Seeking Out “Next Practices,” the Next Generation of Best Practices

Many in HR proclaim a desire to be more strategic, yet most doom themselves by not acting any differently than everyone else. A clear indication of this can be seen in the speed by which documented best practices are mimicked and improved. Benchmarking has become a common practice in the profession of recruiting, which most organizations use to identify what must be done to emulate those who do something better. Unfortunately, most stop there with emulation, and that may doom them to mediocrity forever. The business world once moved at a significantly slower pace, a pace that made benchmarking and emulating best practices prudent activities. However, things no longer move so slowly! By the time firms benchmark a best practice today, the situation that warranted the development or implementation of the best practice might have changed or may no longer be present. Instead of systematizing an effort to consistently follow the leader and mimic the soon-to-be-obsolete practices of others, I recommend adopting a proactive approach, one in which you develop your own “next generation” of best practices. I call these “next practices.”

Next Practice Development Is More Common in Other Business Functions

Next practice development isn’t about making something more efficient; instead, it is about a fundamental transformation of the core business activity. For example, Apple has long been a participant in the computer industry, in which the core best practices are predominately focused on refinement of manufacturing technologies that enable computers to do more. While Apple could have easily jumped on the performance bandwagon, it instead opted to develop next practices in the areas of product packaging and service. With the introduction of the iMac, Apple demonstrated that computers don’t have to be beige and gray boxes. With the introduction of the iPod and iMusic service, Apple demonstrated that product companies can develop sustainable long-term relationships with consumers. It abandoned efforts to compete on the nature of performance, long a computer-industry challenge, and reinvented the game with best practices that were unique to its business.

Next Practices Help You Create the Future

Best practices only allow you to do what you are currently doing a little better, while next practices increase your organization’s capability to do things that it could never have done before. By jumping a level up to next practices, you’re taking a giant step in that you are actually creating your future recruiting capabilities, rather than relying on the innovation of others.

Examples of Next Practices

If you are not sure of the distinction between best and next practices, here are some examples in several HR areas: Practice Area: College Recruiting

  • Average practice: Visit the top schools within your state.
  • Best practice: Visit the top 10 schools in the U.S.
  • Next practice: Recruit remotely (without having to visit) from the best schools around the world.

Practice Area: Next Job Hiring

  • Average practice: Hire individuals who have the skills that are currently needed by “this manager.”
  • Best practice: Hire individuals who have the skills for both this and the next-level-up job (that the individual will likely be promoted to in the next few years).
  • Next practice: Hire individuals who can do both this and the next job but also have the capabilities of reskilling rapidly into skill and competency areas that have yet to be identified.

Practice Area: Global Hiring

  • Average practice: Hire the best from India and China, and bring them to America.
  • Best practice: Hire the best in India and China and then move operations to India and China.
  • Next practice: Find the very best performers in every individual country around the world and let them work remotely in their home countries.

Practice Area: Recruiting Metrics

  • Average practice: Cost per hire.
  • Best practice: Measure quality of hire through performance appraisal scores.
  • Next practice: Calculate the actual dollar impact on business results of each key hire.

Practice Area: Corporate Website

  • Average practice: Post information on it, like it was a paper bulletin board.
  • Best practice: Also include “sales” elements like streaming video and individual employee profiles.
  • Next practice: Provide the capability to morph or mass-customize the information provided to visitors, so that it provides the right tailored information for this individual candidate, based on the background and interest profile he or she provided.

Practice Area: Recruiting Focus and Prioritization

  • Average practice: Recruiters respond to all jobs equally.
  • Best practice: Prioritize requisitions based on the potential business impact of that position.
  • Next practice: In addition, assign recruiters, recruiting budget, and the appropriate sourcing approach, based on the actual success rates of recent hires in this targeted position.

Practice Area: Candidate Assessment

  • Average practice: Conduct behavioral interviews with all candidates.
  • Best practice: Add an online test as the first screen.
  • Next practice: Replace the test with an online video simulation developed for this job, which both excites and more effectively assesses the candidate’s skills, weaknesses, and capabilities.

