Becoming the Evidence-Based Manager
SCIENCE OF MANAGEMENT
WORK FOR YOU
GARY P. LATHAM
First published by Davies-Black, an imprint of Nicholas Brealey
Publishing, in 2009.
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© Copyright 2009 by Gary Latham. All rights reserved. No portion of this
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Printed in the United States of America
14 13 12 11 10 11 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Latham, Gary P.
Becoming the evidence-based manager : making the science of
management work for you / Gary P. Latham.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 978-0-89106-260-8 (hbk.)
1. Employee motivation. 2. Performance. 3. Management. I. Title.
Use the Right Tools to Hire High-Performing Employees
Inspire Your Employees to Execute Strategy
Develop and Train to Create a High-Performing Team
Motivate Your Employees to Be High Performers
Instill Resiliency in the Face of Setbacks
Appraise and Coach Your Employees to Be High Performers
The Evidence-Based Manager in Action
About the Author
The following people were invaluable to me in writing this book. The
managers in my executive MBA class ensured that I dotted every i and
crossed every t. More important, they ensured that what I wrote was
practical—helpful to them as leaders in the workplace. After I’d followed
their suggestions, three governors on the board of the Center for Creative
Leadership, with whom I served two terms—Joseph B. Anderson,
chairman and CEO of TAG Holdings, LLC; Naomi Marrow, former VP of
HR at Reader’s Digest; and Marc Noel, chairman of the Noel Group, LLC
—gave me invaluable feedback. Dr. David Altman, vice president of
research and innovation at the center, was also very helpful, as were my
research assistants, Coreen Hrabluik and Amanda Shantz, who are now
Drs. Hrabluik and Shantz. Lastly, I am indebted to my editor, Laura
Lawson, for the ideas and laughter we shared in producing the final copy
of this book.
Think back to when you first became a manager. Whether it was two
weeks or twenty years ago, most likely the thrill and exhilaration of the
promotion quickly gave way to the sinking realization that leading people
is a lot harder than it looks. In fact, it is so hard to be an effective manager
that a third or more of new managers fail in their job in less than two
years.1 And while management gets easier as one learns the ropes, it never
gets easy—I’ve spent a good deal of my working life with senior
managers who still struggle with people problems. So, though experience
helps, becoming an effective manager isn’t simply a matter of years on the
job. What, then, does make for effective management? Effective
management is both an art and a science: It results from using solid,
proven, tested techniques (the science of management) in an inspiring and
engaging way (the art of management). The principles of management
science can be taught. They are replicable. The art is in how you apply
Most books on management focus only on the art. Although the
techniques presented in those books often appear factual and promise
results if you use a given step-by-step methodology, the techniques
themselves are not well researched or grounded in science. Instead, they
are based on the authors’ personal experiences as managers, their
particular best practices, or plain old-fashioned intuition. Sometimes these
methods are transferable to you, the reader; typically they are not. In sum,
the advice is hit or miss. Why? Because art and intuition are usually
unique to an individual. What works for one manager in one environment
(experience and best practices) may not work in another environment, let
alone for another manager.
The bottom line is that most management books just have too much art
and too little science. Though the art and intuition of management do have
value, they can seldom be taught or transferred. In contrast, the science of
management can be taught and transferred. So it makes a lot more sense—
and gives you more return for your time—to focus on tips and techniques
for managing others to high performance that are grounded in empirical
The art of management can seldom be taught. The science
of management can be taught.
This book was written to underscore the scientific aspect of effective
management—what is called evidence-based management—in an artful
way. Here, I aim to
• Share management techniques that have been proven by valid and
reliable research studies to work
• Share this information in an engaging way that makes sense to you,
My goal is to share with you everything I’ve learned about evidencebased management over the past thirty-six years as an organizational
psychologist with one foot planted in the real world of the private and
public sectors and the other in the academic arena.
As an organizational psychologist, I have conducted countless studies
on ways to improve management practices. In my work as a corporate
staff psychologist and consultant, I have accumulated years of experience
applying the results of psychological research in the workplace. As an HR
consultant, I serve as a translator of sorts to help everyday managers
become high performers by using evidence-based management practices.
