A (rejected) Evidence Based Review

My review of

Evidence-Based Management: How to Use Evidence to Make Better Organizational Decisions which you can buy here

was rejected by Amazon yesterday for not following their guidelines. I think it does, I imagine they objected to the cow in a tornado. Anyway… the review follows…

Thanks to Rob Briner for suggesting I just find another place to publish…

Invaluable and accessible

The book is a hugely practical guide to a methodology that helps organisations with one of their most important challenges: making sure that they are investing time and resource in the right things. Business decision making remains poor and reflective, all too often, of fads rather than intelligent problem solving that is reflective of context and evidence. The book outlines clearly and helpfully they ‘why’ and ‘how’ of an evidence based approach. It’s both an important and useful text that should be on the shelf of any leader in a business who has to make decisions over where to invest time and effort.

If you are busy then your time is at a premium – this book gives you an approach that will help minimise the likelihood of wasted time. I spend a considerable amount of time with some of the best management and leadership thinkers of the day – I’m lucky enough to get a chance to do that – this book is a hugely important work to help you better evaluate everything from the last TED talk you watched (that seemed disturbingly compelling…) through to how you evaluate the request that just came in from your CEO.

It helps you structure your thinking in an age where the quality of ideas is often outstripped by how rapidly they multiply.

Credibility of reviewer: I’ve worked in HR and leadership positions for over 15 years – and am (somehow) well respected in the industry. I spend a good chunk of my time helping organisations and leaders reconsider their approach to both strategic and operational work – both within organisations and as a regular conference speaker and commentator.

Conflicts of interest: I know Eric. I’m a supporter of CEMBA. My organisation has an MOU with CEBMA. Since I’ve been looking forward to the publication there is a huge amount of confirmation bias at play. I expected it to be good and it is.


1. Last time I spoke to Eric properly he told me I didn’t actually work in the real world and needed to get practical – I would offer up my team and P&L as evidence to the contrary – but it’s nice to mistaken for an academic occasionally 🙂

2. Amazon told me shoppers find images more helpful than text alone. So I’ve included a picture by Simon Heath of a cow in a tornado in the hope that this somehow increases the utility of this review.

Notes from Amazon:
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How do you value improving others?

I was talking a while back with the very wise Stefan Stern about the notion of talent and where we place value. One of the things I think we genuinely undervalue is the ability to build or realise capacity/capability in others. The ability to support the development of colleagues or your team to be better. This post is about me not being smart enough to solve something.

Throughout my career I’ve known a top tier within this group – a group of leaders that other people tend to find out by repute. People that folk would move organisation or team to work for them – at times even taking a salary hit compared to what they could get on the open market. Despite the fact these people stand out I often think we fail to recognise their value, all too often focusing on the individual contribution. A person’s performance – for me – should be the net amount the business benefits from their presence. That includes the uplift in the performance of colleagues.

So my half baked idea is to try and create a market for these skills by giving that recognition a market value. I’ve been intrigued by an organisation called Satalia recently that have allowed individuals to set their own salaries. I’m wondering how this would work for choice of manager. I have a few ideas – all flawed – but I’d like to hear better ones (I’m using manager and leader interchangeably below – I’m sure some of you will struggle with that and I’m sorry for your struggles. Stay strong)

i) give people a set amount (similar to benefits) that allows them to bid to work for a manager issues: it takes more funds and there’s no guarantee of an uplift in performance

ii) use a pretend currency to allow people to vote who they would like to work for and then reward the managers accordingly issues: votes might well be cast on popularity rather than capability

iii) give managers a cash bonus for successful promotions from their area issues: it could incentivise the wrong type of behaviour and there is quite often a significant lag in terms of working out if a promotion has worked out and causes of success/failure can be varied

iv) ask people to rate their manager based on how well they support their development issues: it falls foul of the popular vs good issue again

It’s clear that I’m coming up short – well short – but finding a way to value something that is undervalued would be quite a trick. We simply undervalue the importance of managers who are localised talent factories (or finishing schools or any term you prefer). Any ideas? Let me know.

We are moving towards letting people take more control of their development – but the biggest influence on most people’s careers is still the people they get the fortune or misfortune to work for…

We didn’t care enough

Yesterday someone asked me why a problem hadn’t been solved before and I replied that we obviously just hadn’t cared enough. It felt like that needed a longer explanation, so I told them what I’m about to tell you…

Things that organisations really care about get done. They are the things that people chase up. They are (often) the things we measure. If an organisation really wants something to happen then it will tend to find a way. I feel the same about ‘difficult conversations’ – if you care enough you find a way. If you don’t then you didn’t care enough. All the ‘I didn’t know how’ was bluster to make you feel better. If we care enough we find a way.

Things that organisations would like to get done – which might be awkward or tricky – are the ones that path the way to hell. They are the ones where everyone agreed it was a good idea to do something but… You had the list of things that you would get chased for and this isn’t on it.

That’s common sense. It’s not a judgment on your organisation or mine. The stuff the CEO/Board/Senior Team prioritise tends to be the stuff that gets prioritised. That’s why common assent that something should be done has far less likelihood of action resulting than one person believing something has to be done.

Someone once told me that the most powerful tool a leader has in their kit is the ability to clearly signal what they value.

  • What do you talk about?
  • What do you reward?
  • Where do you spend your time?

Arguably the first point there is easily overwhelmed by the second and third. If you talk a good game yet spend your time elsewhere and reward different activity then people will guess what you really value is different to what you describe.

So have a think about how you show what you care about – and reflect on the things you might want to happen but somehow your signals aren’t congruent with showing that. And then have a think on why.

From #metoo through to simplifying your processes if you really want things to be different then you need to care enough.

