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Leading Practices versus Best Practices

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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.  ((No formal attribution and footnote as I don’t actually have the article.))

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.  ((Wikipedia on December 24, 2009))

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.

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2 responses to “Leading Practices versus Best Practices”

  1. Andrew Avatar

    A big issue, explained to me by a corporate lawyer, is when making a claim to having ‘best practices’ is how to prove that they are best. I was told to use ‘good practice’ or avoid.

  2. Lexy Martin Avatar

    Thanks for the mention. The formal attribution is really to the entire IHRIM.Link issue, DECEMBER 09/JANUARY 2010, Volume XIV, Number 6 ( The theme for this issue was “best practices” and Yvette Cameron, Saba was the guest editor. She pulled together an awesome array of articles summarized here: But the real, concise exploration of the notion of “leading practices” was articulated by long-time HCM technologist, Ron Hanscome, @ronhanscome in his contrarian article.

    I’ve been struggling with what are “best” practices vs. “leading” practices myself, based on what I’ve see with our survey Given 12 years of data, I’ve seen some practices that have HUGE initial value (i.e. social networking may be one of those right now) vs. those that have continuous value (i.e. move to shared services, self service, and an HR help desk).

    I think the key part of the wiki definition of best practice is that they are “based on repeatable procedures that have proven themselves over time for large numbers of people” is quite important. Going forward, I think maybe we’ll mention “best” vs. “leading” in the CedarCrestone survey. What do you think?