Research

Making the case for evidence

Making management decisions based on the best available evidence may sound obvious, but not in practice it seems. Rob Briner, Professor of Organisational Psychology, is on a mission to make evidence-based decisions as routine for the profession of management as it is for others.

Professor Briner, based in the School of Management, published some of the first papers on evidence-based Organisational Psychology and Human Resource Management in the 90s and is a founding member and Vice-Chair of the Center for Evidence-Based Management (CEBMa). In his own words he has been ‘plugging away’ ever since, talking to managers, organisations and the media.

It’s this commitment to developing and promoting EBMgt that has seen him named the 2014 winner of the British Psychological Society’s Division of Occupational Psychology Academic Contribution to Practice award. It follows being ranked as the UK’s third most influential thinker, by HR magazine.

So what is EBMgt? It’s an approach that calls on managers to collect and critically evaluate evidence of various types, including professional experience and research findings, and use it in management decision-making where it is judged to be reliable and relevant.  Such an approach is more likely to lead to the desired outcomes, and help individuals and organisations learn more about the problems they face, and possible solutions.

Professor Briner’s interest in EBMgt began when he thought about applying his own personal areas of research and expertise to practice - including issues of wellbeing, emotions, stress, ethnicity, the psychological contract, absence from work, and motivation. He realised there was a much deeper and wider research-practice gap across many areas of organisational psychology and management than he previously thought. 

He believes that rather than conduct more and more new primary research, we need to take stock of what we already know and do not know and make this knowledge available and relevant to managers and organizations, at the same time training future managers in how to use and think critically about different forms of evidence.

Approaching a problem using EBMgt means setting aside anecdote, expert opinion, and trends and questioning received Human Resources wisdom often found in ‘cutting-edge’ ideas and ‘best-practices’. Organisations will not waste money, by spending it on interventions which the evidence shows have quite limited effects and are more likely to spend money wisely on more effective practices.

According to Professor Briner, organisations rarely spend much time diagnosing problems. Managers enjoy implementing policies and solutions even if they are not sure what the problem might be, and then often fail to evaluate their interventions.

He said: “To get to the point where managers are routinely making decisions based on good evidence, there is much to do:  Change the way we train and educate managers, open up rather than lock up our knowledge, and change the incentives for both managers and academics in ways that allows them to contribute to increasing the use of evidence in managing organisations. 

“Many of these changes can only come about through institutional changes in the way we think about what impact really means, the ways academics are rewarded, increasing open access, the accreditation of management programmes in universities, and the way we appoint managers and promote people to management positions.”

Professor Briner regularly runs workshops and gives presentations on evidence-based practice in the UK and abroad, including recently in Iran, Europe, the United States and Taiwan. His audiences have included senior police officers (New Scotland Yard and The College of Policing), organisational psychologists, executive coaches, Human Resources professionals, employee engagement advocates, counselling psychologists, United Nations workers and academics. 

He joined the University’s School of Management in 2011, having spent the previous 19 years working at Birkbeck College, University of London and completing his PhD at the MRC/ESRC Social and Applied Psychology Unit (now the Institute of Work Psychology).

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