Career Contrarian: The Myth of Best Practices

…stop following the map. We reward those who draw the maps, not those who follow them.”  ~ Seth Godin

I’m becoming a curmudgeon.

I’m impatient with people who advocate following “best practices;” especially as they relate to careers. I once worked with someone who took great pride in the team following best practices — that’s what made us unique. I pushed back, responding that we didn’t incorporate best practices, we invented best practices — strategies and tactics that set our clients apart from the rest of the folks looking to advance their careers.

We didn’t create new practices out of whole cloth. We tweaked established practices and improved them to develop innovative practices. We developed strategies, procedures, and tactics that differentiated our clients from the rest. Basically, we made best practices, better. 

The Myth of Best Practices

Best practices are limiting. They imply the use of standard operating procedures. Standard is average. Thus, best practices keep organizations and their people average — not exceptional.

These days, average doesn’t cut it. 

Best practices stifle innovation. They encourage business as usual. And business as usual won’t be enough in the next normal. 

Best practices lump one in with everyone else — with the vast middle. One who follows best practices doesn’t stand out — they’re average. No one wants to hire average.

Be Remarkable to People Who Matter

People who matter — decision-makers (hiring managers, bosses, customers, clients) — hire because they have a problem they need resolved; not because they have a vacancy or extra dollars in the budget. 

The job search process is VERY competitive.  It’s imperative that candidates demonstrate how they can solve the decision-maker’s problem. So it’s important to know what that problem is and how it affects the decision-maker. 

We tend to sell ourselves as solutions to a decision-maker’s external problems (“My team needs to grow revenues by 25% this year”). Decision-makers buy (hire) solutions to their internal problems — what frustrates them most (“Do I have the right team in place to meet this goal?”)  Their desire to resolve a frustration is a greater motivator than their desire to solve an external problem.

So understand the decision-maker’s internal problem. That’s their motivator. That’s where you provide value over your competition. That’s how you become remarkable.

Value Trumps Skills

If you’re addressing the decision-maker’s external problem (grow revenue by 25%), you’re going to speak about your past successes in sales and marketing, opening new markets, etc. The fact is, so will every other candidate the decision-maker interviews. Their decision becomes one of choosing among similarly successful folks, so it might go to the least expensive candidate.

If you address their internal problem, you’ll speak to building successful, high-performing teams, mentoring and coaching young sales professionals, and growing them into high performers. These are activities of value.

You’ll need to engage the decision-maker around three critical questions:

  1. What does the decision-maker REALLY want? Sure, they want to meet the revenue targets, but they really wonder if their team is up to the challenge.
  1. What stands in the way of the decision-maker getting what they really want? Do they have the right people on the team? Is their team positioned appropriately — are the right team members aligned with the right prospects? Are there people on the team that may drag down performance?
  1. What will the decision-maker’s life be like when their team is successful? What if they’re not successful? What direct benefits to the decision-maker will result by meeting or exceeding the revenue targets? What will be the ramifications of missing those targets?

Engaging the decision-maker on these questions and their responses demonstrates the value you can bring to their team. You’re thinking beyond the external issue of increased revenues. All the other candidates will be speaking about their strengths, their skills. They won’t bring the conversation to the decision-maker’s internal issues. 

Separate yourself from the crowd, and from the competition by focusing on your value. Don’t follow the best practices of itemizing your transferable skills. Be remarkable.

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