The evidence

The article titled “Evidence Based Management” by Pfeffer and Sutton raised an interesting debate about what type of information managers and companies should rely on when they are making decisions.  The article said that oftentimes, managers are more likely to rely on their own personal experience and things they learned in school 30 years ago, then they are to rely on new, cutting edge, research.  Of the debates we’ve read about so far this semester, this may be the most interesting one for me.  Both sides of the argument have valid points, and both sides have some faults.

The authors fall on the side of research and evidence.  They feel that if there is new evidence being prepared by 1000’s of very intelligent, very qualified researchers, than it should really be put to use.  To drive this point home they use the example of a hospital.  Would someone rather have doctors that are using the latest, most advanced procedures, or would they prefer to be treated by someone who hasn’t received any formal medical training since the Nixon administration?

On the flip side of this, I ask you to consider if one might rather have the more experienced doctor running a procedure?  Of course new research is better than old research.  But making this a question of those two things is to over simplify the matter.  Rather, one should ask if more can be learned from articles and textbooks, or from hands-on experience?  Their are pretty substantial arguments for the latter.  For instance, in the article last week about Arrow Logistics, younger, college-aged sales people were referred to as I.R.O.C., or idiots right out of college.  These IROC’s had more education and more up-to-date training than the older sales people, but they still had to be told what to do all the time.   This is because they did not have any experience in the field.  For the managers at Arrow, they would be far better served taking advice based on the experience  of the older sales people than on the book-learned college recruits.

After reviewing both sides, I feel like I come down somewhere in the middle.  In an ideal world it is probably best to have experienced managers who are also open to learning new things.  A company may be able to manufacture managers like this by requiring managers of a certain level to read trade journals and attend managerial conferences.

Gaining this type of knowledge seems much more productive than hiring some big consulting firm.  By getting it straight from the books, a manager gets an uncompromised view of new tactics.  Academics should be writing and researching learn and make breakthroughs in their field.  And while they are paid somewhat by grants from corporations, they are primarily paid by the institution they work for.  Ideally, this would mean that academics are free to research what they want and come to the conclusions that the facts lead them to.  This may be different from some consulting firms where they are paid by corporations.  These companies may feel pressure to present information that their clients want to hear.

But I digress.  Mangers should be able to draw on their old experiences, and absorb new information.  But that is just my opinion. What do you think? Is one side of the argument stronger than the other?  Am I naive to believe they can be combined?

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