Making Best Practices Stick

November 24, 2011 • Business Process, Global Business, OPERATION, STRATEGY & MANAGEMENT

By Adrian Done, Chris Voss and Niels Gorm Rytter

Several key factors influence the short-term success and long-term sustainability of best practice interventions. Management of these factors is critical to instilling a culture of capability development – especially within small and medium enterprises.


In the fight against challenging economic conditions, many businesses and organizations are asking themselves how they can “do more with less” by implementing best practices such as Lean (just-in-time) or Six Sigma (total quality management) or similar continuous improvement management methods. Few have greater need to make such profound changes than the legions of small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) that constitute over half of the jobs in developed countries. In the USA, fewer than 12% of firms have more than 20 employees, yet it is the smaller companies that comprise the majority of US firms that have the most limited resources to initiate and drive operational performance improvements. While those SMEs that are members of sophisticated supply chains might gain significant help from large OEM customers, the rest have to find other ways of driving improvements through introducing new ways of working and new innovative practices. To this end, many SMEs turn to best practice interventions (BPIs) as a cost-effective means of improvement. Their hope is that such short focussed programmes lead to both short-term success and long-term sustainability of best practices through instilling a culture of continuing capability development. Yet our research indicates that this is a danger ous assumption and that several underlying issues need to be understood and managed for BPIs to be considered truly effective capability building processes. We find several barriers hindering BPI outcomes in SME contexts – both in the short and longer-term, and discuss guidelines that companies should pursue to focus attention upon sustainable outcomes.

BPIs typically have both short- and long-term objectives. Short-term objectives are aimed at performance improvements and long-term objectives usually seek to embed best practices across the organization. Larger organizations are more likely to possess the resources to implement practice improvements and thus publicly funded intervention programs have been created specifically to offer SMEs support in learning about and adopting best practices.

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