In principal there is nothing wrong with using best practices for your change project. Learning about and comparing different approaches to solve challenges during transformation and change, helps to avoid repeating mistakes that others have already made. 

However, according to one of McKinsey & Company often cited research, the practice shows that about „70 percent of complex, large scale change [and transformation] programs don’t reach their stated goals”. In the same paragraph, they named as the reasons that „common pitfalls include a lack of employee engagement, inadequate management support, poor or nonexistent cross-functional collaboration, and a lack of accountability.” (Source:

I will even go further and add the usage of best practices as one of the main drivers for failing to reach the desired positive outcome of complex, large scale transformation and change programs as I see the most common reasons for just following best practices is to avoid having to “reinvent the wheel”.

Think about this for a moment: if nobody ever had built on that to explore and develop a more advanced and useful wheel, they would still be made from stone. Same for best practices – simply applying them is looking backwards just providing advice that different methodologies, processes, rules, theories, values and concepts have worked in the past.

Furthermore, applying best practices in your change project it’s looking at someone else’s practices, which have proven that a specific company or organization had a certain level of success in implementing those practices in their businesses. One formula of failure is to just copy a change practice from one organization into another organization, from one social system to another social system, like a blueprint which can be applied in different context and with different people. 

And here we have drawn the bow back to the McKinsey study. The human factor. Change management is all about reconfiguring the social complexity of different social systems. In a change situation you will be confronted with politics and culture, with multi-causality and interdependence. Very often you will see in a context of change that a best practice is not adaptable with your people and your organization. You could go over the lack of employee engagement and inadequate management support by training your people, or even replacing them with those who carry the change. But that takes time, and eats the budget. And probably destabilizes your organization and jeopardizes your change project.

I’m not recommending to neglect existing methodologies, but rather advocate a very critical view on whether or not they are appropriate for your business beyond the fact they’re already in use. It is just not that easy to simply pick them up and plug and play, especially as one company’s or organization’s initiative is never the same within a set of conditions – context of change, corporate culture, location – that others can simply copy.

Develop the “Next Practice” instead. The change practice which will suit your organization’s need, incorporates the corporate culture and involves your people.


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