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General Management, Management Tools

Is Evidence Based Management A Myth?

I’ll take the definition of “EBM” from their website: Evidence-Based Management is a commitment to finding and using the best theory and data available at the time to make decisions. It builds its methodology on five principles:

  1. Face the hard facts – and build a culture which encourages people to tell the truth.
  2. Be committed to “fact based” decision making.
  3. Treat your organization as an unfinished prototype.
  4. Look for the risks and drawbacks in what people recommend.
  5. Avoid basing decisions on untested but strongly held beliefs.

The title of this post questions if EBM is a myth and the easy question is: “no, it is not”. Why post at all then? Because there is a nuance I want to make accepting EBM.

When reading through the 5 principles behind the EBM movement, I can only come to the conclusion that the methodology has always been used. I do not know any manager, myself included, who have not taken decisions based on facts, were not well aware of the insecurities of the future, and were not accepting the risks and drawbacks of a certain action. But, does it mean it needs to be a mantra in itself to eternally base decisions on EBM? Some issues need quick decisions, where the situation is such that you just do not have the time to investigate alternatives, go through SWOT analysises, pop out the Six Sigma toolbook, draw up QFD’s or brainstorm through a C&E diagram. Some decisions need to be made quickly and will be more out of strongly held beliefs than out of the evidence you have witnessed in the specific scenario you find yourself in.

The latter sentence might need further explanation. “Strongly held beliefs” or “gut feeling” to me is a cognitive state about what is right and what is wrong in a given situation, based on an inherent skill to associate the current situation with a similar one before. What you are doing in such a situation is not taking decisions based on strongly held beliefs – although we can argue about that; you take them based on facts and in my opinion, both are necessary tools. Strategically important decisions need to be managed based on evidence. Operationally important decision can (but do not necessarily need to) be based on evidence.

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