Lexy Martin tweeted a link a few months back around using the term “leading practices” and banishing the term “best practices” from our vocabularies. I’ve been trying to use the words leading practices for about 4 years now, although I admit I comply irregularly. I first learned it from a consulting partner whose name I no longer remember. However, this reminder is served up in an issue of the IHRIM.Link and is currently attributed to Yvette Cameron from Saba. 1
In trying to identify the fundamental differences and nuances between a best and leading practice, I decided to look up “Best Practice” on Wikipedia:
Best Practice: A best practice is a technique, method, process, activity, incentive, or reward that is believed to be more effective at delivering a particular outcome than any other technique, method, process, etc. when applied to a particular condition or circumstance. The idea is that with proper processes, checks, and testing, a desired outcome can be delivered with fewer problems and unforeseen complications. Best practices can also be defined as the most efficient (least amount of effort) and effective (best results) way of accomplishing a task, based on repeatable procedures that have proven themselves over time for large numbers of people. 2
Unfortunately, there is no entry for “Leading Practice” on Wikipedia, so I’ll have to make up my own:
Leading Practice: a leading practice is a practice that is more efficient and effective for delivering a particular outcome, based upon the constraints of the organization it is being applied to. Leading practices are leading only in a particular point in time, and are acknowledged to be continuously developing. A leading practice will generally only be leading for period of time, after which other practices may become leading.
I think the core differences between leading and best practices is that there is no assumption that a leading practice is actually the best and can be applied to all organizations and situations. There is no presumption of fit, only the presumption that a leading practice holds some advantage in a large number or even majority of possible situations. The second major difference is that there is no assumption of permanence. “Best” is rather eternal, where leading really insinuates constant development and change over time.
I think in general we would agree that any of today’s best practices will not be tomorrow’s best practices. So let’s take the cue from Lexy, Yvette and many other’s and call them what they are: leading practices.