Best Practices or Flexible Practices?

Arela Simerson
4 min readMar 2, 2020


Let’s be bold and progressive and move beyond the fixation of HR best practices! This is becoming my mantra as I repeat it often these days in my effort to influence and implement sustainable and great places to work. In all my excitement, I forgot that many people don’t understand what HR best practices are, just that we should use them. Let’s create some alignment before moving onto more complex topics.

HR best practices are so well covered by others, I’ll leave it up to you to search for the contemporary guides on this. Instead, I’ll talk about why we should move on, starting by zooming out and looking at the concept itself.

Best practices, by definition are procedures for a business program or department which are assumed to be correct or most effective. Throwing “HR” in the front, means the same but applied to the people and culture of an organization.

The phrase often gets lumped together to include people strategy and all programs, topics and initiatives that the HR department is managing and creating. These could be: processes, administration, absence management, compensation and feedback programs.

All are very important for a successful work place but used as a template or a rushed through implementation creates a dysfunctional people and culture environment. Humans and behaviors are so varied and complex, templates could rarely be applied as-is and be effective. In most cases, they are rejected in whole or part by the employees.

Creating solutions and strategies for living systems such as groups of people in an organization requires flexibility and customization. The concept of ‘best or worst’ is too simplistic. Living systems are unpredictable, without clear cause or reason and are constantly being affected by unknowns.

Effectively working with systems needs to be about strategically defining it and looking at its entirety to understand the parts, connections, and the constraints. From there we can learn from what we know about the system to create strategies and initiatives.

It’s not about creating the right and perfect outcome, but rather aim to be less and less wrong at each new implementation.

Thinking of HR best practices as end-all-be-all tools, doesn’t mesh with the reality of an organizational system. Ideally, we use them as foundational elements to build upon, which help us be smart about resources and create healthy and engaging work places. Then, remain humble and iterate often to reflect our learnings.

There is still a lot of dialogue around discussing HR best practices and what or if to implement. For instance; employee goals, in some form should be implemented in every size organization. It’s simple, your employees need to know where they’re going and how to benchmark their work. This drives engagement, encourages retention and increases productivity. All of which are highly expensive if ignored. Yet despite this relatively easy to implement practice, many early stage organizations balk at it.

On the flip side, there are many leaders who rush these best practices as templates. Not pausing long enough to understand how and where they are best applied. I get it, HRBPs seem like huge help-mates, and leaders use them hoping they will solve issues and create engagement. Eg, setting up OKR’s when a clear company strategy doesn’t exist.

It’s also a real pressure to be competitive and make it happen fast. We see other groups doing similar things and employees are becoming more clear and strong in asking for better workplaces. Yet applying best practices as templates or in a rush, is only a bandaid and won’t care for the real issues creating the pain-point. This reactive bandaid approach often becomes a more complicated and difficult issue to fix later. I think of it like running on a sprained leg, not caring for it properly now to make the sprint, will only create more damage which blocks you from completing the marathon.

Instead of debating if HRBP should be used, or holding them in the limelight let’s look at how to build upon and iterate them.

To be competitive workplaces, I encourage leaders to be smart and to take a look at what’s going on at the core of the organization. We need to embrace the flux of people and culture as a system and work from a solid strategic and proactive foundation to create more progressive work cultures.

Through this, I believe we can create truly effective and inspired work.