HBS Article: Evidence-Based Management

March 29, 2010

By Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton

I love the above article. Pfeffer and Sutton did a very well done job by showing a very tightly relationship of the concepts of using Evidence-Based medicine to make decisions in the medicine’s field with using Evidence-Based Management to make decisions in the business world.

According to Pfeffer and Sutton, doctors’ and managers’ behavior is the same as they both look to cure their organizational and patients (employees and clients) ills. Yet, Pfeffer and Sutton present us in this article a great association (correlation and causality) of managing our organizations based on fact and evidence “No brag, just facts”- that is using valuable information that is researched out there, updated, and put it into practice with predictable results which will help teach us make effective decisions in the workplace as opposed to going with what we were taught in college, told by friends (empirical learning) or what we just think it seems to work- that is unethical.

In fact, that is what happens in the real business work environment. We see managers all the time looking for a quick fix in their organizational systems, they rely heavily on first-hand information or experiences which is by far easier to comprehend, requires less effort, and therefore they just manage what they see versus data mining that is out there in books, articles, or journals, etc., which requires more effort, investigation, and energy in behalf of managers. That is difficult to take into action, since many managers have been practiced for so long that they assume they know the solution, they are unwilling to invest more time on researching information, make wrong decisions that bring nothing but damaging actions that cause a negative impact to the organization’s customers and employees, and the worst: “Yet it is important to remember that if you only copy what other people or company do, the best you can be is a perfect imitation”.   

Pfeffer’s and Sutton’s work really opens the doors for a self-evaluation. We need to change the mind-set on managers and executives, and begin to nurture an evidence-based approach. “If we ask for evidence of efficacy every time a change is proposed, people will sit up and take notice”.

Hence, Pfeffer and Sutton identity six substitutes that managers, like doctors, often use for the best evidence:

  • Obsolete knowledge
  • Personal experience
  • Specialist skills
  • Hype
  • Dogma
  • Mindless mimicry of top performers

If we really want to lead an organization from Good to Great, this is my recommendation:

  • Teaching managers “smart people” the right mind-set and methods for practicing a strong evidence-based management. In doing so, participation should be asked at all multiple departments (levels) in the organization “Cross-Functional team work”. There also should be a system in place that encourages everyone to be willing to take risks in the process of adapting such management technique, be open to accept some flaws in the work and get feedback to work openly to fix it. The shared organizational goal should be:  an improved company performance.

In conclusion, the concept of using Evidence-Based Management should be widely disseminated and it should be used in the business world to cure the organizational ills effectively and ethically.


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