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date: 16 February 2020

(p. xxiii) Preface

(p. xxiii) Preface

What field is this?

  • “There is a large research-user gap.”

  • “Many practices are doing more harm than good.”

  • “Practitioners do not read academic journals.”

  • “Academics not practitioners are driving the research agenda.”

  • “Practice is being driven more by fads and fashions than research.”

The fact is, these quotes all come from the early days of evidence-based medicine (Sackett et al., 2000). More recently the same comments have been about the (lack of) use of scientific evidence in management practice; no wonder, because management practice today is as poorly aligned with organization and management research as medicine and science were then. Scientific knowledge identifies what we know and what we don’t know about the natural and human-made world. It is the bedrock of all evidence-based approaches to practice. From medicine to education, each area of evidence-based practice has needed to confront these criticisms and work to make such comments descriptions of things past.

Evidence-based management (EBMgt) is the science-informed practice of management. It’s about using scientific knowledge to inform the judgment of managers and the nature, content, and processes of decision making in organizations. Its practice reduces the costs of unaided judgment and limited and biased human information processes. EBMgt allows managers, consultants, and other practitioners to overcome these impediments through use of decision aids, practices, and frameworks to support better quality decisions.

The notion of evidence-based practice is relatively new, but the vision of management informed by science is not. Mary Parker Follett a renowned management consultant in the early twentieth century was perhaps the first to recognize the power of social science to inform management. Much of her influence today has been channeled through the writings of Peter Drucker, her self-proclaimed disciple, who advised practitioners to pay attention to scientific research and to pursue feedback on the outcomes of their decisions more deliberately in order to learn and perform better. Herbert Simon, the quintessential scientist and founder of such fields as computer science, artificial intelligence, and robotics, identified the limits of unaided human decision making as well as the potential for science and practice to partner in designing preferred conditions for our human-made world.

As we shall explore in this handbook, EBMgt is an adaptive evidence-informed family of practices relevant to anyone seeking to improve how people and organizations are managed. This handbook is intended to promote EBMgt’s broad use in for-profit businesses, nonprofit organizations, and government. Management means getting people together to accomplish some objective. This handbook is (p. xxiv) intended for anyone in an organization who steps up to make things happen by organizing people, tasks, and processes. That includes executives, officers, and department heads as well as by proactive workers and volunteers.

Throughout history, management has reflected fundamental beliefs about what people can and should control in organizations. Manufacturing firms had no designated workplace safety function in the first 100 years after the industrial revolution began. Accidents were viewed as an act of God and, hence, could not be reduced or managed. Periodically, through scientific and practice innovations, such beliefs have changed. In its day, the notion of a planful enterprise manager was a Utopian view, scarcely evident in the loosely tied small job shops that comprised pre-industrial age shipbuilding or textile manufacturing. Practices promoting efficiencies in organizations became management’s job over subsequent centuries, and by the twentieth century its functions included innovation and marketing (Drucker, 2003). Through all these developments, the habits of mind and knowledge used in the practice of management also changed.

The emergence of EBMgt in the twenty-first century parallels in some ways the systematization of finance and accounting in the last century. Management concepts have evolved over time and with them the mental models of managers and other practitioners. Nineteenth-century organizations for the most part lacked fundamental concepts like the time-value of money. In the early twentieth century, the concept of return on equity was developed and its components explicated in order to better assess and analyze company performance. Finance and accounting today have well-specified logics that lead to wider consistency in their practice and shared understandings of their meaning. In contrast, the logics that executives, managers, human-resource staff, and others use in managing people, structuring organizations, and making strategic decisions are far more inconsistent and ad hoc (Boudreau, 2010). EBMgt offers evidence-informed logics for effective management practice that complement other business disciplines.

Why Now? Drivers of Evidence-Based Management

We can never understand the total situation without taking into account the evolving situation. And when a situation changes we have not a new variation under the old fact, but a new fact.

—Mary Parker Follett

The time is ripe for the emergence of EBMgt. A confluence of factors (in italics in the following sentence and the following paragraphs) provides unparalleled opportunity to reconsider the fundamentals of managing organizations. Since World War II, a large body of social science and management research has investigated the individual, social, and organizational factors that impact managerial performance and organizational effectiveness. It has produced hundreds of well-supported evidence-based principles relevant to organizational decisions and practices. Awareness of the large volumes of research relevant to real-world decisions is a major factor in the current zeitgeist of evidence-based practice across innumerable professions (e.g., Armstrong, 2010; Locke, 2009).

