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Best Practices
Beg, Borrow (but not steal) Good Ideas

“You don’t get out much, do you?”

That’s the smart-alecky question I’m tempted to ask some small business owners when I find out their company vision statement is “We’ve always done it this way.”

OK, I’ll admit I’ve never encountered that exact vision statement. But we all occasionally come into contact with businesses who:

  • are using out-dated business practices.

  • never make any attempt to find out what their own industry’s leaders are doing, and how they’re doing it.

  • never make any attempt to find out how other industries are solving problems, and how those approaches could be applied to their own industry.

  • never challenge the status quo.

The term “best practice” is used in medicine, manufacturing and other industries. It basically refers to the most efficient and effective approach for achieving a desired outcome. Here’s a more plain-spoken definition: Borrowing ideas from others.

Many “new ideas” are nothing more than recycled, renamed and revamped versions of long-time, tried and true approaches. There are so many good ideas out there that it’s foolish – heck, even arrogant – to not tap into them ... no matter who you are or what you’ve accomplished.

In a practical, small business sense there’s no real way to know if something is truly the “best” practice. So, for our purposes a better name might be “better practice.” If you discover an idea that’s better than the way you’re now doing it, grab it and go.

Here’s how this generally plays itself out in real life:

You become aware of an idea that someone else is using. It appeals to you - probably because it seems like a good solution to one of your current problems. So, you determine the best way to apply that solution to your company. If someone sees what you’re doing, hopefully you give credit where credit is due. But over time, you tweak and modify the idea. Eventually, it becomes your own unique approach. And eventually someone else likes your idea enough to implement it … and the cycle continues.

By the way, I’m not advocating plagiarism, copyright infringement, or industrial espionage. I’m talking about adopting improved business practices – better ways of delivering customer service, motivating employees, increasing production, and going to market.

And good ideas can come from the darndest places. For instance, the approach I’ve used for years for employee performance discussions comes from Toastmasters’ formula for speech evaluations: Start with the strong points, then move into opportunities for improvement, and end on a positive note – thus “sandwiching” the least pleasant part between the good news.

This stuff isn’t just the CEO’s job, either. Make sure that everyone in your organization is on the constant look-out for ways to improve your business.

Here’s how to build a “Best Practices Culture” at your company:

1.      The Owner/President sets the example. If you’re going to ask your people to seek out and implement good ideas, you need to be leading the charge.

2.      Get everyone on board. Earn buy-in by explaining the benefits of learning, improving and changing versus the dangers of stagnation. Create excitement by using contests and rewards for ideas contributed.

3.      Be willing to allow your people to spend some time and money on this effort. It may be appropriate to visit other companies, attend conferences, buy books … you get the idea. Consider adding an expense budget line item for “business improvement.”

4.      Look for best practices everywhere  – including in-house. If your company is big enough to have several departments or locations, ideas and approaches used in one branch might be equally useful in others.

5.      Audit periodically to make sure that improvements and changes have taken hold and are still being used. It’s easy to put a new initiative in place and then abandon it. As part of preparation for your annual strategic planning, why not create and use a Pre-Planning Checklist, which would require you to do a check-up on various aspects of your company? This would be a perfect place to track of progress of important changes.

There’s a big, ever-changing world of business out there, and terrific ideas are all around. Get out of the office and take a fresh look You never know where your next big idea will come from.


Bill Collier is the author of “How to Succeed as a Small Business Owner … and Still Have a Life” and is the St. Louis area coach for The Great Game of Business. He helps businesses teach their employees to think and act like owners. He can be reached at 314-221-8558 or



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