Home > Leadership, The Monday Musings Column > Standards, Good Practice or Guidelines – why and when do we need them?

Standards, Good Practice or Guidelines – why and when do we need them?

I’m writing this with facilities management in mind, but it is applicable to business, society et al. It’s on my mind because of something lurking round the corner that I have been involved in commenting on and thinking about the specific has got me thinking about the general point of why we have such things as standards, rules and the like. What is the point?

If one were to live entirely in a vacuum you could do without standards of any sort, but once there are two or more people you start to need to define things; boundaries for example and ways that you will behave towards each other. So in life and business we have a range of things that are set out; money and measurements need some definition so that we can trade, and other standards come along such as the notorious EU efforts to define the sausage, along with more sensible things like regional wine & cheese definitions.

All of these are good because they allow us to function in our lives. Then we have laws, many of which are stupid (because they are unenforceable), but society has to have some foundation. Some laws help, others hinder, but we rub along.

Experience is a big part of life in all its forms. The wilderness can still be a dangerous place as witnessed by the Eton school party last week, and we learn that there are dangers in pushing the boundaries (one of the things about elf & safety for me is that it could be a danger in the long term if we remove all risks and cease to learn; if we remove all risk of falling over, will we forget that it hurts?). As we have evolved we have learned all sorts of things that we can pass on, and these become as Good Practice.

In business we do a lot to encourage good practice; benchmarking and peer groups, professional bodies, continuous professional development and so on, and these are often taken a step further by trade bodies that have codes of practice for their industry. All of this is good because it takes us forward and gives our customers and markets confidence.

And then there are the standards. Imagine what life would be like if we didn’t have an electrical wiring standard; visual signage standards are another good example of a beneficial standard that we work with on a daily basis. We don’t even perceive some of the standards that rule our lives like those that allow us to use our various mobile devices, but they are there and we all benefit from them in life and work.

But then there are another range of standards, and these are closer related to the Euro sausage that we might think. To some degree they are good things. ISO, BS and CE assure us that something has been made to a standard that we can rely on; that we can plug something in and not put ourselves or our families at risk of electrocution, say, is a good thing and one I will defend.

However, I think that there are dangers in taking good practice and turning it into a standard without good reason to do so. Often good practice should be adopted just because it is good, not by enforcing it. Leaders drive good practice forwards; complying with a common standard can stifle that, and also competition and that is bad.

So let’s keep standards for where we need them and let business leaders thrive as unfettered as possible, because that is the path to recovery.

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