The Science of Successful Organizational Change

The Science of Successful Organizational Change


This week Steven completes  Chapter 9 of Paul Gibbons’ book The Science of Successful Organizational Change.  Chapter 9 is the capstone of the book putting all of the pieces parts together.  One more week is left in this re-read.  Remember to use the link in the essay to buy a copy of the book to support the author, the podcast, and the blog!


Chapter 9 is the concluding chapter of Paul Gibbons book “The Science of Successful Organizational Change” (get your copy) and this is blog posting is part-2 of Chapter 9.

Chapter 9 – Leading with Science (part 2 – pages 272 – 292)

In part-1, and other parts of this book, Gibbons urges us to move towards science-based management practices and to do that we must have a better understanding of evidence.

“I regard business the way I regard nineteenth-century medicine:  still largely a craft and still reliant upon a great deal of superstition.” (p. 272).

Types of Evidence

Gibbons presents a model for using different types of evidence and knowledge in business – specifically for decision-making. (p. 274)

  1. Scientific Research
  2. Professional experience, judgment
  3. Stakeholder concerns and values
  4. Organizational data

Hierarchy of Evidence

And then Gibbons goes onto to define a hierarchal model of evidence (p. 275), defining a preferred list of evidence to seek (p. 275)


  1. Controlled Experiments
  2. Observational Studies
  3. Cohort Studies
  4. Surveys and Benchmarking
  5. Case Studies
  6. Expert Opinions
  7. Professional Experience

Judging what I have seen from most organizations, you would think Case Studies would be the preferred type of evidence.  Case Studies often have a decidedly Marketing slant.

Controlled Experiments is at the top of the hierarchy, but Gibbons admits this type of evidence is hard to obtain.

“The metrics (revenue per partner, average deal size, and total revenue) skyrocketed relative to all other business units.  Sadly, from my point of view, the new CEO was doing many (many) other things.  I could not have said, ‘Hey, don’t touch anything for a few years and let’s see whether this culture change malarkey really works.’” (p.276-277)

Evidence usage in Business

Gibbons highlights two reasons why the strongest types of evidence may not be used in business.

  1. Hard to conduct controlled experiments at the organizational level – as the previous quote states. So many variables to control for.
  2. Cannot wait for the validated evidence before a decision is needed. This applies to other disciplines than business.  In medicine, you always give it your best shot to save a person, whether there is strong evidence or not.  Likewise, in business, robust and antifragile organizations may value a quick decision over the best-possible decision.

But as we already know, Gibbons argues that over-time the strongest possible evidence needs to be used in business.  And not to be satisfied with today’s business practices based on weak evidence and what can be called eminence-based business practices (analogy taken from the medical field).

Implementing Evidence-Based Management

After Gibbons discusses each of the seven different evidence types in the hierarchy of evidence (pages 275 – 282), Gibbons presents advice on how to implement evidence-based management (EBM).

“The biggest problem implementing evidence-based management is that we cannot wait around for every policy or idea to be validated. (That will take decades.)” (p. 282)

Leadership can create learning organizations.  Agile, lean, lean-startup, kanban, (and others), all push for improving through learning and experimenting, as part of the established way of running and growing a business.

“Science is principally a learning process – an evidence-based learning process.” (p. 282)

Gibbons goes onto to list 10 steps for a leader wanting to improve the organization’s ability to learn.  Gibbons is prodding the leader to consider these 10 ideas and start small and pick a few to get started with.

Example:  #5 “Confirm, verify, and criticize theories, even those that are undisputed.” (p. 283)

Gibbons also lists a few gotchas for a leader embarking on EBM (pages 284 – 285), including;

  1. Business culture will resist a change to EBM too.
  2. Not much established EBM in most business contexts. Learning from science-based experimentation is needed to grow EBM knowledge.
  3. Ideas or proposals supported by data is not yet the norm. People will want to take short-cuts to realize their theories/beliefs.
  4. People like their business knowledge, and do not care if it is supported by evidence or not.
  5. Science is an overloaded term and can be used to confuse or mislead. In the name of science, does not mean it is actually science at all.

Management to Leadership

One idea Gibbons expressed for leaders in their timeframe.

“One transition people need to make when moving from manager to leader is to expand the horizon of time they consider from days and weeks to ‘think further’ to years and decades.” (p. 288)

Concluding on page 291: “To reiterate a sentiment from the introduction, we need more business (and political) leaders who see beyond the urgent, and who, when they say ‘the next quarter’ sometimes mean the next quarter century.”


Summary of Chapter 9, part 2, which includes pages 272 – 292

  1. Gibbons defines evidence for us – Types Of Evidence used in decision-making and a hierarchy of evidence – listing stronger types of evidence through weaker evidence.
  2. Gibbons explains why the strongest type of evidence – controlled experiments – is very challenging in business.
  3. Gibbons provides a list of steps/ideas a leader can get started with, to support an evidence-based management (EBM) change in their organization.
  4. Gibbons lists what hurdles a leader who is pushing for an EBM organization will likely encounter.
  5. Gibbons advises those managers transitioning to leaders to expand their time horizon.

Next week:  final thoughts on the re-read of Paul Gibbons “The Science of Successful Organizational Change”.


Previous entries in the re-read of the book The Science of Successful Organizational Change (buy a copy!)

Week 1: Game Plan

Week 2: Introduction

Week3; Failed Change

Week 4: Change Fragility to Change-Agility

Week 5:  Governance and the Psychology of Risk

Week 6: Decision Making in Complex and Ambiguous Environments

Week 7: Cognitive Biases and Failed Strategies

Week 8: Misunderstanding Human Behavior

Week 9: Leading with Science (Part 1)