Sell the sizzle, not the evidence-based sausage

We’re delighted to share a guest blog post by David D’Souza, Head of London & Head of Engagement (branches) at the CIPD. In this piece, David explores how to influence an organisation to become more evidence-based. DDS photo

 

Whenever something goes wrong in the workplace there is rarely a shortage of people queueing up to ask why and how we got here. If there’s one thing that the world’s organisations do not look like running short of then, it is people that have wisdom after the event. One of the most important disciplines in work (and outside) is good decision-making. Learning how to make decisions that have the greatest likelihood of being right.

In a world where there is a constant narrative about pace and learning how to cope with ambiguity, it would seem logical to invest more time in making sure our decisions won’t result in wasted time, energy or resources. It makes sense that we should strive to become better at separating signal from noise, fad from productive way forward and it would most sense of all that business leaders, would be rigorous about looking for and championing this skill in their organisations. It would make sense that you could relax, safe in the knowledge that significant organisational decisions had been through an effective evaluation process that looked at the variety and quality of evidence. That often seems not to be the case. We see organisations chasing the next big thing, ploughing resource into ideas that will not realise a return and we see it time and time again. Even the most basic, yet essential, of business tasks – a hiring decision – is often not so much of a structured process, as much as collision of bias, guesswork and luck.

It is easy to steer away from introducing a more evidence-based approach because it can be seen as slower, it requires more thought, and depending on the problem at hand it can require you to be critical of your own previous work, or that of your organisation. To understand what works, you need to be open to more possibilities of what might work and then critically appraise the options, to ensure any solution chosen is likely to be the right one for your clearly articulated problem. In ‘Think Like a Freak’ Levitt & Dubner advise putting away your moral compass whilst you genuinely look at all the possible options, only bringing that compass back in when deciding which option to choose. Whilst not all of us feel comfortable taking an approach that broad, it is certainly true that the range of options people select from is often narrow and too reliant upon their previous experience. Experience counts, but also limits the horizon of our thinking. It seems that in a business world where people are looking for innovation, we still often default to ‘when I was at company X we did this’ where, unfortunately, company X is nothing like our current organisation.

So, if you’d like your organisation to make a shift towards a more evidence-based approach – and the initial response hasn’t been wholly positive – what are some practical ways of going about that?

 

  1. Make people feel they are missing out

Nobody likes being the odd one out. Nobody wants to fall foul of the business world’s most cardinal sin, ‘being behind the curve’. Paint a picture of organisations that use a more evidence-based approach and how well regarded they are. Sell the sizzle, not the evidence-based sausage.

 

  1. Emphasise choice

Nobody likes feeling that they have no choice. Offer a range of options that all sound reasonable and ask for one to be picked – people will appreciate the freedom and feel more ownership for the following actions. Most leaders like to feel they are making decisions – making decisions feels very in tune with what they believe they get paid for. Your goal is to get work done better, not to be seen as the superhero champion of it. In the words of Harry S. Truman “It’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit”.

  1. Run a low-cost pilot

If you want to make something easy for someone to say ‘yes’ to, then try and minimise the investment required in terms of time and money. For the next big project ask for just an hour to try something new in terms of critically evaluating the decision and reviewing evidence. It is hard for someone to decline an hour of time invested in improving decision making. If they do decline, then ask for half an hour. That’s twice as hard to turn down.

  1. Pick on established – but non-sensitive failures

The worst and most annoying thing that you could do would be to point at the organisation’s last big failure, the one that still has people’s egos bruised and say ‘my approach would have avoided that’. Nobody likes that – and not only will your approach be unpopular but you probably will be too. Pick on some issues where enough time has passed for there to be emotional distance and where there is a consensus that the wrong approach was taken. Suggest how that situation could be avoided in the future. Everybody likes avoiding future failure, most people like understanding distant failures, nobody likes being reminded of their recent failures.

  1. Pick your advocates with laser like accuracy

Most sensible ideas can gain traction (in most sensible organisations) when some thought and time is given to organisational dynamics and stakeholder management. Plan your approach in terms of winning over advocates and creating a groundswell of approval for the approach. Speak to people before meetings to explain what you’d like to do and ask for support. Make the final approval of a change in approach more of a matter of course rather than a test of fire. When you say ‘I think we should do this’, there should be a corporate choir behind you saying ‘we’ve already spoken to him/her and we agree’.

  1. Focus on acknowledged problems

One of the benefits of an evidence-based approach is that it reduces your chance of solution-eering. Of coming up with things you’d like to do and then retrofitting that solution to a problem. We know that people find this attractive though – and since this article is about how to get an evidence-based approach across the line, I’m going to suggest you utilise that tendency one more time. Pick on commonly acknowledged organisational issues (not enough time, not enough resource, not enough efficiency) and propose that you have the solution.

It’s an evidence-based approach.

Feel free to carry on the conversation with me at @dds180 or d.dsouza@cipd.co.uk

Useful links:

Centre for Evidence Based Management : https://www.cebma.org/faq/evidence-based-management/

CIPD: In Search of the Best Available Evidence https://www.cipd.co.uk/knowledge/strategy/analytics/evidence-based-decision-making

Science for Work: http://scienceforwork.com/

 

 

 

 

1 reply
  1. David Davensac
    David Davensac says:

    Great, thought-provoking AND practical article. In fact the ‘low-cost’ pilot is something I will take forward today.
    It would be great to hear of some advocates of one or all of these tactics, based on their successes, and how they overcame any challenges along the way. Many thanks! David

    Reply

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