In your first few months of management consulting, you might be tempted to spend any free time you get researching best practices for your industry. There is a best practice approach for just about every business process you can think of. Cultivating the belief that knowing them all will turn you into a walking business solution is understandable, but it’s also a mistake.
In Praise of Best Practice
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not decrying the value of a best practice approach. Often times, adopting best practice is a great way to solve a business problem without reinventing the wheel. Certain processes, within certain industries also lend themselves exceptionally well to adoption of best practices.
If you like, adopting a best practice approach is akin to owning a Toyota car. It might not be the most original choice, but the reason millions of car owners choose Toyota is because millions of car owners chose Toyota before them—because Toyotas are great cars. Millions of car owners can’t be wrong, right?
If you buy a Toyota and it turns out not to be the best choice, it’s not the end of the world. Taking the wrong approach to solving a business problem though, could have disastrous ramifications.
Be wary if your customer asks you to take a best practice approach to solving her problem. By all means, consider if any best practice elements will be a good fit for resolving the issue at hand. However, if you are looking for a rule of thumb in business problem-solving, keep the following point in mind:
The Best Practice is the One that Works
Look first at what must be done to solve the problem and why, and do so within the context of the specific organization that has hired you. Then work with your customer to come up with ideas for its resolution. Let best practices complement your ideas when it’s pragmatic to do so, but don’t lead with them.
The benefit to this alternative (to uniformly taking a best practice approach) is twofold. Firstly, you’re not predetermining a solution before fully understanding the problem. Secondly, you can enjoy your free time doing something more rewarding than researching best practices. After all, as a consultant, there is one best practice you should unfailingly follow—the practice of pursuing a healthy work/life balance.