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Strategy vs. Best Practice: The Real Difference

        posted by , April 12, 2013

Great business strategists tend to be accurate with words.

They don't call a tactic a strategy and they certainly don't call a best practice a strategy.

Words are essential to strategic thought. If your words are too fuzzy your strategies may miss the mark.

There are 4 critical differences between strategies and best practices.

1. Strategies Are Actions, Best Practices Are Methods

A strategy is an action plan taken to reach a goal. Launching a new product is a strategy.

A best practice is a method to achieve a goal. For example, best practices for new product development.

2. Strategies Are Unique, Best Practices Are Standard

Businesses copy each other's strategies like trendy high school students copy celebrity fashions. It happens and it happens a great deal.

However, most businesses think of strategy as a competitive advantage. A strategy has a special secret ingredient designed to knock out the competition.

Best practices are different. They are the best known methods in an industry. If you add your own special secret ingredient — it's no longer a best practice (in the strict sense of the term).

Best practices are used as benchmarks. If you know the best known way to do things, you can use that as your baseline measurement. If you can beat that measurement, you're processes and/or products are superior.

3. Strategies Answer Why, Best Practices Answer How

Strategies focus on essential question such as why, what and when.

Best practices focus on implementation questions such as how.

4. Best Practices May Be Inconsistent With Strategy

Many organizations set strategy at the top. Strategies set below the executive management level are expected to align to organizational strategy.

Best practices typically originate outside the organization and can be highly rigid. In real world situations, best practices are often not aligned with strategy.

It's a common mistake to adopt best practices with an inflexible approach. Best practices are guidelines — not doctrine. It's important for organizations that adopt best practices to customize them where they don't align.

When best practices become strategies unto themselves competitive advantage quickly erodes.

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