How Evidence-based Leaders Hold the Space for High-Performance

January 14, 2016 by Stacey Barr

Evidence-based leadership is more than evidence-based management. An organisation’s leaders must not only themselves use objective evidence to inform their decisions about how to elevate organisational performance, but they must also inspire and encourage and demand it from everyone else in the organisation too. When we are practising evidence-based management, we are using objective evidence to design and monitor the organisation’s strategy. This evidence is primarily performance measures that inform us about progress toward the vision, mission and strategic goals. Other forms of evidence, such as research and case studies and experimental results, inform us of the best ways to make that progress happen sooner or in larger steps or with higher returns on investment.

When we are inspiring and encouraging and demanding evidence-based management from everyone else in the organisation, we are making it easier for them to practice it themselves and apply it to what matters most. We need to make it part of our routine language and everyday conversations. We need to tell stories that describe we want them to do. We need to coach them in how to practice it and how to align their decisions with what is strategically important. We need to recognise and reward the learning and practice of evidence-based management even more than its impact. We need to provide how-to processes, a clear and measurable strategy, evidence-based reporting frameworks, analytical tools, conversation outlines, and in-person participation to support their practice.

Leaders are responsible for the culture of an organisation, and the culture of high-performance will come only when they both practice and inspire evidence-based management. So we might defined evidence-based leadership this way:

Evidence-based leadership is the application of evidence-based management at the whole-organisation level and the active and routine support of its application organisation-wide; to unify the alignment of all decision-making and action with the purpose and strategic direction of the organisation, to measurably elevate the overall performance of the organisation and its positive impact in the world.

Managers and supervisors and staff will not practice evidence-based management without it being deliberately led from the top. What the CEO talks about and does, the rest of the organisation talks about and does. There are no short cuts.

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