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Why Best Practices – Aren’t

My thesis is a simple one; don’t copy – create. Don’t benchmark against others – benchmark against a unique and better version of you. Don’t compete against how others do things, compete against your own thinking. More than 20 years ago I coined the term “next” practices in an effort to focus people forward in their thinking. I’ve […]

My thesis is a simple one; don’t copy – create. Don’t benchmark against others – benchmark against a unique and better version of you. Don’t compete against how others do things, compete against your own thinking. More than 20 years ago I coined the term next” practices in an effort to focus people forward in their thinking. I’ve always wondered why any business would want to adopt the same practices their competitors utilize? Don’t embrace the practices of your peers, but rather innovate around them and improve upon them to unlock hidden value and create advantage in the market. Put simply; don’t copy – create. Be disruptive in your approach and don’t fall into the trap of doing something in a particular fashion just because others do it that way – think “next” practices not best practices. Here’s the thing – best practices maintain the status quo and next practices shatter it.

There is substantial downside risk to anything labeled “best” practices. I have actually come to cringe every time I hear someone use the phrase in an authoritarian manner as a justification for the position they happen to be evangelizing. One of the most common reasons for pursuing best practices in a given area is to avoid having to “reinvent the wheel.” Think about it like this – if nobody ever reinvented the wheel, they’d still be made from stone. One of the most difficult areas for executives to wrap their mind around is how to unlearn legacy based thinking. Maintenance doesn’t lead you forward – creation does. In the text that follows I’ll ask you to consider my arguments for disregarding the myth of best practices.

Let me begin with a bold statement that I’m sure will unleash the wrath of many: “There is no such thing as best practices.” The reality is best practices are nothing more than disparate groups of methodologies, processes, rules, concepts and theories that attained a level of success in certain areas, and because of those successes, have been deemed as universal truths able to be applied anywhere and everywhere. Just because someone says something doesn’t mean it’s true. Moreover, just because “Company A” had success with a certain initiative doesn’t mean that “Company B” can plug-and-play the same process and expect the same outcome. There is always room for new thinking and innovation, or at least there should be.

Let’s use an example of a common problem that most businesses face at some point in their lifecycle (if not at multiple points), which is needing to implement a certain application or toolset to automate an existing manual process. Okay, my question is this: What constitutes best practices in this situation? Does the company purchase an off-the-shelf solution, utilize a SaaS, ASP or cloud-based solution, or embark upon developing a custom application? Moreover, if they decide to develop the application should this be done internally with existing staff, or outsourced? And if outsourced, will it be done domestically or offshore, and who will manage the process? Oh, and what about development methodology? I could go on ad-nauseam with this line of thinking, but I’m sure you get the point by now. The reality is you can find someone who will tell you any of the options mentioned above constitutes best practices – so who is right and who is wrong?

To be clear, I’m not recommending a blatant disregard for existing methodologies, but rather a very critical eye as to whether or not they are appropriate beyond the fact they’re already in use. I’m a firm believer challenging the status quo (especially the status quo surrounding best practices) usually leads to very fertile ground. It has been my experience whenever methodologies become productized, objectivity is removed from the equation. Whenever you are being pitched a product as a solution, I suggest you exercise caution. Business is fluid, dynamic, and ever-evolving, which means static advice is at best short lived, but more often is simply incongruous with the very nature of business itself. Don’t allow someone to cram your needs into their canned sets of rules and processes, rather find someone who will create the right solution in response to meeting your specific needs.

My experience has been consistent over the years – whenever a common aspect of business turns into a “practice area” trouble is on the horizon. Before you know it the herd mentality of the legions of politically correct consultants and advisers use said practice area as a platform to be evangelized. When this happens, the necessity of common sense and the reality of what actually works often times gets thrown out the window as a trade-off for promotional gain. It is precisely the dispensing of one-size fits all advice that has allowed the ranks of consultants to swell to historical proportions. After all, if you can apply someone else’s theory in a vacuum it lowers the barrier to entry doesn’t it? Labeling something as “best” practices is not a substitute for wisdom, discernment, discretion, subject matter expertise, intellect, creativity or any of the other qualities I value in an advisor.

Popular business axioms and management theories are thrown around in such cavalier fashion these days they can actually result in flawed decisioning. It is for precisely this reason that I believe too much common management wisdom is not wise at all, but instead flawed knowledge based on a misunderstanding or misapplication of “best practices” that often constitutes poor, incomplete or outright obsolete thinking.

