This review was originally commissioned by People Management (with a 400 word limit) and can be viewed here or read below.
The evidence-based management (EBM) bandwagon is now well and truly rolling, having trundled over many ruts of scepticism, misinterpretation and resistance. HR practitioners and academics have to decide whether to get on board or jump out of its path so now is a good time to review this addition to the growing list of EBM literature.
At first sight it is difficult to know what to make of this text. Two academics (Pritchard & Weaver) have teamed up with Ashwood who describes herself (p. xxiv) as “president and chief strategist of Strategy 42”: a reference to the “the ultimate answer to ….. everything” in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. This, and Pritchard’s revelation (p. xxi) that he and former colleagues developed ProMES back in 1988, might lead the cynical reader to conclude it is an old idea re-heated over the flame of EBM. So is ProMES really evidence-based and does it live up to its claims of being a “practical guide”?
At its core is the simplistic “Pritchard-Ashwood Theory (2008)” of motivation (p. 27) – where motivation converts individual energy into actions and results – a statement of the painfully obvious that characterizes the whole text. Nevertheless some big academic names endorse Pritchard’s credentials, and readers new to industrial and organisational psychology will benefit but evidence of ProMES’s achievements is hard to find. “Appendix C. Examples of …Objectives and Indicators” makes no reference to any evidence of costs actually saved, revenues increased or indeed productivity improved.
ProMES positions itself in the market (p. 208) by way of comparison to arguably better known products such as balanced scorecards (measurement in 4 separate boxes) and six sigma (re-heated statistical process controls?) but this comes across as a catching-up exercise rather than heralding any new breakthrough in EBM thinking. Anyone tempted to check the index under ‘H’ for HR applications might be disappointed to find only one solitary entry well past its sell-by date – “Hawthorne effects”. Those interested in fresher insights might conclude that if practical productivity improvement is the question 42 is not the answer.
*Evidence-based Productivity Improvement: A practical guide to the Productivity Measurement & Enhancement System (ProMES), Robert D. Pritchard, Sallie J.Weaver, Elissa L.Ashwood, Routledge, December 2011