What is evidence based practice, and why does it matter?



For about 22 years I have grappled with a good explanation of why evidence-based practice is so important for all organisations and how it informs my executive coaching work. Before I provide my perspective, I shall make a disclosure, I am a scientist. I studied maths, physics and chemistry in high school and then a further six years of psychology (the science of human behaviour) at university. My hypothesis testing approach to problem solving was formulated at a young age and is continually reinforced by all my ongoing education. To keep up to date with advancements in my field I rely on the work of Psychologists, predominantly Organisational psychologists and their books, articles podcasts and workshops. When I have a specific topic that interests me, I search peer reviewed academic journals. What concerns me more than ever is the lax approach to evidence in organisations. When google can tell you what is best practice in diversity and inclusion, or how to reduce staff turn over in your organisations, it is worrying. I am certain that my readers are sophisticated at separating the wheat from the chaff when looking at google search results. But how many of you are allowing yourselves and your team to research properly before making an important strategic decision that impacts your most valuable asset your people? Jeanne W. Ross, believes that formulating hypotheses will be more beneficial than setting goals for business success. She explains, “Hypotheses force individuals to articulate in advance why they believe a given course of action will succeed. A failure then exposes an incorrect hypothesis — which can more reliably convert into organisational learning.” Another way of looking at a hypotheses is that we take a practical issue or problem into an answerable question. Once we have our hypothesis, we need to collect evidence, this is the spot where many organisations and leaders and ‘experts’ fall short. According to Rob Briner, Professor of Organisational Psychology at Queen Mary University of London and CPID in the UK, good evidence comes from 4 main sources:

  1. Scientific literature

  2. Organisational internal data

  3. Stakeholder values and concerns

  4. Practitioner’s professional experience

My very first psychology supervisor taught me about the concept of triangulation, that in order to for a conclusion a multiple sources of evidence needed to support our point of view. While this was highly relevant in preparation of the expert court reports I was preparing at the time, I find in practice this approach needs to be used with caution. Sometimes anomalies are useful and informative, many scientific breakthroughs initially appeared to contradict the prevailing world view. Therefore when possible I like to make a note of the opposing views to test in future hypotheses. Finally, once you have taken a course of action, don’t forget to assess it, and see if it’s actually giving you the outcome you expect. I know I have rose coloured glasses, yet am acutely aware that collecting evidence from all four sources is not always so straight forward. There can be internal political reasons why some data may be hard to access or may not even exist in the first place. In addition collecting detailed evidence may not be possible due to theoretical, practical and commercial realities. However, it is always worthwhile to reminding yourself that biases and blind spots will impact the quality of your decision, and thus regularly referring to the checklist above is worthwhile. So how do I use this approach to my coaching? Perhaps this question is best answered by an example. Earlier this week I had my first session with a new client who has self-referred to leadership coaching. For many reasons she did not want to formally bring others from her organisation into the coaching process at the moment. It was therefore specifically she is keen to find out the following:

  1. Does she have the ability to influence the strategic direction in any organisations on matters if ethical responsibility? and if not, how can she acquire these skills?

  2. In her current organisation can one individual at her level person have influence on the values, behaviour and strategic direction as it relates to ethical behaviour? If so could she be this person?

The answers to both these questions will require the collection of evidence where possible from the four sources described above. Assessing the literature will be the most straightforward part, my cleint being brave enough to get honest feedback on her capability and the organisational culture will be much more complex. Thank you to Bruce Daisley for his interview with Rob Briner on evidence based practice, which inspired this blog. I encourage you to all take some time to have a listen.

Listen to episode 11: Evidence Based Management - Rob Briner from Eat Sleep Work Repeat in Podcasts. https://itunes.apple.com/au/podcast/eat-sleep-work-repeat/id1190000968?mt=2&i=1000427142632

For those who do not have iTunes: https://play.acast.com/s/eatsleepworkrepeat/evidencebasedmanagement-robbriner References:

Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Ross, J. (2019) Why Hypotheses Beat Goals, MIT Slone management Review https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/why-hypotheses-beat-goals/ Why the Best Ideas Are Often Ignored—Even Ridiculed—for Years https://heleo.com/conversation-why-the-best-ideas-are-often-ignored-even-ridiculed-for-years/20072/?utm_source=newsletter_the_lift&utm_campaign=04_08_19 https://www.ted.com/talks/margaret_heffernan_dare_to_disagree?language=en

#evidencebasedpractice #coaching #OrganisationalPsychology #HypothesisTesting

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