About Dead Horses, Arabs and Following the EVIDENCE

By Manie Bosman

Two of the most common mistakes managers and leaders make is to either desperately cling to the practices and theories which served them well in the past, or to fall for every new hype and fad that cross their cluttered desks. The one continues to “hee-hah” and occasionally kicks his spurs into the horse’s flanks, not noticing that the horse is long dead and that he’s sitting astride dry skin and bones going nowhere. The other is frantically jumping from a Shetland Pony to an Arab (horse) to a Saddlebred, not noticing that in spite of the impressive acrobatics vaulting is still performed in an arena where the horses just go round and round…

An often-proposed sollution to counter these two extreme performance-killers is to impliment a system of evidence based management (EBM). EBM has its origin in evidence-based medicine, a term which, although probably practiced by ancient Greek and Chinese physicians, was first used in medical journals during 1992.1 The Center for Evidence Based Medicine in Oxford, Uk, defines it as “the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of individual patients”.2 For the uninformed it might sound as if they’re simply saying medical practitioners should only use medicine and techniques that really work. For the more informed and sophisticated it means… well, pretty much the same thing.

Although some claim that the phrase ‘evidence based management’ was coined by Pfeffer and Sutton when they used it in a 2006 Harvard Business Review article, the term had in fact been used by other authors before them.3 However, the concept of EBM only gained prominence as an emerging 21st Century management philosophy after the publication of Pfeffer and Sutton’s article. They basically stated that many managers get their companies into trouble by blindly applying performance management and measurement practices from their own past experience. To avoid mistakes resulting from what managers assume to be the best practice and thus become more effective, they should be “routinely guided by the best logic and evidence – and if they relentlessly seek new knowledge and insight, from both inside and outside their companies, to keep updating their assumptions, knowledge, and skills”.4

Robert I. Sutton, professor of management science and engineering at the Stanford Engineering School, defines EBM as “a simple willingness to find the best evidence you can, and then act on it”. Unlike the impression created by some proponents of EBM, Sutton believes that it isn’t about sifting through “mountains of management research” before deciding what to do. In stead, it is more about testing ideas, and learning from your mistakes. In a sense, he believes, EBM is an attitude—an “attitude of wisdom”.5

Okay, so if the “hee-hah”-ing and vaulting hasn’t been working for you lately, perhaps this is an option to consider. In my view EBM is essentially a call for managers to become constant learners. Nothing should be assumed – as far as practically possible, available and current evidence from all possible fields of science should be combined with experience and own observations in order to make the best possible decision in any given situation. This also means that whatever worked yesterday and whatever works for everyone else should be scrutinized and frequently be re-evaluated to ensure constant forward movement.


1 Greenwood, H. & Cleeve, M. (2008). Embracing change: evidence-based management in action.Library Management, 29 (3), 173-184.
2 Center for Evidence Based Medicine. (2009). What is EBM? Retrieved on June 30, 2009, from http://www.cebm.net/index.aspx?o=1914
3 Chung, L. H., Chong, S., & French, P. (2002). The efficiency of fluid balance charting: An evidence-based management project. Journal of Nursing Management, 10, 103-113.
4 Pfeffer, J. & Sutton, R. I. (2006). Evidence based management. Harvard Business Review, January, 63-74.
5 Pearlman, E. (2006). Robert I. Sutton: Making a case for evidence-based management. Retrieved April 14, 2011 from http://www.cioinsight.com/c/a/Expert-Voices/Robert-I-Sutton-Making-a-Case-for-EvidenceBased-Management/


About Manie Bosman

Manie Bosman is Founder and CEO of the Strategic Leadership Institute. He is a leadership development consultant specializing in the emerging fields of neuroleadership and neurosafety. Based in Pretoria, South Africa, Manie has more than 20 years of international experience in cross-cultural interaction, diversity management, change management, public speaking, communication, corporate training and team development. He holds a Masters of Arts in Organizational Leadership and believes that effective leadership is the key determiner of success in any venture, group or organization.
This entry was posted in Emerging Trends, Leadership, Strategic Planning, Strategic Thinking and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to About Dead Horses, Arabs and Following the EVIDENCE

  1. Madeline says:

    Simply desire to say your article is as astounding. The clearness on your submit is just spectacular and i can assume you’re knowledgeable on this
    subject. Well along with your permission let me to snatch your
    RSS feed to stay up to date with drawing close post. Thanks 1,000,000 and please carry on the rewarding work.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s