The 3 Habits of Evidence-Based Leadership

September 15, 2015 by Stacey Barr

Evidence-based leadership is not about how to lead. It’s about what to give your attention to as you lead, and what you’re leading your organisation to. It’s not about how to communicate or inspire or direct or engage. It’s about how to use all these attributes to lead your organisation to high-performance.

diagram of the 3 habits of evidence-based leadership: direction, execution, evidence

Organisational performance is one of the outcomes all leaders are responsible for. And how an organisation performs is evidenced by the results it achieves, not by the work it does.

To truly know what results an organisation is achieving, and how it’s getting better at this over time, those results must be measured.

Performance measures are evidence of the degree to which important results are occurring over time. Without good performance measures, we have no evidence. With no evidence, we can’t know. If we can’t know, we’re guessing. Evidence-based leaders don’t guess.

Evidence-based leaders give their attention to three habits of high-performance: Direction, Evidence, and Execution. Let’s explore…

EBL Habit 1: Direction is about articulating a measurable strategy.

To be measurable in a meaningful way, a strategy must be results-oriented, understandable to everyone, and ruthlessly prioritised. And then it becomes the kind of strategy people feel compelled to make reality.

EBL Habit 2: Evidence is about setting meaningful performance measures for each strategic goal.

Surprisingly, just about every strategic goal that matters can be made measurable, and measurable in a meaningful way. The most meaningful measures are quantitative, aligned to what matters, and focused on improvement.

EBL Habit 3: Execution is about getting the corporate strategy implemented and the strategic goals achieved.

The best strategy execution, that produces the highest return on effort and investment, uses the leverage of continuous improvement of business processes. It’s not about ‘bolting on’ new capability, it’s about unleashing what’s there.

These three habits are the foundation of how to inspire an organisation to perform better and better.

Leaders give attention to these three high-performance habits to set the direction for the organisation, to monitor its progress, and to decide what change initiatives to invest in.

And giving attention to these habits is not just for leaders. It’s for everyone in the organisation.

Everyone has to work in ways that help achieve the corporate direction. Everyone has to show up to work each day and know that they are contributing to something bigger and more important than their to-do list. Everyone has to get involved in tweaking and transforming the organisation so it can better fulfil its mission and realise its vision.

These three habits of high-performance must become organisational habits. And that will only happen when they are habits of its leaders. So inspire your organisation to practice those behaviours of evidence-based leadership and evidence-based management, by first making the habits of high-performance your habits, and then leading everyone else to adopt them too.

DISCUSSION:

What does evidence-based leadership mean to you?

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  1. I like this post Stacey because in my work with leaders, I help them understand their important roles in the PuMP process. In my experience, The other step I would add (and is likely part of habit 3: execution) is building better performance reports. Leaders need to know how to recognize a poor performance report and be able to guide their staff to develop reports that answer those three important questions: What is performance doing? Why is it doing this? and What are we going to do now? Your thoughts?

    • Stacey Barr says:

      Hi Louise 🙂

      Performance reports (and their design) is part of Evidence, in this EBL model. Good evidence is covered by PuMP Steps 5, 6 and 7, where measures are brought to life. And so I might as well also add that PuMP Steps 1 to 4 are part of Direction, and PuMP Step 8 is part of Execution.

  2. Tommaso Palmitesta says:

    In the new ISO 9001:2015 – Quality management systems – Requirements standard, Leadership and Performance Evaluation are two main chapters. Leaders are required to be more committed and ‘demonstrate’ their leadership and the performance and effectiveness (weasel word?) of the Quality Management System has to be evaluated. In my many years as a certification Lead Auditor I have rarely seen Top management receive a useful performance report. The cause is likely to be what Louise says in her comment: either they don’t know how to recognise a good report or are not able to guide their staff to develop one.

    • Stacey Barr says:

      Tommaso, overwhelming experience over the past 20 years or so has *convinced* me that leaders neither know how to recognise a good report, nor how to ask for one. Most leaders are not evidence-based, and it doesn’t come naturally. It needs to be learned, but most leadership development seems to leave it out completely.

  3. Evidence based leadership uses evidence. Unfortunately, too many people in all ranks have no idea on how to collect data and then report it in a manner that provides evidence for change (or not). Such evidence is only usefully visible when variation is separated into random variation and non-random variation. This requires statistical thinking (an attribute that’s generally not seen as a requirement for management!). The common problem of reacting to random variation causes more variation and is a misuse of evidence .

  4. KETUT WIHARDIKA says:

    For Performance, people is in the front to lead the works for evidence indicator trough excellence result, so..no excellence result behind best behavior people with best attitude.
    It’s means, people soft skill more maker success for Performance comparing than hard skill.

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