At the American Express Business Class Live event in July 2022, organizational psychologist Adam Grant made some statements about “best practices” that made some leaders sit up and take notice.
Grant suggests that it’s time to retire the concept of best practices, and his reasoning is consistent with the research and ideas in his book Think Again. “What scares me about that is that many of our best practices were built for a world that does not exist anymore, and as the landscape of work becomes more dynamic, more unstable, and more unpredictable, instead of sticking to our old best practices, we need to be constantly searching for better practices,” Grant says. He says that once people think of a practice as “best,” they may stop looking for ways to alter or improve the practice, which can entrench inefficiencies and stifle innovation.
Group brainstorming, especially in an atmosphere without robust psychological safety, may lead to convergent rather than divergent thinking. Convergent thinking coalesces around a single idea, which can marginalize those with less power and status in the room. As an example, Grant points out that the practice of group brainstorming tends to produce fewer, less novel ideas than individual brain writing.
On the other hand, individual brain writing allows people to write down ideas and thoughts in advance and then collect more, better ideas for group evaluation and refinement.
While many leaders may not be quite ready to reject the idea of best practices altogether, there are probably some within individual organizations that can use a second look. Here are practices that may need a rethink for the Future of Work.
1. Requiring College Degrees for Entry-Level Positions
While we aren’t saying that your CFO doesn’t need a four-year degree or that it would be fine if a doctor practiced medicine without graduating from medical school, it may be time for some companies to reconsider blanket requirements for college degrees. Leaving unskilled positions aside, entry-level administrative workers, accounting staff, or creative professionals often have the aptitude or on-the-job training to equip them for open positions without a four-year degree. Reconsidering credential requirements can open up your organization to a greater talent pool, and in a tough labor market, this could make the difference between scraping by and thriving.
2. Focusing Development Only on High-Potential Employees
As workers continue to indicate that they are more likely to stay at an employer offering development opportunities, companies that broaden those career development options to the entire staff can improve retention and develop a talent pool internally. By thinking creatively about what kind of development to offer employees and who to offer it to, companies can also give their people the chance to pursue areas of interest and career growth that will help them along their paths.
3. Insisting on Rigid Workplace Models for All Employees
The Future of Work is more about flexibility than ever before. Employees at all levels continue to say they want flexibility and better work-life balance. While it’s true that not everyone can work remotely all the time and that some positions require higher levels of in-person work, leaders need to work with employees across the organization to develop creative solutions that give employees the work-life balance they crave.
4. Encouraging a Meeting-Intensive Environment
As companies have pivoted to hybrid and remote work models over the last two years, employees may be unduly burdened with more meetings than ever before. While the meeting-heavy environment was understandable in the early days of remote work, companies should be able to communicate more efficiently without requiring long meetings. Some organizations are implementing meeting-free days to give employees time to focus on their work. Leaders can step into these meetings and help relieve some of the burden by establishing guidelines to get work done.
As leaders chart a path into the Future of Work, no best practice—formal or informal—should be considered inviolable. Some best practices are clearly defined and written down; others may creep into the company culture without warning. Take the time to consider the value of each one and where changes can be made or updated, leaders should reject some best practices in favor of “better practices.”
- Do we rely on “best practices” too much, or are we open to “better practices”?
- What is one formal “best practice” that we should revisit?
- What is one informal “best practice” (one that has crept into our culture or processes) that we should revisit?