When to Ignore Best Practices. Lessons from a Former GE Executive.

Last Monday's Wall Street Journal included an interesting interview with Steve Bennett, CEO of Intuit, about why some General Electric alumni succeed as CEOs of other companies and some do not. Mr. Bennett spent 22 years at GE before being recruited to Intuit. Since joining Intuit in 2000 he has doubled revenue. How did he do it? He "applied the tried-and-true GE principles that made sense [at Intuit]". For example, Mr. Bennett thought that applying forced rankings (something GE was known for during the Jack Welch days) at Intuit would be "really dumb". As Mr. Bennett said, with a group of 30 people how can you possibly rank someone 17 and someone else 18? Mr. Bennett said he would have been "voted off the island" if he tried he "GE Way" at Intuit.

Conversely, Home Depot's former CEO Bob Nardelli (also a GE veteran) applied "tried-and-true GE principles" at Home Depot and failed.

Whether general management or individual business functions, people are often too quick to apply "best-practices" that work well elsewhere to a company where they may not make any sense due to cultural or other reasons.

At HRmarketer, we work with a lot of marketing and PR departments across a diverse group of companies and we occasionally have a front row seat to observe how changes in management (or company ownership) impact marketing and PR. In most cases, the changes are positive but sometimes the new management makes changes when nothing was actually broken because they wanted to implement what they did with success at their previous company. And more often than not, it backfires. So kudos to Mr. Bennett for acknowledging that what works great at one company may not work at another.

In HR, we talk a lot about best practices. We've even issued our own best practices for certain marketing and PR processes like SEO. But while manufacturing and certain process improvement best-practices may be easily transferable across companies and industries, best practices may not be so easily transferable in disciplines where there is a behavioral component - like management or even marketing. As marketers of HR products and services, we can learn from Mr. Bennett by understanding our clients/prospects -- their culture, business model, industry and market forces -- before pitching the benefits of our solutions. Different messaging or approaches may be required. Great sales people do this intuitively and while it seems like common sense, most of us (I know I am) are guilty of not doing this as thoroughly as we should.

Posted by Mark Willaman