Bottom line – just because a professor says it’s so, a consultant recommends it, a book has been written on it, or a product has been developed for it, doesn’t mean that whatever “it” is constitutes the right option for you. On occasions to numerous to count, I have personally witnessed companies that embarked upon an enterprise-wide initiative because they were sold on “best practices” and after two years into a multi-million dollar implementation without any meaningful benefit realized purchasing a product as a solution absolutely did not constitute best practices. Smart leaders don’t play catch-up – they play get ahead and stay ahead.

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Mike Myatt is a leadership advisor to Fortune 500 CEOs and their Board of Directors.  Widely regarded as America’s Top CEO Coach, he is recognized by Thinkers50 as a global authority on leadership.  He is the bestselling author of Hacking Leadership and Leadership Matters, and a Forbes leadership columnist.

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This Word Unleashes Change & Innovation

Have you ever worked for a boss who always said no? If you have, my first guess is it was a frustrating experience. My second guess is you don’t hold said boss in high regard as a leader. I’ve always been amazed at the number of well-known axioms espousing the benefits of learning to use […]

Have you ever worked for a boss who always said no? If you have, my first guess is it was a frustrating experience. My second guess is you don’t hold said boss in high regard as a leader. I’ve always been amazed at the number of well-known axioms espousing the benefits of learning to use the word “no” with greater frequency. In fact, there are some very bright people who believe you simply cannot become a good leader without developing a mastery for using the word no – I couldn’t disagree more. I’ve never been a big fan of telling people no, but I’m a huge proponent of the advantages of helping people learn how to get to a yes. Smart leadership creates an environment where yes is not viewed as a weakness, but as an opportunity.

While inherently obvious, it should not go unnoticed that the use of the word no is 100% negative. The word no ends discussions, stifles creativity, kills innovation, impedes learning, and gates initiative. Put simply, the word no advances nothing, grows nothing, builds nothing and incentivizes nothing. No is not all it’s cracked-up to be. Smart leaders create and foster a culture of “yes” rather than use “no” as a tactical weapon just because they can.

Unless accompanied by a tremendous amount of reasoned dialog, the use of “no” is rarely informative, much less instructive. Most leaders simply don’t take the time to have the needed conversation surrounding a no. Moreover, when those conversations do occur they tend to be focused on admonishment rather than teachable moments. Teaching someone how to get to a yes is one of the most valuable things a leader can do. It was Sir Richard Branson who said: “I have enjoyed life a lot more by saying yes than by saying no.” Saying yes is both valuable and fun, so why not learn how to help people to a yes?

As a leader you should challenge, probe, assess, validate, and even confront on a regular basis. By all means ask people to justify their logic. It’s perfectly okay to ask “Why should I say yes to this?” and it’s even more okay to expect a good answer. Make sure however that when you send a person back to the drawing board it’s a teaching exercise and not a death sentence.

By helping people refine their thinking you’re in essence clarifying your expectations, developing them in the process, and advancing the ball at the same time – this is simply good leadership. Where leadership is concerned, a slow “yes” is often more instructive, and ultimately much more productive than a fast “no.” When you’re tempted to give a no as your answer, stop and ask some of the following questions first – you’ll be glad you did:

Before I give you an answer, I’d like to know more about your thought process here. Can you tell me more about how you arrived at this point?

Let’s peel back the layers on this issue a bit – can you help me better understand your logic on this?

That’s an interesting idea – who else is onboard with this?

I’m not sure I understand how this aligns with our current direction. How does this add value to our core mission?

Help me connect the dots on this one – why will this take us where we want to go?

Have you identified all the risks here, and what are your contingency plans should things not progress as expected?

What’s the downside should we not move forward with this?

Ask yourself this question – If as a leader you find yourself always saying no, what does that tell you about your leadership ability? It means your vision is not understood, your team is not aligned, and your talent is not performing up to par. It means you’re not teaching, mentoring, communicating, or leading. The perception that strong leaders say no and weak leaders say yes is simply flawed thinking. Leaders need to communicate trust in their team – they need to create an environment where people are not afraid to seek opportunity, to pursue innovation, or to change their mind. A constant stream of “no’s” is not a positive sign, it’s a warning sign that needs to be heeded.

I have found that the most common reasons people tend to cite in support of using no are as follows:

Excuse: It helps to keep them from wasting time – Reality: For a leader to believe their time is somehow more important than other’s time is usually not correct and is often the height of arrogance.

Excuse: It somehow manages risk – Reality: A quick no often keeps opportunities hidden, creates information deficits, and causes blind spots – all of which actually increase the potential for risk.

Excuse: It builds character – Reality: While its true adversity builds character, so does empathy and understanding. Life brings about enough adversity on its own – leaders who manufacture it as a teaching method have missed the point.

