Monday, 12 September 2011

Preoccupations : Trust Evidence !

Preoccupations : Trust Evidence for Effective Management
Failure to consider sound evidence repeatedly inflicts unnecessary damage on employee well-being & group performance

Consider this hypothetical situation: You have a serious illness. Your doctor prescribes an intrusive, painful and costly treatment. What she doesn’t say — because she hasn't consulted the research — is that most studies find the treatment ineffective and fraught with negative side effects. You go through the procedure, which doesn’t work. You later find the research your doctor failed to consult. When you ask why, she answers: “Who pays attention to studies? I have years of clinical experience. Besides, the protocol seemed as if it ought to work.” Does that sound like malpractice? It does to us. Fortunately, pressures to practice evidence-based medicine are reducing preventable errors. That isn’t the case, however, in most workplaces, where failure to consider sound evidence repeatedly inflicts unnecessary damage on employee well- being and group performance. It doesn’t have to be that way. Consider the issue of incentive pay. Many people believe that paying for performance will work in virtually any organization, so it is used again and again to solve problems — even where evidence shows it is ineffective. As The New York Times reported in July, a study found that the effort to link incentive pay to student performance “had no positive effect on either student performance or teachers’ attitudes.” But that bad news could have been predicted long before spending all that time and money. After all, the failure of similar efforts to improve school performance has been documented for decades. 

Here is another example: Research has shown that stable membership is a hallmark of effective work teams. People with more experience, working together, typically communicate and coordinate more effectively. Although this effect is seen in studies of everything from product development teams to airplane cockpit crews, managers often can’t resist the temptation to rotate people in and out to minimize costs and make scheduling easier. 

Another workplace danger is excessive self-confidence, which can help people rise to positions of power but can also render them less effective leaders. Overconfident decision-makers use a practice that is ineffective for most others — but they believe they are so talented that the usual findings don’t apply to them. In medicine, the evidence-based movement arose in response to thousands of deaths and billions of wasted dollars that could have been averted by applying proven practices. Similarly, in other fields, the growing pile of studies on the human and financial costs of employee disengagement, management distrust, poor group dynamics, faulty incentive schemes and other preventable damage suggests a need for an evidence-based management movement. Some organizations are leading the way. It’s time for many more to follow suit. 

Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton are professors at Stanford : The New York Times / Condensed from the ET Mumbai 13 Sept.

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