There’s a sickness that is running rampant like an uncontrolled virus in many of today’s businesses. It’s called silverbulletitis, which I define as:

A condition in which the sufferer expects easy answers and solutions to difficult problems.

I’m currently attending a financial services conference, and it’s easy to pick out the people who are suffering from this affliction. When they ask a question of a speaker, they ask about best practices. Or they furiously scribble down notes of what some other firm is successfully doing in its market with the expectation (hope?) that the practice will just as well for their own firms.

Let me make my opinion here very clear: There is no such thing as a best practice. A best practice is a fallacious concept. What works for a particular firm is dependent upon its:

1) Strategy. A firm that competes on cost (not necessarily price) will succeed by implementing practices designed to make its processes as cost efficient as possible — even if some level of service is compromised. But a firm that competes on providing superior levels of that particular service will fail miserably if it implements that practice.

2) Infrastructure. It never ceases to amaze me that someone will claim that a firm’s practice is a best practice without an assessment of the underlying technology assessment that supports that practice. A firm with a tightly integrated suite of ERP tools will be able to implement processes that a firm with a set of standalone, 30 year old apps could only dream of implementing.

3) Culture. Business practices don’t operate in a vacuum. A company’s culture and it’s reward/incentive mechanisms all impact the effectiveness of a business practice.

And this list goes on — the composition of the customer base, the current economic condition, the current financial condition of the firm, and so on.

To think that one firm’s practice is a best practice that can just be plopped in somewhere else — and succeed to the same level — is wishful thinking.

What’s sad here is the underlying mindset of silverbulletitis sufferers, who seem to think that there’s an easy answer to the tough problems their firms face. “If Net Promoter Score worked for them, then it it will work for us.” “The Young and Free Alberta campaign attracted many new members for Commonwealth CU, so I’m sure it will work for us.”

The reality is that there are no easy management answers in today’s complicated organizations and difficult business environment. And I said so in my presentation at the CUES Experience conference this week. I don’t think the message was well received.


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