Why WOULDN'T you use evidence?

Why wouldn't you? 

In my reading, the most common analogy used to demonstrate the need for evidence-based management is a doctor prescribing treatment without first checking research findings to see if that treatment works.  We aren’t comfortable with that, so why are we so comfortable with managers who act without investigating if their intended actions are likely to make any difference?  

To me, the more compelling argument comes from Denise Rousseau, who has been referred to as the  “mother of evidence-based management”. Basically, it’s that we have to make work better for people.  I translate this as a responsibility to make work better for those doing it, receiving the outcomes of it, and managing it.   My experience is that we CAN do a whole lot better, just by putting in a bit more effort upfront.  So perhaps the question isn’t why to use evidence, it’s why in the world wouldn’t you?

Below I outline a few more reasons that I like evidence-based management.

It’s actionable

Evidence-based management is not conceptual – it’s action-oriented.  The 'official' definition is wordy (see graphic) – but that’s because it’s basically a checklist for what to do as an evidence-based practitioner. I particularly like the emphasis on defining the problem upfront, as well as assessing outcomes after the fact.  In a rush to "do" we too often gloss over these bookends, which are essential to achieving real results.   

Honesty & awareness, not perfection

Evidence–based management asks us to use the best available evidence, recognizing that there isn’t always a specific journal article, or quantitative data available related to our issue. It asks us to make an effort to critically assess the evidence we are using in our decision-making and ensure we are transparent about it. An anecdote from a single conversation, or a manager’s opinion is not the same as results from an experiment or a survey from a representative sample of end-users. We should be honest with ourselves about that.   

Time well spent

I have often had the humbling experience of discovering something I thought would work great has been shown to be ineffective in research.  Better to learn that early, rather than mid-way through an extensive effort.

To be clear, it takes time and effort to gather evidence.  Searching through research databases is not exactly fun –  nor is piecing together disparate bits of information from all over your organization.  But it is worthwhile, because it provides essential context for good decision-making.  We should always make time for that.

Learn More

You can learn more about the essentials of evidence-based management in this excellent and easy-to-read summary from The Center for Evidence-Based Management (CEBMa).  

Sources:

  • Bailes, J.  “Workout”, Carnegie Mellon Today, July 2009.  See here.

  • Barends, E., Rousseau, D., Briner, R. “Evidence-Based Management: The Basic Principles,” December 2015.  See here.

  • Pfeffer J, Sutton, R.“Trust the evidence, not your instincts,”  New York Times, September 3, 2011.  See here.