Why best practice isn’t good enough – and what we need instead

What if:

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 concept 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 our mind. ‘Best’ in whose eyes? Who says so? And why? Interestingly, if you look it up online you can find many thoughtful articles eviscerating ‘Best Practice’. But no one, it seems has ever come up with a satisfactory alternative.

An epiphany

So in 2015 we finally dared to muse on a different way of thinking about the best way of designing and conducting Internal Communication (IC) activities, and created a new phrase for that ‘best way’. In so doing we discovered some very obvious flaws in best practice. These flaws can be of two types:

1. The practices themselves may not be as good as they need to be

2. Your appreciation of the value of these practices may be weaker than it otherwise might be.

So the culturally inherited concept of best practice is likely holding your organisation back But what would be a healthier alternative?

Well what happens if you think in terms of practice which is ‘Demonstrably Fit for Valid Purposes’ (DFVP)? Of course it’s way more of a mouthful, but if you give yourself the opportunity to compare this phrase to that of ‘best practice’, maybe you’ll see it’s worth the extra eight syllables – for four reasons.

Four benefits

1. Clarity

Almost any business activity will likely have at least two purposes. Certainly IC activities do:

a) The purpose of internal communication itself

b) The purpose of the business activity being communicated about.

And, unlike ‘best practice’, the DFVP phrase explicitly requires people to state what those purposes are.

That’s not to say those purposes are never articulated when folk talk of best practice. But they’re not explicitly required, so they may often be overlooked. And even if the purposes were expressed when the best practice was being defined, they 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.

2. Validity

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 folk in the wrong direction, or too vague for employees to be clear about what the direction needs to be) your organisation may end up in the rather perverse situation of following practices which are providing 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 we’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 everyone were to be talking in terms of practice which is Demonstrably Fit for a Valid Purposes, it forces the purpose to be articulated and validated up front. So it reduces the risk of such in-fighting. But even that can’t do the whole job on its own, so we all 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 that purpose valid? And what makes this practice fit for that explicitly valid purpose?

If people can’t see the purpose, nor what makes it valid, or the practices fit for it, they’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 you can end up with the latest ‘flavour of the month’, even though the purpose of the activity hasn’t changed? Should anyone be surprised, then, if not everyone is willing to take IC best practice as seriously as some people believe they should?

Only through showing your workings out can you start to address these issues. Have you done your due diligence? Can everyone see that due diligence? Are they in a position to pick through your reasoning such that they can challenge it? This, of course, is where the real validation needs to happen, because DFVP has to be a team effort. Working on your own, or in a small group, your ‘workings out’ should enable you to justify your purpose, and the fitness of the practices you’ve come up with. But justification isn’t really validation. That requires peer review.

Other people, with different experiences of different situations, have to be able to interrogate what you’ve come up with, test it for themselves, point out any blind-spots, recommend refinements and even, if necessary, invalidate your work. Yes it is potentially that scary for those willing to show their workings out. DFVP is no place for slapdash attitudes or fragile egos; it demands not only diligence but humility.

However, the benefits for the wider populace can be extraordinary.

4. An irresistible, healthier paradigm

By talking in terms of DFVP practice, you are backing everyone into an empowering corner. What it does is create a new paradigm in which only four possibilities exist:

So if you’re working with DFVP internal communication practices, you have effectively got an unshakeable technical mandate to lay down the law about how IC has to be conducted in your organisation – forever. That’s why, uniquely, all Communication Game practices are DFVP.

But of course that stands up only if you can Demonstrate the Valid Purposes of Internal Communication.

Fortunately, you can.

And we’re currently offering FREE workshops which will help you understand more. It will:

  • spell out more of the business benefits (emotional, financial and reputational)
  • walk you through the mechanics of introducing these practices, and
  • show you how to make the business case for introducing this new paradigm. ‘
Learn more