Company cures

Evidence-based management

Just as the medical profession has moved towards basing decisions on the latest and best knowledge of what actually works, so managers should look more closely at which prescriptions are most likely to cure their organisations' ills.

by Harvard Business Review, January 2006
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

The only difficulty is that the evidence in management is weaker than it is in medicine. Almost anyone can claim to be a management expert and a bewildering array of sources - from Shakespeare and Attila the Hun to Jack Welch and Tony Soprano - are used to produce management advice. In addition, because companies - unlike human beings - vary so much in size, form and age, it is far more risky in business to presume that a proven "cure" developed in one place will be effective elsewhere.

Nevertheless, it makes sense that when managers engage in evidence-based management their companies will trump the competition. Managers can practise their craft more effectively if they are routinely guided by the best logic and evidence - and if they relentlessly seek new knowledge and insight, from both inside and outside their companies, to keep updating their assumptions, knowledge and skills.

Taking such an approach is more difficult to achieve in practice than it might appear, but there are a few simple things that a leader can do to signal the change of approach. First, managers should demand evidence for a particular decision. Second, they should examine the logic behind a proposed course of action. Third, they should treat the company as an unfinished prototype.

This entails running trial programmes, pilot studies and small experiments, and then thinking about what can be learned from them. Finally, and perhaps most important, they need to embrace the attitude of wisdom. Evidence-based management is carried out best by managers who profoundly appreciate how much they do not know.

If taken seriously, evidence-based management can change how every manager thinks and acts. It is primarily a way of seeing the world and thinking about the craft of management, and is based on the notion that using better, deeper logic and employing facts enables leaders to do their jobs more effectively.

Facing the hard facts and truth about what works and what does not, understanding the dangerous half-truths that constitute so much conventional wisdom about management and rejecting the total nonsense that too often passes for sound advice will help organisations perform better.

Source: Evidence-based management
Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I Sutton
Harvard Business Review, January 2006

Review by Roger Trapp

Harvard Business Review, January 2006 recommends

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