CASE STUDY & The Necessity of Evidence-Based Leadership

“If doctors practiced medicine like many churches practice management, there would be more unnecessarily sick or dead patients and many more doctors in jail or suffering other penalties for malpractice.”

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel: “Sometimes people ask why I continue to do church health/growth consulting almost every weekend, when I have a full-time position as professor of missional leadership at Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University. The reason is because when consulting I discover emerging and effective leadership practices. This is called “evidence – based knowledge.” This HBR article points out why it is critical for all leaders (and academics) to experience this. Here is my paraphrase of a paragraph from the article: “The same behavior holds true for pastors looking to cure their organizational ills. Indeed, we would argue, pastors are actually much more ignorant than doctors about which prescriptions are reliable—and they’re less eager to find out. If doctors practiced medicine like many churches practice management, there would be more unnecessarily sick or dead patients and many more doctors in jail or suffering other penalties for malpractice.”

Evidence-Based Management by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert I. Sutton, Harvard Business Review, January 2006.

A bold new way of thinking has taken the medical establishment by storm in the past decade: the idea that decisions in medical care should be based on the latest and best knowledge of what actually works. Dr. David Sackett, the individual most associated with evidence-based medicine, defines it as “the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients.” Sackett, his colleagues at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, and the growing number of physicians joining the movement are committed to identifying, disseminating, and, most importantly, applying research that is soundly conducted and clinically relevant.

If all this sounds laughable to you—after all, what else besides evidence would guide medical decisions?—then you are woefully naive about how doctors have traditionally plied their trade. Yes, the research is out there—thousands of studies are conducted on medical practices and products every year. Unfortunately, physicians don’t use much of it. Recent studies show that only about 15% of their decisions are evidence based. For the most part, here’s what doctors rely on instead: obsolete knowledge gained in school, long-standing but never proven traditions, patterns gleaned from experience, the methods they believe in and are most skilled in applying, and information from hordes of vendors with products and services to sell.

The same behavior holds true for managers looking to cure their organizational ills. Indeed, we would argue, managers are actually much more ignorant than doctors about which prescriptions are reliable—and they’re less eager to find out. 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.

It’s time to start an evidence-based movement in the ranks of managers. Admittedly, in some ways, the challenge is greater here than in medicine. (See the sidebar “What Makes It Hard to Be Evidence Based?”) The evidence is weaker; almost anyone can (and often does) claim to be a management expert; and a bewildering array of sources—Shakespeare, Billy Graham, Jack Welch, Tony Soprano, fighter pilots, Santa Claus, Attila the Hun—are used to generate management advice. Managers seeking the best evidence also face a more vexing problem than physicians do: Because companies vary so wildly in size, form, and age, compared with human beings, it is far more risky in business to presume that a proven “cure” developed in one place will be effective elsewhere…

Read more at … https://hbr.org/2006/01/evidence-based-management/ar/1