For being a not particularly deep movie, Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean has a lot of great one-line lessons. One of the best, and most repeated, is: “They’re more like guidelines anyway.”
And that should be foremost in mind in any organization’s approach to ‘best practices.’ Wikipedia defines a best practice as “a method or technique that has consistently shown results superior to those achieved with other means, and that is used as a benchmark.” The article goes on to state that some consider ‘best practices’ to be something of a “business buzzword,” though “intentional misnomer” might be a more apt description. To put it bluntly, ‘probably good practice’ doesn’t catch the imagination quite like best practice does.
Which brings us back to Pirates; best practices should be best viewed as guidelines. To borrow an example from Joe Boland’s post about 5 Event Fundraising Best Practices, events that have registration fees tend to raise more money than those that don’t. However, if your organization’s goal for the event is to raise awareness of a cause, then bodies might be more important than dollars and instituting a registration fee for the event might not constitute a best practice in that particular case.
In other words, identifying best practices should represent a potential shortcut to a starting point from which to plan the best course of action for your organization, not a substitute for strategic planning altogether. Just like Captain Jack Sparrow constantly sought to use the Pirate’s Code to his advantage, your organization should constantly be evaluating how, and even if, best practices can benefit the organization. After all, they’re more like guidelines anyway.