It ain’t that simple

Chris Rodgers pours cold water on the idea of evidence-based practice when managing people.

Organizations are complex social processes not rational scientific endeavours. As such, they are not amenable to the research and testing protocols needed to provide rigorous ‘evidence’ of the merit of a particular practice. Or to justify claims that what is perceived to be successful practice in one context can be generalized to others.

Instead he argues for “practice-based evidence” – describing something that relates closely to my experience of improvisation: try things out and pay attention to what happens.

In a related post he cites one of my favourite books, Phil Rosenweig’s Halo Effect, which debunks a vast amount of the research used to justify various business decisions. Rodgers argues

We are not talking here about products and practices that can be tested meticulously in advance, and replicated precisely in design, development and application. We are talking about the complex social processes that we call organization. And, whilst the dynamics of organization are the same in each case (the self-organized patterning of local, conversational interactions), the ways in which these play out in each situation are unique – and unpredictable in all but the most limited sense.

I usually feel like an outsider reading management books and theories; as if there is some missing script that I haven’t been given. They reduce the complexity of human life to something lacking real texture. I agree with Richard Farson who argues that in doing so they actually undermine managers by creating quite false expectations of what can be achieved. It leads to all sorts of dubious managment BS.

1 thought on “It ain’t that simple

  1. Earl Mardle

    The best book on transfer of knowledge in organisations is still “The Social Life of Information” by Seely brown and Duguid, out of research they did at Xerox PARC. Their two key conclusions are

    1. They could not transfer “best practise” ACROSS THE ROAD between two buildings IN THE SAME COMPANY.

    2. ALL organisation function AT ALL by the widespread, consistent, socially mediated breaking of the rules by which the company is SUPPOSED (ie, assumed by management) to operate.

    But then, we’ve known that for generations. The most effective way to cripple an organisation is not to go on strike, but to “work to rule”. Do everything by the book and watch the whole thing grind to a halt.

    Until management and boards and governments GET that, we will waste our lives fending off all this bullshit instead of getting on with the job.


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