Excuse: It helps them focus by not biting off more than they can chew –Reality: if your only way to prioritize is by saying no, then you are missing out on a lot of what life has to offer. Rather than prioritize by exclusion, use systems, processes, etc., to prioritize by inclusion.

While saying no might be more convenient, the aforementioned agendas are better accomplished with clear communication, effective collaboration, and prudent resourcing – not by saying no. Great leaders help people get to a yes – in other words, they teach them how not to receive a no. Rather than just kill something with a quick no, a good leader uses every adverse scenario as a development opportunity to help people advance their critical thinking and decisioning skills. The word yes is a catalyst – it begins rather than ends. It inspires rather than demoralizes, and it communicates trust rather than doubt.

In the link to the following video, Google’s Eric Schmidt shares his reasoning for creating a culture of yes. Schmidt stresses the importance of not creating a negative culture, but instead, fostering a scalable culture which focuses on optimism and not pessimism. I have always believed if you want to bring out the best in people, give them the opportunity to succeed – the best way to do this is to begin with the assumption they won’t fail. If you’ve hired smart people, trust they’ll do the right thing rather than fear they’ll do the wrong thing.

While I understand that there are times when using no may be your only option, those times should be the exception and not the rule. It’s also important to note that the use of “yes” and “no” are neither universally right or wrong, but there is much greater upside to enabling a yes. Think of it like this: Yes paves the path toward the future, while no affirms the status quo. Bottom line: Yes is not a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of intelligent leadership. Next time you’re tempted to say no, do yourself a big favor and find a way to work around the obstacle and toward a yes.


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Mike Myatt is a leadership advisor to Fortune 500 CEOs and their Board of Directors.  Widely regarded as America’s Top CEO Coach, he is recognized by Thinkers50 as a global authority on leadership.  He is the bestselling author of Hacking Leadership and Leadership Matters, and a Forbes leadership columnist.

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Every Great Leader Has This Quality – Do You?

Courage is a trait possessed by all great leaders. So much so, that leadership absent courage is nothing short of a farce. Let me be very clear – I’m not advocating for bravado, arrogance, or an overabundance of hubris, but rather the courage necessary to stay the course and to do the right things. I believe […]

Courage is a trait possessed by all great leaders. So much so, that leadership absent courage is nothing short of a farce. Let me be very clear – I’m not advocating for bravado, arrogance, or an overabundance of hubris, but rather the courage necessary to stay the course and to do the right things. I believe it was Aristotle who referred to courage as the first virtue, because it makes all of the other virtues possible. Many leaders think they have courage – few actually do.

Standing behind decisions everyone supports doesn’t particularly require a lot of chutzpa. On the other hand, standing behind what one believes is the right decision in the face of tremendous controversy is the stuff great leaders are made of. Courage enables leaders to break from the norm, to work in collaboration not isolation, challenge the status quo, seek new opportunities, cut your losses, make the tough decision, listen rather than speak, admit your faults, forgive the faults of others, not allow failure to dampen your spirit, stand for those not capable of standing for themselves, and to remain true to your core values. You can do none of these things without courage. Courage is having the strength of conviction to do the right thing when it would just be easier to do things right.

The best thing about courage is that a lack thereof can be overcome. Courage is teachable and therefore it is learnable – proof of this can be found in every instance of overcoming a fear. Courage should not be defined as the absence of fear – that’s ignorance. Courage is finding the strength to move ahead in the presence of fear. In short, courage isn’t a skill, it is a decision. Here’s the thing – we’ll all be remembered for the decisions we make or don’t make, and the courage we display, or that we fail to exercise. Will you pursue courage or will you just continue with your routine of doing nothing more than what’s expected of you. Real leadership is about more than checking off boxes.

There are great rewards for those who choose the path of courage. Courage will give you the confidence and humility to accept courage in others rather than stifle it. Courageous leaders invite others to challenge their thinking and encourage (no pun intended) dissenting opinion. Leaders who consistently demonstrate courage will stand apart from the masses, and earn the trust and loyalty of those whom they lead. As a general rule, most people can be characterized by their courage or their lack thereof:

  • In the corporate world those who demonstrate courage stand apart as innovators and opinion leaders, those who display a lack of courage are viewed as ”yes men” who are the politically correct defenders of status quo.
  • In the military great courage is often referred to as heroism, while a lack of courage will brand you a coward.
  • On the stage of world affairs those who display courage are statesmen, and those who don’t are politicians.
  • In relationships courage will show you to be a trusted friend, whereas the absence of courage will reveal you as a gossip, adversary, or even enemy.

