[Thoughts] The good, the bad and the ugly in idea and best practice management

I have now worked long enough in and with global and complex organisations to notice the same challenge come again and again: How to identify, share and reapply ideas, innovations and practices… across countries and functions.

Having worked for a few years in companies that were great at doing it – namely Agency.com and then a management consulting firm, I was surprised to see how many other industries and organizations failed at capturing and transferring that kind of knowledge (call me naive or idealist)

“If only HP knew what HP knows, we would be three times more productive”
Lew Platt / Former chief executive of Hewlett-Packard

The biggest barriers to transfer lie in:

  • ignorance: people just don’t know the knowledge exists (and everybody keeps reinventing the wheel in their little corner of the world)
  • capacity: people know the knowledge exists, but have neither time, nor money nor details or skills to implement
  • lack of relationship: people don’t know who to go to access that knowledge, or where is the opportunity to connect

Whatever the solution put in place, adaptation will require from people in the organisation to, learn the process and the systems, but most importantly to understand the principles behind it.

What is a best practice / good idea, anyway?

Not only best is a moving target, but what is best is also situations specific. Therefore you need to define the levels of best practice.

  • Industry Best practice: This is based on both internal and external benchmarking work, including the analysis of performance data. At this point, everyone should agree that it should be a norm basically.
  • Local Best Practice: as above, but for operating company or department level
  • Good practice: technique, methodology, procedure, or process that has been implemented and has improved business results for an organization.
    This is substantiated by data collected at the location.  A limited amount of comparative data from other organizations exists. It is a candidate for application in one or more locations within an operating company or department
  • Good Idea: Unproved, not yet substantiated by data but makes a lot of sense intuitively; could have a positive impact on business performance. Requires further review/analysis


How to identify them?

Find the bright spots, i.e. focus on the areas where dramatic differences in performance point to a real underlying process/behavioral difference

Most companies do so within geographical or category specific clusters, but I’ve noticed they tend to disregard what you could call similarities, eg. clusters of countries, or industries or categories which have similar challenges.

One of my clients – in a previous life, was willing to design a central marketing strategy for a cluster of 8 countries.
Unfortunately, the marketing managers had very different challenges in each of the countries, but these could be easily distinguished between mature markets and fast-growing markets in terms of sales for the product.
We used additional criteria to manage the complexity of challenges and narrowing them to a limited number of “contexts”. The identification and replication of good ideas and best practices became more valuable and relevant for all as we avoided the “not invented here/not decided here” syndrome and provide a greater common denominator for all.


How to replicate them?

For each of the similar contexts or clusters where we identified “bright spots”:

  • determine where it fits (local best practice, good practice, good idea)
  • qualify the explicit information available
  • identify the implicit & tacit information available (the know how)

In the example I provided above, smaller groups of marketing managers and teams were gathered to identify the bright spots. Real transfer is a people-to-people process. We used technology as a catalyst, not a solution – as we combined social enterprise applications on top of the best practice/idea database as they provide:

  • User experience as the ones used in personal life : People/places/relationships/expertise/areas of interest/content sharing and rating/highlighted activities and streams…
  • Internal directories(experts/champions/multipliers)
  • Market place for expertise request and offers


Reward sharing

Most of the time new idea management and sharing is rewarded collectively through awards.

I’m not criticising awards, but it is difficult to focus people’s efforts and will for a gratification that occurs once a year and for which they might not even be invited.

In order to change and reinforce expected behaviours you need a short feedback loop.
The most critical part is to be able to reward the individual behaviour as well as the adoption.

We embedded collaboration indicators pulled from the social enterprise platform (e.g.. contribution in posts, comments, likes, projects…) into the formal performance appraisal of marketing teams and managers. One could imagine going even further and integrating learning and sharing KPIs in leadership remuneration in order to get total alignement, commitment and support.

It is also critical to be able to work with executives and leadership to embed this way or working in day to day work and methods by removing the blockers and redesigning the procedures accordingly and facilitate training & development.

Different context but good idea: One of my friends at Google shared with me this great practice – when he joined the company. He was managing a large team, but was able to identify the members who demonstrated best behaviour and skills through a program which allowed other departments to nominate people in his team for a small (let’s say couple of hundred pounds) financial reward. A perfect example of how internal norms facilitate and reinforce expected behaviour


Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard | Chip & Dan Heath | Crown Business; 1 edition (February 16, 2010)

 If only we knew what we know: Identification and transfer of Internal best Practices HBRCases| Carla O’Dell, C. Jackson Grayson Jr. | Apr 01, 1998 | Apr 01, 1998