Friday, June 21, 2013

More on "best practice"

The EMEA chapter of the Performance Measurement Forum held its Spring meeting in Brussels this week, and as usual, it was fun and informative. Because of the frequent use of the term "best practice," I asked the members to offer their definitions of this expression. Not surprisingly, we got a variety of responses.

In my view, the term SHOULD MEAN the best approach among the options available. The question is, WHO DECIDES what this is? Further, are they open to:
  • feedback
  • criticism
  • insights
  • ideas
  • other thoughts
  • opposition
  • objections
  • approval
  • etc.?
The CFA Institute's client reporting committee is promulgating  "best practices," but is clearly not open to any of this, which is unfortunate. And while the GIPS(r) (Global Investment Performance Standards) Executive Committee (EC) is open to feedback, there is no requirement or expectation that they will adjust their ideas based upon what they learn.

Take for example the idea of sending clients the presentation(s) for the composite(s) they're in on an annual basis. When the idea was introduced, there was extensive opposition; but, it is included as a recommendation. And, since by definition "recommendations" are "best practice" (see the Standards' glossary), it is BEST PRACTICE for you to do this (if you're compliant, of course). Personally, I think the idea is ludicrous, as do many others. But, someone decided it's best practice.

When we use the term, just as when we use other terms that have multiple meanings or interpretations, we should be prepared to explain what we mean. In the case of GIPS and the reporting standards (principles, sorry), "best practice" means what a group of folks think is best. Groups, by the way, which we neither elected nor, in at least one case, know the complete identities of.

While you might grow tiresome of my occasional harping on this matter, given the constant, continuous, and frequent use of the term (especially without qualification), I believe it's important that folks know and appreciate what's occurring and what's meant.

Most of our clients strive to adopt the best practices, which is, I believe, "best practice." But, knowing what these are (e.g., the above cited recommendation) allows the firm to decide whether they agree with all that are put forward. They, like me, may question someone else's judgment and beliefs. Given the paucity of firms that do send their clients their respective composite presentations annually, it's evident that most folks disagree with the GIPS EC, at least on this matter.

It would be interesting, would it not, to find out if the members of the EC (current and past) have adopted all of the recommendations themselves (including the annual report distribution) or if they're a verifier or consultant, strongly encourage their clients to do so.



    "Best practice" is a meaningless cliche, much like the over-used term "best in class." Besides lacking a clear definition, these terms are impossible to demonstrate or defend by any objective criteria. That's why competent lawyers and compliance staff will limit and sometimes even prohibit the use of such terms in any advertising. At its worst, "best practice" usually means little more than "following the herd" - as if this were some sort of badge of honor. In reality, this wouldn't even make for a good defense. It's like your mother used to say: "If everyone else jumped off the roof, would you also do it?" We should listen to our mothers and avoid the use of such terms.


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