You can’t care about everything – so be honest with yourself and others.

I can’t see any reason this picture would be here, but I couldn’t be bothered to spend time looking for a better one. That’s a clear signal that I’m done here.

Whole lot of history

There is a way the conversation often goes when you are new to a role. And a way it can go

How it often goes

“Why don’t we do my brilliant idea. I’m the breath of fresh air new boss?”

“Tried it, didn’t work”

How it can go

“I was looking through some of your old proposals on the shared drive and this one really stood out. I imagine we tried it at the time, but I was wondering if you fancied another attempt getting it off the ground? It might just have been the wrong timing”

“Ok, that sounds great. You are very wonderful”

I may be slightly overselling the second scenario, but I wanted to explore the concept of shared folders and organisational history. When you start in a new role I suggest that instead of just thinking about what changes you want to make you should spend some serious time looking back.

Here are some ways you can do it – at least one is likely to be possible in your next role

  • Talk to people about their career history and experience working there
  • Google the organisation to see what was written about it and what it published/put into the world
  • Poke about in shared folders looking at old comms ans proposals. I bet you find at least one old PowerPoint deck explaining the things that you think need doing
  • Ask people what they think are the important changes or historical decisions that you should be aware of
  • Just ask people ‘Have we already got something similar in a musty desk drawer?’ at the start of any project
  • Read the annual reports and look at changes in emphasis and stats over time

Shared folders. Virtual and mental.

You should never be beholden to organisational history, it should not be a constraint. It is, however, the rich backdrop against which you will operate and a source of learning that can provide a context that, once understood, can help you move forward more effectively.

I spent my weekend reading about the reports my organisation published half a decade ago. About CEO pay disputes (kudos to Donald Clark for his always challenging work). About commitments we made to people a decade ago. It was an education.

And I go into today better armed because of yesterday.

Feedback is a gift

Feedback is a gift. Or it is like a gift in many ways. Or at least 10.

My Auntie Rosie was the worst gift giver in our family – and also brought the most joy. Watching my cousin pretend to be delighted at receiving an electric lemon squeezer as a present for getting into University was a special moment.

Likewise I appreciated the selection of Postman Pat books I received when I was 16.

Anyway, I digress… This is how feedback is like a gift

  • Sometimes someone gives it to you and you think ‘Pants, now I have to do the same for you and I didn’t think we were that close’
  • Sometimes someone gets it just right and it is a really pleasant surprise
  • Sometimes the wrapping is awful but it is still a really good gift. Sometimes the wrapping is brilliant, but the contents…
  • Sometimes you think ‘You’ve known me years and that’s what you thought I’d like? Wow’
  • Sometimes it is obviously regifted and just what they had left spare in a drawer
  • Sometimes the thought that has gone into it is really clear and that makes the gift more valuable
  • Sometimes the person giving the gift looks at you like you should be really impressed – and internally you are just doing a confused shrug
  • Sometimes it’s like being given deodorant. You understand it is useful but you think… Hey, are you trying to tell me something else here?
  • Some people only give once a year and still get it wrong
  • If you don’t say thank you or make use of it then it reduces the chance of gifts in the future

Version 0.1

Someone once told me that version 0.1 is the most important. I now tell my teams that version 0.1 is the most important.

Because I agree that version 0.1 is the most important

Version 0.0 means we are discussing a blank space, nothing has formed.

Version 1.0 means that you think we are good to go. The thinking has been done. You have an emotional investment in the work. If I disagree with contents then I’m disagreeing with you. If I don’t like the layout I’m undoing your work

Version 0.1 means we are thinking together. We are exploring. We both know we aren’t there yet and are still looking for solutions.

It might be an oversimplification, but there is something at the heart of it that is very important.

Bring people 0.1.

Bring them openness and a chance to contribute. Bring options. Bring humility. Bring puzzles and possible solutions. Bring a shared purpose rather than work you want over the line.

One of the best ways to create trust is to solve problems together – start with asking for 0.1

Evidence Based Playfulness

Evidence Based Playfulness

I’ve been doing a couple of things recently and I’ve been watching some conversations develop that suggest they aren’t compatible. I think they are – so I thought I’d outline why.

What are the two things?

  1. Encouraging people to embrace a more evidence based approach to their work
  2. Encouraging people to experiment more – and in particular play about with different things in conversations. Be more playful and inventive

The reason I do the first is because we don’t have enough time to do the wrong things. We are busy and taking time to methodically think through possible approaches, the evidence of what we already know and then reflect on outcomes makes perfect sense.

The reason I do the second is because the first approach urges you to test a hypothesis. It asks you to think about what you know already and what you can understand from elsewhere. Influencing well is a key skill in HR and leadership – if you only have one approach to conversation (rather than a broad range of approaches) then you limit your possible outcomes.

So think, plan, experiment, reflect. Keep playing with different approaches until you get better at picking the right approach for the right concept. The more you learn the better equipped you are to succeed. Try starting or ending conversations in a different way. Try holding them in a different place. Watch for different impacts of those changes.

The notion of working from an evidence base can seem restricting – and is too often portrayed as such – but combining that with attempting to experiment to learn more…

Well that’s pretty much an instruction to play about with things. It’s not an instruction to give into fads – it is permission to try and learn. It would be ridiculous in any other situation to see science and innovation as mutually exclusive. Can you use VR in your org? Probably. Should you? It depends on context and benefit. Is it worth playing about with it to work that out? Possibly.


– try things

– be humble enough to admit failure

– be smart enough to see success

– be brave enough to admit you are always learning

– be open enough to let others learn from you

– be astute enough to learn wherever you can

Experience is a source of evidence. Go try something new – but keep your eyes on the prize.