Best practices. It’s one of those management mantras from which we never stray. We recite it as if it were gospel and act as if it’s the single-handed solution to anything with which our organization is struggling. Sure, abiding by “best practices,” undoubtedly has led to great accomplishments and meaningful results, but guess what? It’s also kind of boring.
Lets take one small step back and think about this: If we all focus on best practices, then we aren’t doing anything to distinguish ourselves from the competition. We will not be building any unique excellence into our businesses. Instead, we are most likely borrowing the same books from the same library and probably from the same shelf as everyone else. So what should we do? Heres an idea: start with our respective industry’s worst practices.
That’s right. If you want to shake up how you support your customers, don’t start with best practices. Try, instead, finding your industry’s worst practices and take tiny steps or better yet, giant leaps towards bettering them!
The worst only want to get better
Worst practices lurk everywhere because they’re baked into the tired, toxic assumptions of business as usual. Customer service nightmares (think Dell Hell), design desolation, lowest common denominators (like KFC’s stomach-churningly grody Double Down), brand destroying and money losing marketing campaigns, and many more they’re just a few shining examples of the worst of the worst, desperately crying out to be bettered.
But they’re not the only ones. Worst practices can be very sneaky, hiding in far back places you’d never think to check, and even more horrifying, sometimes they’re mocking you in plain sight. Your challenge is to find these nasty nuisances in your organization and then better them, in your own way. This is how is how you unseat or at least separate your self from the competition.
So how do you find your worst practices? Here are few ways to get started:
Ask your critics. The simplest way to uncover what your worst practices are is to ask your critics the fiercer, the better. Most companies have been taught to bash, beat, and silence them but if you really want to discover where your “best” is far from good enough, your critics are worth about five hundred times their weight in management consultants, pundits, and assorted bean counters. Try using social media channels to listen for feedback from your critics. A simple Twitter search can do half of the job.
Spend a day in the trenches. CBS’s reality show Undercover Boss is awesome. It puts a CEO “anonymously” on the front lines, side-by-side with what’s most often his or her’s customer support team; regular folks, who are seemingly unaware that their newest co-worker is actually the Big Cheese. Why is that awesome? Because there’s nothing like watching a cloistered suit get a hefty dose of reality and there’s nothing to deliver that dose like spending time doing battle in the trenches. Want to discover what really sucks about your distribution, marketing, pricing, customer service, partners, or products? Experience it first hand. When you’re in the boardroom, a dozen yes-men can cook up a billion excuses but when you’re the one doing the above, there’s no escaping the truth.
Diet on your own dog food. What would happen, one wonders, if every CEO had a new clause inserted into his or her gilded contract: you make it, you use it exclusively. It’s just a hunch, but I’d bet that if fast food execs could only eat fast food, if bankers could only invest in their own toxic securities, and if pharma execs had to swallow a handful of their own pills every morning, the economy might not be so riddled with self-destructive junk. Hence, if you want to track down your worst practices, start by making what you make part of the fabric of your own daily life. What you think Steve Jobs types his emails on a Dell? Of course not. There’s a lesson there for every company struggling to break out of the lumbering herd, by bettering its worst.
The 20th century’s best just might not be good enough to create 21st century advantage. To get there, you have to master the art of mattering. One way to start is hunting for what’s terrible, insufferable, and downright awful and then striving, relentlessly, harder than your rivals think is even conceivable, to better it. We’d love to hear what you’ve done to break up the status quo. Please share!