Getting it Right the Second Time

Once a business performs a complex activity well, the parent organization often wants to replicate that success. But doing that is surprisingly difficult, and businesses nearly always fail when they try to reproduce a best practice. The reason? People approaching best-practice replication are overly optimistic and overconfident. Getting it right the second time (and all the times after that) involves adjusting for overconfidence in your own abilities and imposing strict discipline on the process and the organization.

by Gabriel Szulanski, Sidney Winter

Once a business performs a complex activity well, the parent organization often wants to replicate that success. But doing that is surprisingly difficult, and businesses nearly always fail when they try to reproduce a best practice.

The reason? People approaching best-practice replication are overly optimistic and overconfident. Getting it right the second time (and all the times after that) involves adjusting for overconfidence in your own abilities and imposing strict discipline on the process and the organization. The authors studied numerous business settings to find out how organizational routines were successfully reproduced, and they identified five steps for successful replication.

First, make sure you've got something that can be copied and that's worth copying. Second, work from a single template. It provides proof of success, performance measurements, a tactical approach, and a reference for when problems arise. Third, copy the example exactly, and fourth, make changes only after you achieve acceptable results. Fifth, don't throw away the template. If your copy doesn't work, you can use the template to identify and solve problems.

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