(p. xxv) The Internet offers broad access to scientific knowledge. From electronic libraries to listservs, the Internet offers findings from organizational and management science and opportunities to participate in communities interested in applying them. Medicine and nursing, among other fields, have undergone their own Internet-based transformations toward evidence-based practice. Using online sources, physicians and nurses regularly find information about problems and decisions they face. The result has been science-informed patient-care protocols, guidelines, and procedures, turning clinical research into better patient outcomes. In our field, management research is becoming widely accessible through Google.scholar and other web-based resources. Broadly available management research and summaries provide the basis for more effective mental models, processes, and practices. These make it easier for managers to apply the products of scientific knowledge daily in organizations.

Increasing awareness of the consequences from managerial decisions prompts widespread concern with improving its quality. Advancements in human knowledge give people new resources for tackling what once appeared to be intractable problems. Schools and criminal-justice institutions have been early adopters of evidence-based practice, perhaps no surprise given that their reliance on public dollars can require greater accountability (Orszag, 2010). Similarly, health-care managers are being challenged to use the same evidential approach that their clinical practitioners are using for patient care (Walshe & Randall, 2001). The movement toward accountability is likely to grow, fueled by widely available information regarding consequential decisions made with increasing global interdependence.

An evidence-based practice zeitgeist results from these forces across fields as diverse as medicine, education, criminal justice, and public policy. Each of these evidence initiatives reflects a recognition that the well-being of people, organizations, and society in an increasingly vulnerable and interdependent world may depend on how effectively we act on evidence. In the context of management, the potential benefits from evidence use are no less.

This Handbook’s Organization

This handbook is designed with three goals in mind. First, it provides an overview of key EBMgt concepts and puts them in context of broader efforts promoting evidence-based practice and the closing of research-practice gaps. Second, it addresses the roles, contributions, and concerns of EBMgt’s three core constituents: practitioners, educators, and scholars, providing perspectives and resources for each. Third, it incorporates critical perspectives to raise awareness of alternative views and possible unintended consequences and to stimulate future EBMgt innovations. EBMgt’s development, adoption, and future progress depend on the related efforts of managers, consultants, and other practitioners who perform EBMgt; the educators who help develop the professional skills on which EBMgt rests; and the scholars who provide the basic research, summaries, and partnerships with practitioners that make EBMgt possible.

From health care to education, the many fields that now base core practices on research findings all began with the early adoption of evidence-informed practices (p. xxvi) by a small percentage of professionals (Rogers, 1995; Proctor, 2004). For this reason, this handbook targets the early adopters in all three groups, that is, those self-improving practitioners, educators, and scholars interested in learning and innovating. The handbook is intended to inform all three communities, offering perspective, food for thought, and guides to action.

The Introductory section provides an overview of EBMgt and its facets and puts these in context. I first present its central elements and functions in my chapter on envisioning EBMgt. Then, because evidence-based practice began in the field of medicine, Barends, ten Have, and Huisman compare and contrast EBMgt and its medical counterpart, addressing the commonalities as well as false beliefs and misapprehensions regarding their association. The introductory section concludes with van Aken and Romme’s chapter on design science, a broadly applicable process originally developed by Herbert Simon (1997) that enables the use of scientific knowledge to solve practical problems through the collaborations between practitioners and scientists.

The Research section provides both resources and tools relevant to the role of scholars and academic research in promoting EBMgt. Its first set of chapters present core domains of management and organizational research, addressing what we know now and what we can do in future to advance each domain’s uptake and use in EBMgt. “Micro” organizational behavior (OB), which I describe, is perhaps the most mature research field with a 100+ year history and considerable body of cumulative research. OB has yielded a host of evidence-based principles to guide practice. “Macro” organizational theory and strategy, as Madhavan and Mahoney detail, is a more recent field of study characterized by disciplinary disputes regarding the value of novelty versus cumulative research. They call for attention by macroscholars to moving this field toward greater integration and synthesis. Lastly, Frese, Bausch, Schmidt, Rauch, and Kabst describe the field of entrepreneurship, which has fostered cumulative research on critical issues related to creating and managing start-ups and developing entrepreneurial capabilities.

Other Research chapters describe techniques and approaches to help make research more accessible and useful to practice. A core aspect of all evidence-based practice is systematic reviews (SRs). These are summaries of a comprehensive body of research undertaken to address a specific managerial (and sometimes, too, scholarly) question. Briner and Denyer describe how SRs are conducted and their role in making useful knowledge more readily available. The next two chapters provide insights into how researchers can make their work more informative and useful to practice. Giluk and Rynes present lessons learned from evidence-based medicine to help us appreciate why practitioners might not believe, accept, or act on the best available evidence, and how to overcome these barriers. Leung and Bartunek address how scholarly research can be more effectively presented so that practitioners find it more memorable and easy to use.

