Manifesto for evidence-based management

Using data and evidence rather than best practices and common wisdom
Francesco | 08.03.16

'If doctors practiced medicine like many companies practice management, there would be more unnecessarily sick or dead patients and many more doctors in jail or suffering other penalties for malpractice' (Pfeffer & Sutton, 2006a)

At Mindiply, we believe that the world of business could strongly benefit from adopting an evidence-based culture. This means that managerial decisions and organizational practices should be justified in terms of sound evidence about their likely effects, instead of being determined by unfounded opinions, old habits, or common wisdom. Too much common management, however, is based on 'best practices' that are actually poor, incomplete, or outright obsolete (Pfeffer & Sutton, 2006b).

For evidence, we mean results from scientific research. Right, we know that it is difficult to transfer research findings into action, and that this especially true in this field where we must take into account individual and organizational differences. Nevertheless, it's worth trying. The alternative is going on choosing interventions on the basis of their face value, blind faith or reliance on long-standing but never proven traditions, hoping they are worth the time and money. And no, it's not only a matter of time and money, the core issue is to develop an organizational culture of continuous improvement by seeking and gathering evidence on what works best, as a matter of routine.

We are not the first to make such a call. We completely endorse the call for an evidence-based movement in management made by Stanford professors Pfeffer and Sutton (2006a, 2006b), and Carnegie Mellon professor Rousseau (2006).

Basic axioms

  • Scientific research is our best tool for understanding the world, from the motion of the planets to human behaviour and social activities.
  • The findings of scientific research are widely available and exploitable, there are usually no copyrights or trademarks in science (unfortunately many scientific journal require to pay for reading the papers, but the number of open access journals is increasing, and tools like Google Scholar and Researchgate do a great job for increasing papers' availability).
  • The credibility of science derives from transparency: the methods and results of every study are published so that anybody can evaluate the study, decide if authors' conclusions are justified and, if they want, try to replicate it.
  • An evidence-based approach entails making decisions based on evidence about 'what works'.
  • Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts. Opinions don't constitute facts, and evidence supporting or rejecting the use of specific interventions, tools or trainings, derive from research.
  • Applied research is the basis of advances in fields like medicine or engineering: no one would suggest a medical treatment or decide how to build a complex structure, without having first sought evidence. The same should happen also in the business sector: practices in this field can only improve by gaining evidence and understanding about which strategies and interventions are likely to be more effective.
  • Interventions without evidence of effectiveness expose companies and organizations to the risk of wasting money, time, and losing and opportunity to improve, but are also dangerous because perpetuate an organisational culture based on face value, popular belief, or reliance on 'the way it was always done'.

Our proposal

  • Adopt only interventions, practices and training based on theories, techniques and tools that are supported by scientific evidence.
  • Keep updated on the latest findings from scientific research. Research goes on quickly, and many times new findings show that previous knowledge was wrong (for example, we know now that the dichotomy left brain = analytical, right brain = creative is false).
  • Avoid to use interventions based on theories, techniques or tools that are demonstrated to be wrong.
  • Be cautious when effectiveness has not yet been demonstrated or when the evidence is mixed; at least, communicate the lack of evidence clearly.
  • If possibile, contribute to gather evidence, research on what works best should be a routine part of life in business sector.
  • Contribute to disseminate more efficiently research findings.

We don't know if all this will be possible. We strongly believe, however, that we all can only benefit from a systematic approach of collecting better evidence about what works best, and using it for deciding which strategies, policies and interventions are likely to be more effective.

References

  • Pfeffer, J., & Sutton, R. I. (2006a). Evidence-based management. Harvard business review, 84(1), 62.
  • Pfeffer, J., & Sutton, R. I. (2006b). Hard facts, dangerous half-truths, and total nonsense: Profiting from evidence-based management. Harvard Business Press.
  • Rousseau, D. M. (2006). Is there such a thing as “evidence-based management”?. Academy of management review, 31(2), 256-269.
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