In this book, I’ve worked to share the most effective methods for hiring,
inspiring, training, motivating, and appraising employees shown by years
of research to deliver high performance. As a result, instead of being hit
or miss—working for some managers but not others, working in some
fields but not others—this book will be right on target for you. It provides
you management techniques that really deliver, whether you’re in the
private or public sector and no matter what your level of management skill
Historically, managers have not clamored for practices based on
evidence, in spite of the quantity of research about which management
techniques work well and which do not. This is not because you and other
managers don’t want to be great at what you do, and it is not because
research isn’t valued. It is just that most managers are simply too busy to
keep up-to-date on the latest studies. Sadly, even if you had the time to
read the research, you’d find that scientists are rarely good at translating
their results into practical recommendations.
Yet an emphasis on evidence-based practices is sweeping through the
fields of medicine, clinical psychology, education, and architecture. Few
of us would expect a neurosurgeon to remove a brain tumor or an architect
to design a bridge by drawing on intuition alone. Instead, we expect these
professionals to ground their work in practices that have been proven in
the past to work. We should expect the same evidence-based standards
and guidelines for managers. Evidence-based practices ensure high
performance and job satisfaction. They’re incredibly useful in providing
hands-on guidance to people who want to engage effectively in their job.
Evidence-based practices ensure high performance and job
My hope is that this book will further the evidence-based movement in
management—that it will stoke your desire to learn about this approach as
you discover that evidence-based management practices work. More
important, though, I hope that this book will serve as a handbook on
evidence-based management techniques for the entire employee life cycle
—hiring, inspiring, training, motivating, and appraising employees—a
handbook you can return to time and again.
Specifically, this book will give you the essential information you
need to become an evidence-based manager from the hiring stage to the
retention stage—from A to Z. This information will be presented within
the following six general lessons of management:
Lesson 1: Use the right tools to identify and hire high-performing
Lesson 2: Inspire your employees to effectively execute strategy
Lesson 3: Develop and train employees to create a high-performing
Lesson 4: Motivate your employees to become high performers.
Lesson 5: Instill resiliency in the face of setbacks.
Lesson 6: Coach, don’t appraise, your employees to be high
In themselves, these lessons are not novel. You already know, for
example, that you should use valid tools to hire the right people. Yet most
line managers don’t know which tools have been proven, through
research, to be effective. This book gives that information. Similarly, most
managers want to make sure that their team is well trained and prepared
for high performance, but they may not have access to training techniques
shown by research to be most effective for ensuring that this occurs.
In this book, I explain, synthesize, and translate management research
results into practical guidelines for handling the difficult areas of
management that many managers deal with daily. Some of this research
has not seen the light of day in mainstream business writing. In other
cases, you are likely to recognize the evidence-based management
techniques—such as coaching—but for the first time will understand why
coaching is so effective and how to employ coaching as a technique for
developing employees to become high performers. It’s the first time, to
my knowledge, that someone has attempted to compile a broad overview
of the management research of the past half century into a compact,
readable, evidence-based handbook for line managers.
In my work, I have continually received “Aha!” feedback from
managers, employees, audiences, and MBA students when I share these
evidence-based management techniques. They make sense, they are
simple to understand, and they work in the private and public sectors.
Armed with these new tools, managers have been able to boost employee
performance significantly and execute desired strategies for their teams
with noteworthy success. Good management always requires a lot of hard
work and sustained effort, but once evidence-based techniques are
mastered, it also can become fun, because employees respond so well to
this approach. With employees inspired and engaged, managers don’t
have to battle to get desired results: They just happen. Managers can
actually enjoy the process of leading others because they know what
they’re supposed to be doing, and because their efforts bring tangible
With employees inspired and engaged, managers don’t
have to battle to get desired results.
Here’s to your growth as an evidence-based manager and to using
management techniques that truly work!
Becoming the Evidence-Based Manager
USE THE RIGHT TOOLS TO HIRE HIGHPERFORMING EMPLOYEES
It’s an understatement to say that hiring the right employees is integral to
executing strategy effectively. In fact, as Larry Bossidy, retired CEO of
AlliedSignal, says, “In the race, you bet on people, not strategies.”1
Without the right people, any strategy—no matter how promising or well
designed—will be rendered useless. With the right people, however, goals
get met, strategy gets executed, and organizations soar.
