to state what those purposes are.
That’s not to say the purposes are never articulated when people talk of best practice, but this step is not explicitly required, so it may often be overlooked. And even if the purposes were expressed when the best practice was being defined, it can easily get left out when communicated to others. So over time many people may end up blindly going along with whatever they’re told is best practice. And that means they’re probably less able to tell whether what’s being asked of them is as good as it could be for the specific circumstances they face.
More insidiously, perhaps, if the purpose isn’t being communicated, no one’s in a position to tell whether that purpose itself is appropriate. This leads us to the second benefit: Validity of purpose.
After all, establishing the purpose of any activity (particularly a long-term one) is rather like setting the compass bearings on a ship about to sail across the ocean. Get it just a tiny bit out at the beginning, and the cumulative effect will get bigger and bigger as we go along. And if the purpose is invalid (because it’s either pointing us in the wrong direction, or too vague for us to be clear about what our direction needs to be) we may end up in the rather perverse situation of following practices which give us the best way of fulfilling the wrong purpose. Is it any wonder so many business and government initiatives can end up thousands of miles off course?
Worse still, if the purpose isn’t explicitly articulated during the development of best practice, it’s almost inevitable that people may often have little option but to use subjective opinion to define what’s ‘best’. Many times over the years I’ve come across bun-fights going on between rival communication agencies, consultancies and trade bodies, all claiming that their way of doing things is ‘best practice’. But if we talk in terms of practice which is Demonstrably Fit for a Valid Purposes, we force the purpose to be articulated and validated up front, and reduce the risk of such in-fighting. But even that can’t do the whole job on its own, so we need to go further.
3. Showing our workings out
Including the word ‘Demonstrably’ in our criteria means we have to ‘show our workings out’. What, specifically, makes this purpose valid? And what makes this practice fit for that explicitly valid purpose? Have we done our due diligence? Can everyone see that due diligence? Are they in a position to pick through our reasoning such that they can challenge it?
If we can’t see the purpose, nor what makes it valid, or the practices fit for it, we’re having to take everything on faith. Is it any wonder that best practice – in all manner of business activities – is often so unstable that we can end up with the latest ‘flavour of the month’ of best practice, even though the purpose of the activity hasn’t changed? Should we be surprised, then, if not everyone is willing to take IC best practice as seriously as we’d like them to? And this brings us to the fourth benefit of thinking and talking in terms of DFVP practice.
4. An irresistible paradigm
By talking in terms of DFVP practice, we are backing everyone (including the leadership team) into an empowering corner. What we’ve done is create a new paradigm in which only four possibilities exist:
Of course we have to recognise that the world isn’t quite this simple, because there can be different degrees of validity, and of fitness. ‘How valid?’ ‘How fit?’ But given the alternatives, we should surely all be working towards making our practices as DFVP as possible, should we not? Of course that raises the inevitable question of how you can tell if your practices are already DFVP. What criteria would such practices be fulfilling?
Once you are working with DFVP internal communication practices, you’ll have an unshakeable technical mandate to lay down the law about how IC has to be conducted in your organisation – forever.
That’s why all the Communication Game practices we teach are Demonstrably Fit for Valid Purposes.