The Practice section targets the realities of everyday management practice and the role EBMgt can play in improving decision making and well-being of employees and organizations. Practicing EBMgt involves overcoming a variety of hurdles. A first set of Practice chapters provides resources for understanding practice issues. (p. xxvii) This section begins with the first-hand experiences of two practitioners. Long-standing EBMgt advocate Kovner discusses the resistance and opportunities he witnessed in EBMgt’s infancy. An evidence-based manager with two decades of experience leading an evidence-based organization, Zanardelli recounts how he and his organization have used scientific evidence and logic models in his everyday management practice, and he describes the developmental activities undertaken to help his staff use evidence. Insofar as contemporary firms offer up both obstacles and facilitators to evidence-based practice, the next two chapters address how organizational dynamics affect EBMgt’s adoption and use. Potwoworski and Green provide insight into the role that organizational culture plays in influencing the meaning, function, and use of evidence. Speicher-Bocija and Adams take the vantage points of managers at various levels, describing how evidence can have different meanings and value to chief executives, middle managers, and first-line supervisors.

Other Practice chapters offer tools practitioners can use. Roye Werner, Carnegie Mellon’s business librarian, describes how practitioners can access the best available scientific evidence, especially in the form of online information. Yates and Potwoworski delineate an evidence-based framework for making quality decisions and walk the reader through ways to apply it. Important to making decisions based on meaningful facts, Donaldson details how the reliability and validity of business data can be improved by applying basic principles of statistics and data analysis. Boudreau demonstrates how the use of logic models, including frameworks derived from finance and related fields, can help managers make better use of evidence.

The Education section targets educators in their roles as instructors, curriculum designers, and textbook writers. Education is a central concern in EBMgt given the importance of creating an inaugural generation of evidence-based management practitioners. First, educators themselves need to be evidence-based practitioners and, thus, Goodman and O’Brien present evidence-based principles regarding teaching and learning. Jelley, Carroll, and Rousseau build on these principles to detail their methods and lessons learned in teaching EBMgt as an integrated part of the curriculum and as a stand-alone course. Salipante and Smith then discuss the education of EBMgt practitioners in the context of an executive doctoral program. Lastly, Pearce’s chapter addresses how textbooks and textbook writing are impacted by the movement toward evidence-based management practice and provides a first-hand report of her experiences in writing the inaugural management textbook based wholly on scientific evidence.

The final Critique section recognizes that virtually no problem’s solution fails to generate other problems. Being only in its 1.0 phase, EBMgt will undoubtedly undergo testing, development, and refinement over time. Presenting critical views at this early stage serves to remind us that potential unintended consequences must be addressed before EBMgt can fully realize its full promise. First, motivated by the concern that EBMgt focuses too much on managers and not enough on employees and the public, Hornung calls for balance in the interests that research on management and organizational practices serves. Second, Hodgkinson explores (p. xviii) the politics of evidence and ways to reconcile threats that use of evidence might pose to the interests of various constituencies. Both critiques suggest constructive ways of balancing and expanding the influence of constituents so that EBMgt’s benefits are broadly shared.

Our hope is that this handbook motivates readers to contribute to EBMgt’s use, advancement, quality, and scope. Thank you for considering what we have to say.

Denise M. Rousseau

Sitka, Alaska

June 2011


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Boudreau, J. W. (2010). Retooling HR. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business Publishing.

Drucker, P.F. (2003). On the profession of management. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Books.

Follett, M. P. (1918). The new state—Group organization, the solution for popular government. New York: Longmans, Green.

Locke, E. A. (2009). Handbook of principles of organizational behavior: Indispensable knowledge for evidence-based management. New York: Wiley.

Orszag, P. (2010). Malpractice methodology. New York Times, October 20, p. A39.

Proctor, E. K. (2004). Leverage points for the implementation of evidence-based practice. Brief Treatment and Crisis Intervention, 4, 227–242.

Rogers, E. M. (1995). Diffusion of innovation. New York: Simon and Schuster.

Sackett, D. L., Straus, S. E., Richardson, W. S., Rosenberg, W., & Haynes, R. B. (2000). Evidence-based medicine: How to practice and teach EBM. New York: Churchill Livingstone.

Simon, H. A. (1996). Science of the artificial (3rd ed.). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Walshe, K., & Rundall, T. G. (2001). Evidence-based management: From theory to practice in healthcare. The Milbank Quarterly, 79, 429–457.