· Features

Is ‘best practice’ holding you back?

HR was once viewed as a transactional, often side-lined business function. No more. It has evolved in many cases into a central business unit helping to shape people processes.

But, are we guilty of being too conservative or risk-averse at times? And is this stunting the future growth, effectiveness and perceived impact of HR processes?

There can be a tendency to default to a 'best practice' approach when designing a new HR process or system. Whilst logical, moulding practices to match the latest academic research or technological innovation fails to account for the broader organisational context and consider whether a solution is the right organisational fit.

Agile HR:

Being agile vs. doing agile

Can HR be agile?

Test, learn and adapt: thriving in this new era requires a brave new mindset

It is easy to understand why best practice is alluring as it seems to guarantee success.

By definition, it has invariably either been tested in academic research or is drawn from case studies of success in certain circumstances. And stepping outside of best practice is considered an unnecessary risk.

HR directors report that senior decision-makers resist buying into new initiatives unless another company has done them first - and successfully.

However, the concept of best practice assumes that there is one practice that is better than others. The reality is that there is likely to be a range of good practices, some of which will help an organisation and others which will hinder. Surely it is the broader organisational context that is crucial to determining this success? Far too often this is overlooked.

In order to design and implement any HR solution successfully we must pay greater consideration to the unique organisational context and culture. Consideration of, and alignment to, such issues including existing practices and processes will determine the success of a chosen solution rather than the practice or process itself.

By simply replicating processes used by other companies without consideration of the needs and requirements of one's own organisation, we may be pouring money down the drain as this approach is unlikely to deliver the best results.

Duncan Brown, while Director of the Institute for Employment Studies, advocated the need for a tailored approach to HR solutions, saying: "I hope in 10 years' time the whole notion of 'best practice' - in other words, copying what everyone else has done - will be dead and buried, replaced by 'best fit', with HR professionals crafting differentiated approaches to people management in their organisations that suit their circumstances and their culture, as the best HR directors do already."

In order for organisations to be more successful, they must shape and deploy bespoke HR practices and systems that are the 'best fit' for them. This is a considerable challenge; addressing the unique needs of your business will require careful consideration of all the options in the light of your business context.

A great starting point is identifying the essence of what makes your organisation successful. This will enable you to find the HR answers that best fit the business question being posed.

The London Business School's Lynda Gratton shares this vision, describing 'signature processes' "which are idiosyncratic and unique to individual organisations [and] are the secret to sustainable competitive advantage".

By taking a best fit approach, organisations get flexible, relevant solutions that are designed by balancing business and HR goals, current best practice and the unique company culture and processes. Such solutions are more likely to be readily accepted by employees and will enable organisations to gain a competitive advantage by meeting specific business needs, which can in turn lead to enhanced business results.

Hannah Stratford is an occupational psychologist and head of business psychology at HR consultancy ETS