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The Dangers of Doing What Works


Posted by on April 19, 2011

Why is it that in the enterprise 2.0 and social CRM (and probably many other) spaces that we always try to offer a prescription to organizations problems based on what other organizations have done?  We always hear about blanket statements such as, “there has to be a center of excellence to manage these efforts,” “the customer relationship can’t just be owned by sales,” “you have to be social internal first and then external, “insert blanket statement here.”  Why?

Why is it that every company has to follow these rules and do things the exact same way?  I don’t think they do actually.  Just because something works or makes sense at company A doesn’t mean it will work or make sense at company B, and the fact that we see so many blanket statements leads organizations to poor decision making.  Who says that sales can’t own the customer or that my collaboration efforts can’t succeed without a center of excellence department?  This type of thinking is in my opinion pure malarkey (my new favorite word which means nonsense!).  Don’t do what works; do what works for your organization.

Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton wrote a book called “Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths & Total Nonsense,” which I just started reading talks about some of these ideas.  In fact, the top three poor decision making practices that they identified were: casual benchmarking, doing what (seems to have) worked in the past, and following deeply held yet unexamined ideologies.  I think we see a lot of these traps and poor decision making practices in the social CRM and enterprise collaboration space all the time, which of course is something we want to avoid.  While there are some common or general practices or trends that might arise when examining how various companies do things, these trends are far from best practices or “rules” that must be followed.

Organizations have different dynamics and thus cannot all be treated with the same “pill.”  Jeffrey and Robert make a fun analogy in the book: “suppose you went to the doctor who said, ‘I’m going to do an appendectomy on you.’  When you asked why, the doctor answered, ‘because I did one on my last patient and it made him better.” Chances are that person wouldn’t remain your doctor very long, yet we see the same trends happen in business all the time.

The point of all this is to caution individuals and organizations to examine themselves and the practices, companies and ideas they seek to foster and emulate before deploying or acting upon them.

A couple key questions to ask (from the book) are:

Benchmarking

  • Is the success you observe by the benchmarking target because of the practice you seek to emulate?
  • Why is a particular practice linked to performance improvement – what is the logic?
  • What are the downsides and disadvantages to implementing the practice, even if it’s a good idea?  Are there ways to mitigate these problems?

Doing what (seems to have) worked in the past

  • Are you sure that the practice that you are about to repeat is associated with past success?
  • Is the new situation – the business, the technology, the customers, the business model, the competitive environment – so similar to past situations that what worked in the past will work in the new setting?
  • Why do you think the past practice you intend to use again has been effective?

Following deeply held yet unexamined ideologies

  • Is my preference for particular management practice solely or mostly because it fits with my intuitions about the people and organizations?
  • Am I requiring the same level of proof and the same amount of data regardless of whether or not the issue is one I believe in?
  • And most important, are my colleagues and I allowing our beliefs to cloud willingness to gather and consider data that may be pertinent to our choices?

While these questions were taken directly from the book, I encourage organizations to develop their own questions around these and other areas that may lead them down a path of poor decision making.

What do you think?  Are you seeing a lot of these generalizations in the “social” space?

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  • http://trafficcoleman.com/blog/official-black-seo-guy/ Black Seo Guy

    Everything is social now and many people have their own way of doing things. But I think it just comes down to you doing what works for you and sticking to it..

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  • Georgehardie

    A new owner takes over a business and immediately imposes his vision of the company and the processes he believes will make the company more efficient and thus more productive. It was only when he stopped and questioned why have you always followed this process that he discovered that it had nothing to do with efficiency but with what the customer requirements were for the specific project. The new owner’s vision was great but it had to be tailored to meet their own external customer’s requirements for each project.

  • http://www.mactonweb.com SEO bangalore

    Yes before doing anything we should think and then execute it.