The Secret Entrepreneur: Screw best practice!

Sick of being told there's a right way to do things, our mystery boss gets a major bugbear off their chest

Talk to a consultant, a self-proclaimed expert, or anyone who’s done some kind of business qualification and it won’t be long before you hear the term ‘best practice’.

Heck, I’ve used it myself often enough when talking to clients about our approach to a problem.

Best practice sounds so promising. It’s the ‘best’ way to handle something, the standard you should aspire to, the right thing to do.

Except there’s a problem. Best practice advice is generally based on things following their normal pattern: “All other things being the same, this is what you should do to get the best outcome.” When you’re running a business, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the real advantage comes from saying “screw best practice, we’ll do this as we can get an edge”.

The issue with this tends to come when it means riding rough-shod over the advice of an over-keen, recently qualified advisor who means well, but is so wrapped up in case studies that they forget that the real world often looks quite different to the comfortable realm of theory and example.

I recently got into a heated debate with our HR manager because of this. Sadly for you dear reader it was on a seemingly totally mundane point, not the amusing kind that HR people seem to revel in, like dealing with an inter-team three-way affair (seriously, that one had me in stitches).

We were just about to start interviewing candidates for a new role, and the unique opportunity arose to have the old head of the department sit in on a few of the interviews (normally he’s based in a different office).

This, to me, was an opportunity to leap on as he was the most experienced person we had in that field, and a great manager and interviewer – whereas the new head was still inexperienced and definitely needed a guiding hand.

The problem? He wouldn’t be available to interview everyone, just the first couple of candidates. Apparently HR ‘best practice’ makes this a no-no. Despite the fact that he could provide hugely valuable guidance to the other interviewers and hopefully help us make a far better decision in the end.

Queue a half-hour of back-and-forth wrangling with the HR managed until I eventually snapped and overruled them, pointing out that no best practice case study likely even considered this situation fully.

We had a chance to improve our own results by ignoring best practice, so we took it. The result? A top-notch new recruit and a much better interview process from the new department head. An all-round win. Except for the sulky HR manager, but they got over it soon enough.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a dig against HR, just a recent example. I love my HR manager – they save me from all kinds of mundane tasks that frankly bore me to tears, and occasionally they help dig us out of potentially sticky situations – but more on that another time.

Read previous Secret Entrepreneur columns here on Startups.co.uk.

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  1. Sadly, that tends to be the nature of HR Managers. And, to be honest, it’s that best practice/aversion to risk that means they’re a safe pair of hands and very good at their job. Yet they clash with those who view rules less rigidly. We sell to HR departments at Hiring-Hub.com and hit this wall of rigidity constantly. Every day we’re met by a simple shrug and a: “but we’ve always done it this way so why should we change…” What makes them brilliant can also stifle their company, which is why it’s so refreshing when you do come across an open-minded, progressive, commercially-savvy HR leader. Fortunately, there are a good few of those too.