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evidence-based management – hype or reality?

Teppo

There is an onslaught of academic and practitioner articles, books, blogs and (hype) so forth emerging in organizational behavior and theory under the label evidence-based management (EBM) – specifically drawing its cues from a similar subfield in medicine (one would, of course, hope that one’s doctor bases judgments on evidence, though a recent visit of mine disconfirms this, as apparently do several meta-studies as well). The upshot of the evidence-based movement is simple enough: managerial (just as medical) decisions should be based on the best and most comprehensive scientific evidence available. Reasonable enough, I suppose.

So, is the movement hype or reality?

Over the next week I will have a couple follow-up posts on the EBM movement, both the hits and misses, though given the seemingly warm reception the movement is receiving, I will highlight some of the challenges.  For today, below some of the rapidly expanding resources to help anyone interested get quickly up to speed – much [too much?] of the below is the work of Jeff Pfeffer and Bob Sutton [YouTube clips and all] – who appear to be at the forefront of the movement in management.

Evidence-Based Management Online Resources

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Written by teppo

September 16, 2006 at 6:27 am

21 Responses

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  1. I’ve wondered about this myself. A question is why managers can get away with decisions? Maybe it’s a “moneyball” situation – as long as everyone else is going on gut instinct, there is no incentive to change. Perhaps a topic for a follow up post.

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    Fabio Rojas

    September 16, 2006 at 4:04 pm

  2. “Why managers can get away with decisions?”

    That was not necessarily the angle I was going to pursue.  Undoubtedly dumb, unethical etc. decisions can readily be pointed out, but, whether these are a function of not having enough evidence or some other factors, seems to be up for grabs.

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    Teppo

    September 16, 2006 at 9:19 pm

  3. Well, maybe my question is “why do managers rely so much on gut instinct and experience instead of analysis?” Regardless, I look forward to the evidence based management posts. Maybe I could use some “evidence based” work in my own life!

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    Fabio Rojas

    September 17, 2006 at 6:45 pm

  4. My question is: “what is the opposite of evidence-based management?” Perhaps management by folklore, conventional wisdom (another mimetic process for the OT crowd), or rhetoric. What persuades managers to act? It seems as though much of the popular literature is founded on appeals to something other than data, or more precisely inferences from data. What is interesting here is that the evidence-based mgmt movement isn’t already institutionalized, given the professionalization of management education in general.

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    James O'Brien

    September 20, 2006 at 2:14 am

  5. James – thanks for commenting.

    You make some great points that I will touch on in a later post on EBM. One brief point here – specifically, you bring up the issue of rhetoric – what if the managers have too much data or evidence (information overload) and somehow simply need to just confidently ‘make the call’ and focus organizational efforts (data may not ‘tell’ you what to do) and thus employ rhetorical (thus, in effect, ‘changing reality’), rather than fact-based tools. Now, that is certainly not my cup of tea, but that provides a different angle on the argument.

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    Teppo

    September 20, 2006 at 5:45 am

  6. It seems like a great angle. I think one of the problems that EBM addresses itself to is how to get things back on course, cognitively speaking, when “non-fact-based” modes of responding become habitual or default settings. Simon lives, through this manifestation of satisficing, I suppose.

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    James O'Brien

    September 20, 2006 at 2:58 pm

  7. Isn’t one of the main problems of implementing EBM that there are so many streams of research that it may be difficult/impossible for the average manager to discern between them? What is a manager to do when sources of evidence contradict each other?

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    brayden

    September 20, 2006 at 3:00 pm

  8. I think proponents of EBM might argue that not all evidence is equally persuasive, and that experimenting within one’s organization is also valuable.

    And there are any number of domains in which the evidence is fairly clear, for example the superior predictive validity of structured over unstructured interviews in selection. More of these are reported in Locke (2004), Principles of Organizational Behavior.

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    James O'Brien

    September 20, 2006 at 6:25 pm

  9. […] Recent Comments James O’Brien on evidence-based management – hype or reality?teppof on leading the revolution?Tim Pollock on the trickle down effectOmar on welcome to the desert of the realbrayden on evidence-based management – hype or reality? […]

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  10. To follow James’ comments, I think the most inexcusable cases are those where the evidence is clear, yet consultants or managers don’t go through the trouble of learning it or — especially when it clashes with their incentives — ignore the evidence and go ahead and push for it anyway. Investment bankers who keep pushing for mergers that will likely fail or consultants who push for dispersed pay are making suggestions that clash with a huge body of peer-reviewed studies. If they were doctors, they would be committing malpractice. And it goes the other way, as in first-mover advantage, where some managers and consultants argue that they need to be first or die, even the evidence is unclear. I think the argument that there are so many conflicting findings is completely a lame excuse for not practicing evidence-based management. To paraphrase Jimmy Buffett, there are some things that are still a mystery (like first mover) and others that are far too clear (structured vs, unstructured interviews are a great example), and given that organizations can do so much damage to people and there are things that can be done to reduce the damage (see research by Robert Huckman on death rates in bypass surgery for an example), I assert that — not unlike global warming — it is our responsibility as organizational researchers to start helping managers and their advisors understand what is known and not known about running organizations, rather than to spend years arguing about whether evidence-based management is possible. Can you imagine medical researchers arguing over whether what they do can actually save lives? Otherwise, my position is that the entire peer-reviewed journal system should be ended, and we should just manage based on faith and whatever makes vendors as wealthy as possible.

