This thought came up on a discussion list in regard to Toyota - considered an exemplar of employing very good feedback and employee-recommended improvement mechanisms. The question had to do with transferring a good idea from one location (where it had positive impact) to other locations. Sounds like a good idea, right?
Unfortunately, the thing that best practices usually focus on is the obvious actions that have changed. And this can only work if everything is absolutely the same. This is why fast food restaurants have standardized their kitchens. Most manufacturers do not replicated every last detail of their assembly operations. And project based organizations or knowledge-work organizations have even less replication. Why do we think that the physical / operational changes that worked in Poughkeepsie, NY would work in Painesville, OH?
But isn't there something to the idea of best practices that could be beneficial? Of course. It is the idea and thinking behind the new practice that might be valuable. The local implementation of the idea is dependent upon all sorts of contextual and circumstantial aspects that don't necessarily translate to other locales. It is the thinking that translates. And this thinking is what change agents have to bring. Why did the idea come up in the first place? How does the situation in Poughkeepsie translate to the situation in Painesville?
Rather than asking how we do things, we need to learn from how we think about things. That is the way to translate "best practices" from one place to another. And this requires conversation and collaboration to understand one another.
[Photo: "Sculpture In Context 2010 At The Botanic Gardens" by infomatique]