Is Evidence-Based Management Actually Based on Evidence?

Topic:  Evidence Based Management

Publication: Academy of Management Perspectives

Article: What’s the evidence on evidence-based management? (NOV 2009)

Author: T. Reay, W. Berta, and M. K. Kohn

Reviewed by: Sarah Teague
Rapid In the last century, many significant advances have been made in the study and application of Industrial/Organizational (I/O) Psychology and Organizational Behavior (OB). Unfortunately, there remains a substantial communication gap between researchers and practitioners. But research and practice do not have to be mutually exclusive – as evidenced by this very website!

One approach that has been put forth in attempts to promote such collaboration is
that of Evidence-Based Management (EBMgt). This approach emphasizes the importance of utilizing various sources of solid evidence in the process of organizational decision-making (e.g., back decisions and actions with solid evidence, rather than lore, biases, false assumptions, or a “that’s the way we’ve always done things around here” mentality). While this is still a relatively new concept, many in the community have begun to take note.

In a recent literature review, Reay, Berta, and Kohn (2009) sought to assess the quantity and quality of the existing evidence supporting evidence-based management. This evidence was divided into six different levels according to empirical quality ranging from an author’s opinion (Level 6 – weakest) to large-scale studies involving a high degree of empirical rigor (Level 1 – strongest). The majority of the literature fell into a very weak Level 5 categorization, and no studies were given the strongest rating of Level 1. Further, none of the studies in their review addressed the question of whether or not evidence-based management will actually improve organizational performance. More research is needed in order to discuss the validity of such practices.

The results of the current review indicate that while the empirical quality of the
existing literature is certainly lacking, individual study findings suggest promise for the EBMgt approach.. The authors convey optimism for the future of EBMgt research but echo the calls from other researchers (including Rousseau and colleagues) for greater emphasis on knowledge transfer (KT; disseminating the information gleaned from research to facilitate implementation in the workplace). Accordingly, the authors of the current review provide suggestions to promote KT, including placing more value on literature reviews and replication studies in the research domain, teaching management students to value – but also critically evaluate – evidence, and encouraging researchers to think practically about their findings and practitioners to consider how their needs and experiences might further research, all helping to bridge the science-practice gap.

We could think of evidence-based management as a medication that has shown great potential in initial testing but needs further trials to validate long-term use.

Reay, T., Berta, W., & Kohn, M. K. (2009). What’s the evidence on evidence-based
management? Academy of Management Perspectives, ?, 5-18.