The Process for Identifying Next Practices

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Predicting which HR practices will become obsolete and what will be needed to supplant them in the future is obviously more difficult than merely calling up a great company and asking it what it’s doing now. However, the impacts are significantly greater on the business, so it’s definitely worth the effort. The first step is to do some reading in the area of business change so that you can learn how to identify precursors to change points. Unfortunately, there are but a few authors who talk about what in business is known as “inflection points,” where everything in a particular product line or industry changes. Start by reading Only the Paranoid Survive by Andy Grove and the current best-seller, The World is Flat. Then, start reading forecasting articles in publications like BusinessWeek, Fortune, The Economist, Business 2.0, Workforce Management, and the McKinsey Quarterly. Individuals who might help you identify upcoming inflection points include individuals in product development, R&D, and strategic planning.

After you identify these inflection points where business will change dramatically, the next step is to identify which practices in recruiting and HR will no longer support the direction of the company post-change. It’s important to remember there are almost always precursors or warning signs that alert you to upcoming inflection points. These precursors are alerts that recruiting and HR must prepare for change by beginning to develop the appropriate next practice so that HR is adapting its own next practices at the same time and speed as the rest of the business. For example, if product design implemented changes to dramatically reduce time-to-market so that products were introduced once a quarter rather than once a year, workforce allocation models would obviously need to change. Speed of hiring might need to increase to match the firm’s increased speed of product development. Other approaches you might consider include reading CEO speeches and articles written by key industry thought leaders who have a track record of forecasting inflection points. Look for individuals who think outside the box and are consistently unhappy with current approaches. The next stage of the process involves setting aside some time to think about the future. This thinking can be stimulated with if?then and what?if exercises that focus on what might soon become obsolete. Part of the process should also be to develop rules that prohibit looking at solutions that can only help you improve by 5-10%. Next-practice thinking, in essence, demands that you reject all solutions that don’t allow you to improve by a quantum amount of, say, 25%. This quantum improvement rate is the key differentiator between best practices and next practices.

If you want to make a quantum jump in business or recruiting, you simply must have to have tools and strategies that allow you to make a 25-50% improvement, all within a relatively short period of time. If you are really bold, just assume that every process must improve by, say, 25% (at the same rate of change in your company’s product line) each and every year. You can also seek out any developing next practices by networking with only the top firms that have been in the forefront of developing previous next practices. Instead of asking about current best practices, ask them what practices they are considering or developing for the future. Of course, they will be reluctant to share future plans, so you’ll need to have done your own thinking and propose a trade of your next practice for theirs. Incidentally, you can’t do this with 99% of the firms in your industry because most firms have never developed a process to begin thinking about next practices.

The final step, if your budget allows, is to consult with out-of-the-box thought leaders to help validate your thinking. Efforts should be made to network with individuals who have demonstrated their ability to accurately predict inflection points and the related next practices in recruiting and HR. Thought leaders like Kevin Wheeler, Michael McNeal, Michael Homula, Dan Hilbert, and even myself come to mind. Sometimes, these individuals can shock your team into thinking ahead.

Conclusion

If you want to become a leader in developing next practices, the first thing you need is courage. Think of all the sea captains who told Columbus he was nuts about his next practice! It takes tremendous courage to constantly argue that your firm’s best practices could ever become obsolete. Another wise move is to commit yourself to becoming an expert in business change, so that you can begin to identify the precursors to business change. Finally, develop a mindset that assumes that every major practice is holding back your firm and the recruiting function. However, if you are satisfied with a 3% rate of change, don’t bother with next-practice thinking. It’s only for those that want to be first every time and to win big! Any questions?

Dr. John Sullivan

Dr. John Sullivan is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business impact; strategic Talent Management solutions. He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on www.ERE.Net. He lives in Pacifica, California.