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Smart Ways to Employ Best Practices

Nicole Radziwill

If your organization is serious about applying best practices like engaging workers or creating a quality culture, no doubt you’ve done your benchmarking, you understand the most successful approaches in your industry, and you’re on a path towards continuous improvement.

By Nicole Radziwill

But there can be risk in adopting best practices because they are, by necessity, oriented towards the most common scenarios that can arise. This is particularly pronounced in medicine, where customized treatment that doesn’t rigidly “follow the rules” is often necessary.

In 2016, Devorah Klein and her coauthors examined the application of best practices in medicine -- the evidence-based medicine (EBM) framework frequently used in healthcare. Their goal was to identify “some of the cognitive challenges of establishing and applying best practices [and] relying on data” to figure out how and when to respond to changes in processes and the work environment.

“Best-practices approaches, such as EBM, tackle the easier part of the equation— how to address each problem—and do not give adequate coverage to the detection and identification of the problem, the variability within a problem category, and the nature of other interacting problems, conditions, and treatments. As a result, they undervalue the diagnostic expertise that is essential for effective health care.” -- Klein et al. (2016)

They identified six “cognitive challenges” that can arise when organizations use best practices:

  1. Characterizing problems. Heuristics, pattern recognition, and expertise should not be reduced to simple global rules. Apply the guidance offered by best practices through the lens of your professional experience.
  2. Gauging confidence in the evidence. New data is always being generated, and new findings could make a best practice obsolete. Be open to new information that might encourage you to revisit the utility of a best practice.
  3. Deciding what to do when the generally accepted best practices conflict with professional expertise. Organizations should, at the least, develop guidelines to help them cope with situations like this when they arise.
  4. Applying simple rules to complex situations. Sometimes, the scripted response to a situation can be insufficient -- particularly in cases like resolving customer complaints. A best practice may need room for flexibility.
  5. Revising interventions that do not seem to be working. Don’t be afraid to adjust your response to a situation as new information is revealed.
  6. Considering interventions that are not best practices. In some cases, experience will dictate that counterintuitive responses to issues may yield the greatest benefits. Organizations should find ways to track the success or failure of intelligent risk-taking, with an eye towards incorporating lessons learned into updated best practices.


They conclude that best practices should definitely be employed -- they provide a way to learn from the trials and tribulations of other organizations that have attempted to solve similar problems. Not “reinventing the wheel” can have tremendous positive impacts on performance.

But for optimal results, best practices should be treated as a baseline that can (and should) be improved over time, and customized as needed to incorporate new knowledge and experience. Remember that best practices are there to support you and help you grow, not limit and hold you back from improvement and innovation.

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Additional Reading

Gaddis, S. (2018). What you need to know about EHS auditing best practices.

Intelex. (2016). Best Practices in EHS Management. Intelex Insight Report. Available from

Klein, D. E., Woods, D. D., Klein, G., & Perry, S. J. (2016). Can we trust best practices? Six cognitive challenges of evidence-based approaches. Journal of Cognitive Engineering and Decision Making, 10(3), 244-254. Available from

About the Author: Nicole Radziwill, Vice President, Global Practice Leader, Quality & Supply Chain

Nicole Radziwill is the Vice President, Global Practice Leader, Quality & Supply Chain at Intelex Technologies. Before Intelex, she was an Associate Professor of Data Science and Production Systems, Assistant Director (VP) End-to-End Operations at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO), and manager and consultant for several other organizations since the late 1990's bringing quality management to technologically-oriented operations. She is a Fellow of the American Society for Quality (ASQ) with a Ph.D. in Quality Systems from Indiana State University. Nicole serves as Editor of Software Quality Professional (SQP) journal and is a former Chair of the ASQ Software Division. She is an ASQ Certified Manager of Quality and Organizational Excellence (CMQ/OE) and Certified Six Sigma Black Belt (CSSBB).



This material provided by the Intelex Community and EHSQ Alliance is for informational purposes only. The material may include notification of regulatory activity, regulatory explanation and interpretation, policies and procedures, and best practices and guidelines that are intended to educate and inform you with regard to EHSQ topics of general interest. Opinions are those of the authors, and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Intelex. The material is intended solely as guidance and you are responsible for any determination of whether the material meets your needs. Furthermore, you are responsible for complying with all relevant and applicable regulations. We are not responsible for any damage or loss, direct or indirect, arising out of or resulting from your selection or use of the materials.

January 17, 2019 @ 09:00 AM EST Quality

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