No SOPs, No Best Practices

Best Practice and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) are often put forward to the best ways to manage businesses. But are they really?

The idea is sound, but the practice is often flawed. By strictly enforcing KPI’s, KPA’s and BP’s, businesses can often induce a collective fear of failure that results in under-performance, maintaining the status quo and an absence of innovation.

When rigidly held to Best Practice, people and teams are very aware of where the lines lie and where they or may not step over. This results in very little improvement, critical thinking and change in that organisation. The idea that the ‘Best’ way has already been discovered is de-motivational, arrogant and false.

These reasons alone can produce a culture of fear where risk-avoidance, territorialism and blame run riot.

What change occours is small and of little consequence.

In an environment where the rules are aimed at a goal, or a way of thinking, the BP’s and SOP’s are always under review, and employees are empowered to experiment, tweak and try out new things. This tends to create an environment of ongoing small improvements which can result in massive changes and innovation.

Incremental change would seem to indicate that at least some progress toward innovation is achieved. However, very specific KPI’s, KPA’s and Standard Operating Procedures often mean that the outcome is defined BEFORE it can be discovered, thereby limiting the opportunity for actual change.

Incremental change would require a focus on slowly but surely adapting Best Practice until it becomes an open-ended guideline for operating excellence without prescribing outcomes. However, the opposite is most often true.

Many HR systems fail to encourage improvement or innovation in the workplace because they set too real or definite targets. Further, they create an environment of control and fear of failure which effectively kill the required mind-space for innovative problem solving and idea creation.

Further, hiring practices in many companies deploy techniques like standardized testing, hiring for cultural fit and complete ignorance of the principle of confirmation bias.

The net result is a group of people more concerned with whether they fail than whether or not they succeed. 

If you want a culture of innovation where new and amazing things can be created, you need to create a workplace where experimentation, iteration, and failure are encouraged and admired.

Only once people have a sense of their creative thinking being rewarded on some level, will they be brave enough to take on the status quo.