What Is Evidence-Based Management?

Mary McMahon

Evidence-based management is the application of factual information to decision-making in business organizations. Rather than relying on intuition or belief, managers use scientific studies to run their organizations and promote efficiency and productivity. This approach is based in the evidence-based medicine movement, which uses the results of studies and scientific analysis to inform decisions about treatment and the best options for patients. The goal is a positive outcome, using information from controlled testing to decide how to proceed; in this respect, it is similar to medicine.

Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone
Businesswoman talking on a mobile phone

As a profession, there are no formal requirements for practice, which can complicate management. Some managers have formal education and may hold credentials like a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree. Others may work their way through the ranks without any specific training. No licenses or other certifications are necessary to work in management. People may approach management with intuitive or belief-based styles, rather than considering scientific evidence.

Managers who use facts in their approach to handling organizations consider what will benefit the organization in the long term on the basis of peer-reviewed information. Evidence-based management, for example, can be used to make decisions about payroll, incentives, and benefits, based on studies showing which options are most effective. Likewise, companies can decide how to structure teams, formulate assignments, and organize the work environment through evidence-based management. Instead of assuming that something works because it’s been used in the past or it sounds like a good idea, the manager consults studies to see if it’s worked in testing.

Scholarly studies in evidence-based management may use lookback reviews of management styles and performance to see how different approaches work in the field. Study designers can also ask managers to participate in testing in a controlled environment, or may create a simulation to allow them to explore different options. Researchers can discuss benefits and flaws of various approaches to help managers make evidence-based decisions in their workplaces. A study may show, for example, that drivers tend to make more errors when assigned to new routes, which is an argument against rotating drivers between routes if it can be avoided.

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Some professional organizations promote evidence-based management and may issue publications with the latest studies. This is also a subject of interest in management and business schools, where students may discuss studies and learn about the application of scientific thinking to business settings. As in medicine, this approach can take the guesswork out of resolving and preventing problems.

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