Educating Managers from an Evidence-Based Perspective

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Academy of Management Learning & Education, 2007, Vol. 6, No. 1, 84 –101.

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Educating Managers From an Evidence-Based Perspective
DENISE M. ROUSSEAU SHARON MCCARTHY Carnegie Mellon University Evidence-based management (EBM) means managerial decisions and organizational practices informed by the best available scientific evidence. In this essay we describe the core features of educational processes promoting EBM. These include mastering behavioral principles where the science is clear and developing procedural knowledge based on practice, feedback, and reflection. We also identify key factors in organizational research, education, and management practice that inhibit EBM’s use and ways these can be overcome.

........................................................................................................................................................................ —“a wasteland of vocationalism that needed to be transformed into science-based professionalism” H. A. Simon (1991: 139) on business education in the 1950s. —“a variety of pressures in the organizational field of business education are rapidly steering us toward deprofessionalization.” C. Q. Trank and S. L. Rynes (2003: 189) on 21st century business education. —“a fundamental property of everyday life is that people believe ahead of the evidence.” K. E. Weick (2006; 1724) Evidence-based management (EBM) means managerial decisions and organizational practices informed by the best available scientific evidence. Much like its counterparts in medicine (e.g., Sackett Straus, Richardson, Rosenberg, & Haynes, 2000) and education (e.g., Thomas & Pring, 2004), the judgments EBM entails also consider the circumstances and ethical concerns managerial decisions involve. In contrast to medicine and education, however, EBM today is only hypothetical. Contemporary managers and management educators make limited use of the vast behavioral science evidence base relevant to effective organizational practice (Walshe & Rundall, 2001; Rousseau, 2005, 2006a; Pfeffer & Sutton, 2006). Refocusing management education on evidence promises improved managerial decision making and better organizational outcomes. It can reduce the use of ineffective management practices while making effective approaches more widespread. Using evidence makes it possible for well-informed managers to develop substantive expertise throughout their careers as opposed to the faddish and unsystematic beliefs today’s managers espouse (Abrahamson, 1991; Staw & Epstein, 2000)—a contributing factor in the early retirement of otherwise capable people whose expertise is deemed outdated. It can bring together scholars, educators, and management practitioners to the betterment of both scientific knowledge and individual and collective learning— but only if we radically revamp our approach to management education. Peter Drucker, seminal management thinker, was perhaps the first to assert that most business issues—from morale problems to strategic implementation—are generic “repetitions of familiar problems cloaked in the guise of uniqueness” (from Lowenstein, 2006; Drucker, 1966). Business problems often reflect the workings of replicable processes in the way workers and work groups act and how firms engage in market activities. If a problem is generic, managers can learn its under84 Copyright of the Academy of Management, all rights reserved. Contents may not be copied, emailed, posted to a listserv, or otherwise transmitted without the copyright holder’s express written permission. Users may print, download or email articles for individual use only.

An H. J. Heinz II Professorship supported the preparation of this article. Bob Dammon, Judi DePalma, Keith Hunter, and Jonathan Goodman contributed to our understanding of the teaching...
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