Keynote: Pfeffer Breaks Conventional Wisdom

Posted on March 12, 2008. Filed under: HCI Summit, Speakers |

IMG_1351 Jeffrey Pfeffer is the Thomas D. Dee II Professor of Organizational Behavior at the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University where he has taught since 1979. He is the author or co-author of twelve books. In the summer of 2007, Harvard Business School Press published his most recent book, What Were They Thinking? Unconventional Wisdom About Management, a collection of 27 essays about management topics.

Pfeffer discussed causes of leadership shortages in many companies. The Department of Labor is projecting a 10 million person work shortage by the end of the decade. He cited a several critical reasons for it:

  • Demography
  • Workplace management that leaves employees unhappy, disengaged and leaving. Pfeffer cited toxic workplaces…
  • Not enough resources and attention are available to workers for development

Some statistics.

  • 40% of workers feel disconnected
  • 2/3 of workers do not identify with who they work with
  • More than 50 percent of workers don’t trust their bosses or what the company has to say

All of the many factors cited create attitudes and values that no one believes in.  And they decide to leave.  Therefore, the talent shortage makes sense.

Evidence Drives Management

IMG_1356 To resolve this issue, evidence-based management should be employed.  Today’s management defies evidence. It continues to enforce bad programs that don’t work.  Industries adapting evidence based approaches include medicine, criminology, education and social policy.

Evidence-based management is a way of thinking.  It’s:

  • Being data-driven and committed to making decisions based on the facts. 
  • Treating your organization as an unfurnished prototype: Keep experimenting
  • Challenging conventional wisdom

Pfeffer cited the airline industry, the teaching profession as examples.

Instead of evidence, companies use casual benchmarking.  Pfeffer says GE and SouthWest use casual benchmarking.  There is a copycat syndrome.

Barriers to using evidence based management:

  • Not willing to admit we don’t know
  • Unwillingness to face the facts, particularly when they are unpleasant
  • Too much information, much of it contradictory, and much of it presented in ways that make it impossible to remember
  • Belief that it takes too long
  • The fact that data and a commitment to EBM changes power dynamics
  • An implicit that management is not a science like for instance medicine is

Talent management is too focused on stars… As a result, there is a corresponding under emphasis on developing the right talent inside.  The lesson the quality movement, quality and improvement comes from the system not the people.

Failure is not an end. It’s a beginning.  Responding to failure is a growth opportunity to master the goal, master the effort.  It can lead to phenomenal development.

Moving forward, we need to invest in people, let them make decisions, and give them responsibility.  We also need to beware of grass is greener.  Scarcity makes the search very difficult. Outside talent often doesn’t fit the culture.  Hire for fit… It’s much more predictive for success. 


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