The biggest short-cut in the business world - part of MBA/consultancy dogma - is the myth of best practice. But while we sometimes accept we can’t always have the best do we understand that we should often reject it even if we can?
It’s logical for leaders to want the best in everything because that’s how you get ahead. Florentino Pérez certainly thought so when he became the new President of Real Madrid - the home of the reigning European football champions - in 2000. The modern era of the Galácticos had begun. Real Madrid would sign the the very best footballers, with the very best global profiles, for the very best money. What could possibly go wrong?
Despite initial success, the Galácticos best practice policy started to unwind. Complacency started to creep in: why do we need defenders when we have the best attackers in the world? why is a manager so important when we’ve got the Galácticos? Pérez eventually resigned in 2006 after the ‘best players in the world’ failed to win anything in consecutive years.
Many organisations repeat the ‘Pérez-fallacy’ on a regular basis today. Not only do they seek the top talent (the subject of tomorrow’s blog) but are seduced by the belief that following the best practice recipe means they can all go home early, confident that bonuses will be earned this year. It’s a seductive, but deeply-flawed plan.
Best practice - the myth of the one right answer - has all sorts of pitfalls:
Most destructive of all though is best practice can blind leaders to the good practice deeply embedded in the organisation today, which it’s probably depending on more than it knows. Given the same resources and support it too could become a new gold standard - but your own, specific to your context, now and ahead of the curve.
Real Madrid needed to make room for all the ‘best’ players they were buying. Soon there was no room for others so they were let go. One of those was a lightly-regarded player (by some) called Claude Makélélé. Pérez announced on his departure ”we will not miss Makélélé. His technique is average, he lacks the speed and skill to take the ball past opponents, and 90% of his distribution either goes backwards or sideways.” Claude wan’t a Galáctico.
Pérez’s Real Madrid didn’t win anything after Makélélé left. Correlation is not causation, but Makélélé’s importance was not lost on everyone at the time, “why put another layer of gold paint on the Bentley when you are losing the entire engine?” remarked one of the Galácticos. It was the beginning of the end for Los Galácticos’ but became the start of a new dawn for Chelsea, the English Premier league that signed him. His importance to one of the most successful sides of the era was not overlooked again. To this day, the position is still known in English football as ‘the Makélélé role.’ Claude had become the gold standard.
Good practice becomes contextually, temporally, relevant best practice if allowed to flourish. The imposition of external (often illegitimate) best practice can limit it. We may already know that we can’t always have the best, but can we learn to not even seek it out?
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