Evidence-Based Management: Definition & Uses

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In the workplace, it often isn’t easy to simply explain why a given process exists. Particularly in large organizations, the answer is often "because we do", without further explanation. However, when you consider key aspects of hiring and management, it’s important to have evidence behind each policy.

What Is an Evidence-Based Approach?

Evidence-based approaches, like evidence-based management, were first popularized in the medical field. At its core, evidence-based methodology requires you to look at the existing facts and then make choices based upon that evidence. In medicine, this means that you would first consider symptoms, then research other medical findings and then design an approach that is most appropriate for the patient and their needs.

This strategy is similar to those taken by managers of businesses in many industries. Evidence-based management, or EBM, allows a manager to think on their feet and do what is best for their employees in their specific situation. It relies on current and well-researched evidence for management and decision-making, and is part of a growing movement that will help serve the needs of employees, as well as benefit companies’ bottom lines.

When you first adopt an evidence-based approach over a policy-based approach, you may find it difficult to uphold. This is because policy-based approaches operate using hard lines and limits. Evidence-based principles treat each employee as an individual and make allowances based upon circumstances.

Evidence-Based Management Examples

For example, Jim has an employee named Sam. At their office, employees start work at 9 a.m., and policy dictates that if an employee is five minutes late, they receive a written warning. If the employee is late five minutes five times in one month, they will be put on a written notice. Three notices and the employee is fired, and the written policy dictates that there are no exceptions.

Sam comes to Jim and explains that he has children, one of whom has special needs. He has to take his kids to separate schools in the morning, and based upon the opening hours of the schools, he will need to come in at 10 a.m. Sam has offered to stay at work until 6 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. each night to make up the difference, and he is an honest, hard-working employee. Sam isn't their best employee, but he does keep up with all productivity requirements and is respectful.

Choosing Evidence or Policy

Jim can choose to allow Sam to shift his hours, thus keeping a good, well-trained employee happy. He could also choose to tell Sam that he will be fired for failure to keep to policy. If Jim makes the exception, his other employees will notice it, and those who understand what is happening in Sam’s life will feel like Jim is the kind of boss that has their backs and will stand up for them. They will see him as someone who makes a slight adjustment for the greater good and likely work harder for him.

Conversely, if Sam is fired for being unable to meet the attendance policy, his coworkers will also notice. Regardless of the policy being clear and in writing, the message is that "Jim cares more for the policy than he does for us as his employees. He fired Sam, even though he knows that the special school for his son doesn't open until 9:30." They will worry what Jim will do to them if a life event happens.

Reasons for Evidence-Based Management

When considering management policies, it’s essential to take into account what the policy accomplishes and whether it has been updated in the recent past. As technology makes workplaces more and more agile, they are also becoming more and more competitive when it comes to their employees. As such, management policies must evolve in order to keep great staff.

Employees won't stay with a company that they do not feel behaves logically and morally. This is particularly true for older millennial employees. As they approach their 40s, these employees have a wide range of experiences and have often worked in gig-economy roles before settling in at a particular company. Today’s employees have had bosses require less turnaround time, offer less help and heap on more responsibilities.

If you expect contemporary employees like this to do a job quickly and effectively, they expect you to be quick and effective as well. Most workers don't appreciate an employer that isn't able to be as adaptive and agile as they are expected to be as employees. Things won’t go well for a manager who isn’t using sound evidence-based management in their hiring and HR decisions.

Benefits of Evidenced-Based Management

It is easy to see which method is best for employee morale. Evidence-based management can also benefit your company, since it allows a manager to think on their feet to do what is best in each particular situation. Sometimes this could mean staggering when an employee starts or leaves for the day. Other times, this might mean allowing your staff to work from home even when there is no clear work from home policy in place.

Local management knows more about their environment than their upper-level bosses do, which is entirely logical. EBM requires that local-level managers be trusted to make calls that are best for their office and for the company as a whole. Good managers can make or break EBM. This is both the blessing and the curse of this management style.

What Are the Drawbacks of EBM?

As mentioned above, evidence-based management only benefits companies where there is a manager in place who can utilize it. If your local management is extremely by the book and unable to extrapolate from the data in front of them, they will not easily be able to utilize EBM. However, this doesn't mean that you couldn't put it into practice for your company.

EBM Management Training

Training management about EBM and how to properly enact the policies is a must; this is more the case the more policy-driven your company is. Management must be broken of their by-the-book methodology before they can fully put evidence-based practices to work. Most managers can be trained through simple thought exercises based in a "real-world" setting.

Before you begin using EBM for your company, therefore, it's best to make sure that everyone on your staff is well-trained and capable of making conscientious decisions based on best practices. Begin with basic thought exercises and then move up to dissecting your policies. You may even find other cost-saving measures, such as allowing employees to work from home or changing the way that work is distributed amongst the staff.

EBM requires a lot of thought and objectivity from your management staff. That objectivity, in turn, allows your staff to remain productive without worrying about specific policies outside of best practices or legal requirements.

References

About the Author

Danielle Smyth is a writer and content marketer from upstate New York. She has been writing on business-related topics for nearly 10 years. She owns her own content marketing agency, Wordsmyth Creative Content Marketing (www.wordsmythcontent.com) and she works with a number of small businesses to develop B2B content for their websites, social media accounts, and marketing materials. In addition to this content, she has written business-related articles for sites like Sweet Frivolity, Alliance Worldwide Investigative Group, Bloom Co and Spent.