Adopting management best practices is like asking your company to all become Finnish. All these best practices are more complicated than they seem, others are evolving the practice and the best practice is not why others were successful.
Our Finnish Initiative
Every day a CEO is fired up on the need to implement a new best practice across the organisation. They may have been to a conference, spoken to a competitor, read an article or listened to a consultant. For argument’s sake, let’s assume that the best practice is ‘Being Finnish’. The CEO has heard that companies that are Finnish are global success stories and wants everyone in the organisation do their work using Finnish and reflecting Finnish culture as soon as possible. You are tasked with delivering the Finnish initiative companywide as soon as possible. You happen to like Finland and the Finnish people but have your doubts for a few good reasons.
Best Practices are history, an unreliable predictor of future success
By the time management practices have industries of consultants built to promote them, there is a very good chance that practice has a lot of history. The practice has gone through pilot, rollout, a period for measurement of success in a lead organisation. It has then been shared on the conference circuit and built its own community as it spreads to other organisations.
After that consultants have picked it up from the community and begun to turn it into a practice that can be sold as a simple package. At this point, there’s no guarantee that the originator is still even using the practice. Practices often outlive the failure of the original organisation. There are many successful Finnish companies but would your CEO have a different perception if he or she knew that the Finnish case studies were based on Nokia’s growth in the mobile handset business? Being Finnish may or may not have contributed to Nokia or any other Finnish company’s success or failure. We will never know exactly.
Best Practices are Simplified Practices that Aren’t Simple
To implement Finnish in your organisation, it is likely to be simplified down to a few practices. Let’s say you settle on speaking Finnish and adopting a short list of Finnish values and cultural practices.
Even the simplified versions prove to be trickier than people expect. Finnish is a language that’s from its own language group. It will take people years to come up to competency and then there’s all the processes and documentation in the organisation that needs to be translated and realigned with the new strategy. There is a real danger that your performance will decline as everyone builds competency in Finnish, miscommunication occurs and the clashes with your current approaches are resolved.
Why Catch Up?
Even if you execute your project perfectly. There is always others who have been Finnish for longer and will have a richer history of learning through the application of Finnish. While you are still implementing simplified Finnish, they will have a rich adaptive culture of Finnish. Best practices are often racing to where someone used to be, not to an advantage.
Every New System is a Culture Program
No matter how well you learn to speak Finnish, do Finnish things or follow the Finnish values, it is not what makes you Finnish.
Imposing a whole alien cultural system on your organisation is a difficult challenge. Finnish people are proud of their culture and they have grown up in it. It is not an imposition. Your current systems and culture don’t disappear just because everyone’s trying to be Finnish.
The system likely has elements and relationships that you and your users won’t understand because you are not from within the culture. Many simplified versions of Finnish are unrecognisable to those who are Finnish because those new to the practice leave out elements without any understanding.
Your Problems and Opportunities are Unique
Management is about responding to the challenges and opportunities unique to each organisation. Effective strategy is tailored to the organisation, it’s position and capability. Being Finnish because Finnish is the new management fad is abdicating the responsibility to manage the actual circumstances of the organisation.
So the next time you consider implementing a management fad, consider it as implementing Finnish, or Faddish, and see how the views change.
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