Risk – breaking the stranglehold of best practice!

Risk – breaking the stranglehold of best practice!

(These thoughts also apply to many other ‘frameworks’)

Having just completed another inspiring 3 day Strategic Risk Oversight programme in Arusha, Tanzania – not only a lovely place but full of greater people – I was once again struck by the need to move our organisational theories out of the realm of academics and theory and ensure they are practically applied in a customised and contextual manner.
I hesitate to too aggressively or too bluntly criticise the ‘best practice’ movement but feel that it often does more damage than good. In today’s world, the biggest temptation,  and often the the pressure felt by people inside organisations of every type is to simply ‘cut and paste’ a framework or a methodology  ‘into ‘ their own business, or just ‘tick-a-box’! I know this is not the intention of best practice and international standards but it is often the way they are applied.
Please don’t get me wrong, I have learned a massive amount about a huge number of areas in business by relying on and studying various best practice framework. In what I do I have the freedom to ‘engage’ with these frameworks in the very fertile context of training and workshopping and so am able to see how they can, or cannot, be flexed and tweaked. At the same time, I have developed what I think is a healthy scepticism of these frameworks because I see the manifestation of an unthinking approach toward them – this is often mainly because even the name ‘ best practice’ tends to communicate that to change them or adapt them would be to ‘settle for less than the best’! What also happens is that businesses across the spectrum, instead of expressing a unique approach to the full range of issues businesses face, look more and more the same.
Another symptom of this is that the same organisations or businesses are used as examples in just about every business book on the bookshelves – reading them can become frustrating and boring (believe me I have read a lot of them).
The brutal truth is that ‘best practice’ is seldom ‘best practice’ simply ‘imported’ as is into an organisation. Best practice would actually be to understand some core principles that apply to an area and develop customised frameworks by applying these principles – through a disciplined application methodology – ‘into’ a specific organisational context.
The challenge is to dig deeply ‘beneath’ The actual practices in best practice to uncover, or even discover, the underlying principles. Once these underlying principles have been uncovered we can then use them as a foundation stone to ensure that the customised framework, the unique application, the original design and creation of an appropriate framework is robust. Looking from the outside in we will then find that instead of organisations looking more and more the same, driven by a pursuit by all businesses of the same best practices, they will begin to look and feel unique while at the same time improving in both effectiveness (doing the right thing) and efficiency.
What we may then see is a new set of business books describing some unique and meaningful approaches to the issues businesses face. This will be sure to renew interest in not only innovation with products and services but also innovation in the realm of business modelling, business process design and even , maybe one day, in ads like risk governance and risk management.
Till next time.

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