Evidence Based Practice in Workplace Change

evidenceMy social media feeds are filled with posts that declare the solutions to almost all of my organisational and personal problems in seven or less easy steps. Apparently there are 4 steps to leadership; 7 keys to successful change implementation and a particular favourite – 14 bizarre sleeping habits of super successful peoplea. I think the proposition in the last example is that if I sleep in a sound-proof ‘snoratorium’ that I will be transformed into a super successful person. These posts have one thing in common, they don’t provide any real evidence that support their claims.

In this post, I’ll invite you to consider whether evidenced based practice (EBP) can be adopted as a more helpful approach when developing strategies to guide and inform workplace change efforts.

Evidence based practice (EBP) is best known as an approach to patient care and is used extensively in clinical settings. A frequently quoted definition of evidence based practice in medicine has been provided by Sackett1 who describes EBP as ‘the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of current best evidence in making decisions about the care of the individual patient’. Represented diagrammatically in Figure 1, it can be seen that evidence based practice occurs when clinicians apply their expertise to consider the best approach to patient care taking into account research evidence and the needs and preferences of the patient.


Figure 1: Evidence Based Practice in Healthcare2

The concept of evidence based practice has been extended to other disciplines including management3 and the proposition put forward in this article is that it can also be applied to the practice of workplace change (please refer to Figure 2).


Figure 2: Evidence Based Practice in Workplace Change

Figure 2 shows that Evidence Based Practice in Workplace Change only occurs when an approach to change consists of the application of expertise, using best evidence relating to organisational change, in consideration of organisational context.

Exploring each of these terms a little further:

Change expertise: Just as you would want to have a highly skilled and experienced clinician to manage your healthcare needs, EBP-WC requires highly skilled and experienced change practitioners to apply their expertise to the change process. The ‘change practitioner’ in EBP-WC may be leader/s from within the organisation and/or specialist change practitioners either from within or from outside of the organisation.

Organisational context: The expertise must be applied taking into account the values and preferences of the organisation, that is, the organisational context. Within that organisational context, the values and preferences of the workforce, customers and other stakeholders need to be taken into account.

Evidence: Perhaps the most challenging question that confronts EBP-WC is “What constitutes best evidence in workplace change?”. Identifying high quality evidence relating to workplace change is difficult and, just as in medicine4, much of what is available needs to be carefully analysed for bias and selectivity.

In future articles the concept of EBP-WC will be explored further, both in terms of its construct and also its application.


Contribute to the workplace change project – complete the Workplace Change Survey http://goo.gl/forms/EQshZLyyaO


1Sackett, D. (2002) Evidence-based Medicine: How to Practise and Teach EBM. London, Churchill Livingstone

2Duke University Medical Centre. (2016) What is Evidence-Based Practice (EBP)? Retrieved from: http://guides.mclibrary.duke.edu/c.php?g=158201&p=1036021

3Pfeffer, J. and Sutton, R. (2006) Evidence-Based Management. Harvard Business Review, Jan 2006

4Every-Palmer, S. and Howick, J. (2014) How evidence-based medicine is failing due to biased trails and selective publication. Journal of Evaluation in Clinical Practice 20 (2014)


a  The first two titles are fictitious but represent many such articles that come in to my social media feeds, the third title, perhaps unfortunately, is real


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