Everybody’s got ‘em:  those words or series of words that are puzzling at best, annoying at worst.

Our first nomination?  “Best practices.” We can count on our fingers, toes, and the hairs on our heads how many times companies request best practices.  It doesn’t matter that the particular requestor hails from one of the leaders in its field.  Nor that its executives have been publicly touted for running a great business. Or that its employees consider it the best place to work in the world.  The “ask” for best practices still happens.

Maybe it’s attributable to just plain human curiosity. After all, how common is this statement of interest? “I’d like to find out what makes XYZ great in, say, its efficient, cost-effective supply chain operations.”   

It’s when that query goes one step further – “and maybe we can apply those lessons learned” – that our caveats begin. 

After all, those lessons are, in a word, templates. Easy ways to capitalize on the knowledge and hard work of others with just a bit of spit and polish. Plus lessons learned are ways to “stand upon the shoulders of giants” (thanks, Mr. Newton), comparing your company to the Fortunate 50 or 100 or 500 or 1000. “Hey, I’m using this process that Starbucks or Amazon or GE (or fill in the blank) has perfected.”

No question, best practices can be applied … if corporate culture, goals, customers, and how your company gets stuff done are all factored in.  Then you’ve bettered those practices, to be more congruent with your needs.  [And expect the ultimate compliment, with others asking you to share!]

One final thought:  While some are applying best practices, others are changing the game, often dramatically, to fit their needs. Where does that leave this popular phrase?