Each day brings with it a new set of challenges, and the best any of us can hope for is that we will have the courage and character to stand behind our personal beliefs and convictions regardless of public opinion or outcome. Courage will make you faithful, where a lack thereof will cause you to be fearful. Whether you look back on your personal experience or a greater historical reference, you’ll find it is always better to stand for courage than regret failing to do so. Leadership always begins with one courageous act – making a decision. Will you decide to be courageous?


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Mike Myatt is a leadership advisor to Fortune 500 CEOs and their Board of Directors.  Widely regarded as America’s Top CEO Coach, he is recognized by Thinkers50 as a global authority on leadership.  He is the bestselling author of Hacking Leadership and Leadership Matters, and a Forbes leadership columnist.

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How Smart Leaders Unlock Hidden Value

Leaders who fail to unlock hidden value in their business are ceding opportunity to others. If you’re a leader who’s been anesthetized by the routine you have a huge problem – you are not leading. Leadership is a game for the mentally agile, not the brain dead. Sound harsh? It’s meant to. While most of the world has […]

Leaders who fail to unlock hidden value in their business are ceding opportunity to others. If you’re a leader who’s been anesthetized by the routine you have a huge problem – you are not leading. Leadership is a game for the mentally agile, not the brain dead. Sound harsh? It’s meant to. While most of the world has succumbed to a static life imprisoned by the limitations of their own mind, real leaders are always looking beyond what is, thinking about the possibilities of what if, and acting to ensure what’s next.

What if? What if you could reinvent your business? What if you could change the perception of your brand? What if you could break from the status quo? What if you could attract better talent? What if you could reenergize your corporate culture? What if you could make the changes you know you need to make? What if? To the one, great leaders aggressively pursue what if – do you?

I’ve always said status quo is mediocrity’s best friend. While static thinking is the best short cut to obsolescence you’ll ever find, why would you want to travel that path? The sad thing is, I observe many more people willing to travel a path of ruin than I do people willing to change their thinking. While companies destined to fail reward average thinking, successful companies reward the bold thinking revealed through the microscope of what if?

Much has been written about the power of creative thinking, ideation, disruptive innovation, etc., but little has been written on how to successfully implement these processes. If you’ve ever wondered how to find those “ah-ha” moments, they all begin through observations inspired by asking what if? Just because what I’m espousing today is simple doesn’t mean it isn’t effective. While many so-called business gurus sell profit through complexity, the reality is leaders rarely profit from complexity – real profit is found in the pure elegance of simplicity.

Change doesn’t need to be complex. In fact, what’s more simple than using the filter of what if? It doesn’t require any special skills or ability, just the willingness to look beyond what presently exists. Let me be as clear as I can – there is simply no reason to continue to do things that make no sense. Ask yourself this question, when was the last time you did something for the first time? Leadership and herd mentality should have nothing to do with one another. If you want to become a better leader stop doing things the way they’ve always been done – don’t copy create.

What if Larry Page and Sergey Brin didn’t ask what if search could be more simple and relevant? What if Steve Jobs failed to ask what if you combined technology and design to create the ultimate customer experience? What if Richard Branson, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos didn’t ask what if about almost everything? Real leaders are open to the possibility that most things not only can, but should be improved upon. They understand it’s the ability to innovate and change which creates competitive advantage, adds value, and ensures sustainability.

The process of unleashing what if begins with not painting yourself into corners. Perhaps the single greatest barrier impeding the transition from what is to what if is allowing yourself to fall into the trap of either/or thinking. The best leaders realize there’s rarely a good reason to juxtapose one option against another. This is simply a false paradigm created by intellectually dishonest rationalizations. The sole use of A/B frameworks as a decision-making model unnecessarily limit opportunity by impeding creative thought and innovation. The job of a leader is to create, expand and preserve options – not limit them.

Utilizing what if thinking allows you to maximize the present while securing the future. The best leaders know how to attain desired outcomes while remaining discovery driven. It’s clearly important to achieve short-term hurdles, but not at the expense of long-term sustainability. Smart leaders understand the present is simply a springboard to the future. Absent an aggressive forward leaning bias, short-term wins will represent little more than pyrrhic victories as the innovators, the what if thinkers, pass you by.

My recommendation is a simple one – not only do I suggest you put everything you do through a “what if audit,” but ask your team to do the same thing. Question: What if you challenged everything, slaughtered a few sacred cows, and stopped holding false truths as real? Answer: creativity would be inspired, innovation would occur, and things would change for the better. Remember, conventional wisdom usually isn’t.


 

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Mike Myatt is a leadership advisor to Fortune 500 CEOs and their Board of Directors.  Widely regarded as America’s Top CEO Coach, he is recognized by Thinkers50 as a global authority on leadership.  He is the bestselling author of Hacking Leadership and Leadership Matters, and a Forbes leadership columnist.

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