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    Bob Sutton

    September 21, 2006 at 7:47 pm

  11. I think most academics are very open to the idea of “evidence-based” practices (whether in medicine or management or sociology). We’re also the people who will have the biggest impact on its implementation. If we’re not pushing for evidence-based management, who will? For that reason conversations like this, where we question various aspects of the managerial approach (philosophy?), seem very relevant.

    I’m fairly new to the debate about EBM, and while a little skeptical about its implementation, I’m willing to be persuaded as to its potential viability. Consider me as someone with a “weak opinion, weakly held.” Give me a few months (after I’ve read Bob’s book on the EBM approach), and I might develop a few strong opinions.

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    brayden

    September 21, 2006 at 8:22 pm

  12. […] The first time I heard the term evidence-based management I was bewildered. What other kind of management is there? Faith-based management? A priori, praxeological, apodicticly certain management? The concept seems empty and trite, akin to “faith-based religion” or “water-based boating.” […]

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  13. Perhaps the term is doesn’t do much for you, but evidence-based decisions and implementations are the exception rather than the rule. It may sounds obvious, but few managers are masters of the obvious. It may sound like common sense, but common sense is in fact uncommon. I travel back and forth between the academic and management worlds, and evidence-based practice is rare — faith-based management is a lot more common and so are management decisions based on dangerous and powerful cognitive biases. Indeed, if you look at some of the work that Kahneman won the Nobel Prize for, you will see that humans in fact have trouble spotting and responding to accurate patterns. Look at the bad merger decisions that are made over and over again. Look at the belief in creating big gaps between the best and worst paid employees despite a huge pile of data showing that the opposite is true. Sorry if it seems trite, but like evidence-based medicine, it sounds trite until it is your money — or your life — that is on the line. People also laugh when I tell them that only about 15 to 20% of medical decisions are based on evidence — until they think of what it means for them and those they love.

    I submit that, if the term bewilders and you believe that “What other kind of management is there?” it is a sign that you have no idea how most managers do their work, nor do you understand how most human beings make decisions. Start by reading Max Bazerman’s book on managerial decision-making.

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    Bob Sutton

    October 3, 2006 at 3:58 am

  14. […] There’s been quite a bit of blogging about Dan Drezner’s recent post about Moneyball and academia. For those who don’t know, Moneyball is a book by Michael Lewis that shows how Oakland A’s manager Billy Beane used statistical analysis to identify over and under valued baseball players. For example, he discovered that getting on base leads to runs (and wins) more so than batting average. Basically, Billy Beane used evidence based management. The main lesson: recruit players using statistics that you can show are related to performance. […]

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  15. […] I would find the above somewhat hard to believe, had I not recently had a little medical scare myself.  I was surprised at how eager doctors are to treat symptoms without any clue as to underlying causes.  In fact, 3 out of 4 specialist doctors that I saw wanted to operate on me (!), a serious operation which in hindsight would have fairly radically altered my life and in retrospect would have been completely unnecessary. Only after working through medical journals and research myself and after meeting with a young research doctor did I figure out that the problem would simply run its course and subside – which it did. (Incidentally, if you think that this somehow radically alters my views on evidence-based management – it does not – more later on this matter.) […]

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  16. This is amazing and completely predictable all at the same time. Even more amazing to me is that “evidence-based medicine” is a new movement.

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    Bob Sutton

    October 18, 2006 at 10:32 pm

  17. […] commitment to rules, you can do things to make your life more meaningful. Consider a case of “evidence based […]

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  18. EBM in health care is very challenging as managers have to make decisions on an organisation basis rather than case to case basis. There is shortage of relevant research and evidence as every health care has different culture, political environment, religious beliefs, sometimes unachievanle targets set by the ministery, and of course vale for money.

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    Dr M Arshad

    February 16, 2009 at 8:50 am

  19. Hi Teppo,
    I’m still wondering if the EBMgt movement is still alive. Today I stumbled across a rebuttle by dr. Mark Lermonth of the University of Nottingham, who is not particularly charmed by the evidence based practice.

    Read more here: http://bit.ly/GjZug

    Regards,
    Richard

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    Richard Puyt

    September 2, 2009 at 4:02 pm

  20. […] a comment » A commenter asks a good question: Is evidence-based management still […]

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  21. […] to managing their personal affairs (on EbM see Pfeffer and Sutton or, better yet, Teppo’s post on EbM, or, even better yet, Teppo’s post on evidence based […]

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