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Worst Practice

If you have read this blog much in the past you will be aware that, amongst the many professions modern society has, I have a particular dislike for managers. I don’t know, maybe I just don’t get it, or maybe I have trouble accepting authority, or maybe I’m just one of those mavericks who always wants to do my own thing, but it seems to me that they are amongst the lowest forms of life on Earth.

Why do I say this? Because they represent one of the few job types which are actually worse than nothing. There are a few others I would include in the same general category: corporate lawyers (a truly evil profession), public relations experts (yes, also evil), CEOs of large global corporations (have I used the word evil too much?). To be fair, I guess there are a few people in those positions which are OK, and I should also emphasise it’s not the person I’m criticising – it’s the job, but in general I think that’s a fair appraisal.

So getting back to managers. I would like to name a few attributes I have found which I particularly object to. First of all, they are almost universally lazy. I don’t necessarily mean that they do nothing or don’t “work” long hours, what I mean is they make no real effort to do what their job should really be.

A classic example of this is the rather silly idea of “best practice”. Best practice seems to be a simplified “paint by numbers” approach to management. Someone comes up with some general rules which might work sometimes then these are decreed to be “best practice” by some ill-defined authority, then all the manager has to do is force the people who do the real work to follow these guidelines and he has done his job.

The manager achieves two major wins by doing this: first, he fixes a problem (or more likely creates a new one) without thinking because he uses best practice instead; and second, he diverts attention from himself when things go wrong (and they usually will) because he has followed best practice and what else could he be expected to do?

The problem is that the real world isn’t that simple. Every situation is different and by just simplistically following some simple principles created by someone else, no matter how authoritative that person might be, nothing is ever likely to be improved.

If you want to see a classic case of the failure of best practice try using some big corporations support systems. You’ll most likely get an understaffed foreign helpdesk of minimally trained individuals who usually clear the call after the person seeking help gives up in frustration! I’m sure it’s not just me who has this problem because almost everyone I talk to has experienced it.

So implementing Indian (or other countries with cheap labour) help desks is considered best practice by many companies. Actually from a business perspective it’s probably a good idea because it doesn’t cost much to set up and most people will resort to on-line discussion forums and other sources to try to solve the problem instead.

Best practice is a bad idea in my opinion. I have no objection to the idea of “recommended ideas which have worked quite well in the past” which is what we should be working with instead. There’s certainly no harm in taking notice of what others have already tried instead of “re-inventing the wheel” but labelling something as “best practice” makes it sound like the solution has been found and no further effort is required.

There’s another point too. Is it best practice to follow best practice? If it is, how do we know this is true (it seems rather circular) and if it isn’t why are we doing it?

I recently had a discussion with a manager where we were trying to establish a way to support some computer users and he said he wanted to use best practice. I offered a few suggestions of what might work based on the actual facts of the specific situation and he got rather upset and said “no, we have to use the helpdesk”. If he wanted to do that why not say so instead of using a management buzz-word?

It just shows how different my thinking is to a manager’s (I accept that not all of them work this way but it does seem quite common). I look at the requirements and the resources available and come up with some solutions, the manager just recalls a solution he might have heard in a management course or a business magazine. There’s no real analysis and thought involved at all.

I work with many different types of people and the one class I find universally uninspiring are managers. As a group they are just uniformly mediocre. As I said above, their space in the universe could be filled with a vacuum and everyone would benefit. Unfortunately it’s the managers who make most of the decisions in this world (including those relating to hiring more managers) but I know who will be first against the wall when the revolution comes!

Note that I don’t really think there will be a revolution and I don’t condone violence against managers. This is just a phrase (from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) originally used to describe the fate of the corporate management of the “Sirius Cybernetics Corp” and it seemed appropriate!

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