For example, in the service industry, it isn’t the CEO’s vision that
brings repeat business—it’s the friendliness and helpfulness of the wait
staff, desk agents, and parking valets. Bob Ford, a management professor
at the University of Central Florida, is fond of saying that at the moment a
service is delivered, that one person, that single server, is the organization
for the customer. If the car rental clerk loses your reservation, you don’t
just blame that clerk, you conclude that the entire company is, at best,
mediocre. If that car rental clerk is working for you, then people may
conclude that you too accept mediocrity. Consequently, you must pick
winners—the kind of people who are able to take decisive action
consistent with your team’s vision and goals. These high performers are
the ones who do great work despite the ambiguity, complexity, and chaos
inherent in organizational life.
This chapter focuses on evidence-based methods for selecting highperforming employees who are best suited to the needs of your team. On
the basis of empirical research, I recommend four hiring tools, all of
which are reliable and valid:2
• Situational interviews
• Patterned behavioral description interviews
• Job simulations
• Realistic job previews
The first three tools are useful in predicting which job applicants will
perform at high levels and which will not. The fourth enables people who
are offered a job to decide if it is right for them. Managers who adopt
these four tools will select winners.
There are two additional tools I am often asked about—cognitive
ability tests and personality tests. They do have some uses, which I
explain later, but are less easy to adopt as they require the assistance of a
psychologist to administer and score them.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK, IN BRIEF
The most commonly used interview technique in organizations today—a
free-flowing conversation, or what researchers call an unstructured
interview—is, ironically, the least effective. The unstructured interview
often goes something like this:
“Tell me about yourself.”
“Where did you go to school?”
“How much do you know about our organization?”
“Why are you interested in this job opening?”
“Do you have any questions for me?”
If you correlate how people perform in an unstructured interview with
how they perform on the job, you’ll realize you might as well resort to
Many studies, including one in the Journal of Occupational
Psychology, show that the correlation between how people are assessed in
an unstructured interview and how they are assessed on the job is very
low.3 This is because in an unstructured interview for a given job
• Different applicants are typically asked different questions
• The questions are often not directly related to the job
• Interviewers are often unable to agree among themselves what
constitutes a great response versus a not-so-great response
If you were to sit in on any hiring panel in the midst of debating
possibly acceptable candidates—whether in the banking world, the health
care industry, or the automotive industry—you would find that the
difference of opinion on what constitutes great answers (and great
candidates) as revealed by the unstructured interview is tremendous.
Hence the unstructured interview is not very effective for selecting
winners. Even though it’s a favorite in most organizations, you don’t want
to use this interview technique—you have much better alternatives.
WHAT WORKS, IN BRIEF
So throw out the unstructured job interview and replace it with the
following research-supported tools for hiring top performers. This
combination of tools represents the very best of what research shows
about making good hiring decisions.
The situational interview, as the name implies, presents people with
situations they will encounter on the job. Hence it is extremely effective at
predicting how people will perform in given situations. What people say
they will do on the job and how they actually behave on the job turn out to
have a significant correlation.
Research has also shown that the patterned behavioral interview,
where you ask applicants how they behaved in the past, is a good
predictor of how they will behave in the future. This is because a person’s
past behavior predicts future behavior.
Job simulations test applicants right now, in real time, to see what they
can actually do. Simulations have also been backed by many research
studies that show them to be effective in predicting job performance (that
is, current behavior in a simulated environment predicts subsequent
behavior in similar on-the-job situations). One kind of simulation, the
assessment center simulation, has been successful in predicting the job
promotions and salary progression of people over a twenty-five-year
Last, research has revealed the value of a realistic job preview.4 The
preview is called realistic because you explain what will be great for an
applicant if that person accepts your job offer, and you also explain what
job incumbents have found not to be as great. No matter how good your
other tools, candidates will always know things about themselves that
your selection techniques will not identify. A realistic preview enables
candidates to decide whether accepting a job offer is the right decision for
EFFECTIVE HIRING TOOLS IN PRACTICE
These first four tools provide a reliable and valid evidence-based package
for identifying and then hiring high-performing employees. The following
sections offer practical information on how to use these tools so that you
can create a winning team.
The Situational Interview
The situational interview assesses an applicant’s intentions for dealing
with situations likely to arise on the job.5 Given the clear relationship
between intentions and subsequent behavior at work, the situational
interview should be a staple of every evidence-based manager’s hiring
A situational interview is structured so that every candidate answers
the same job-related questions. In addition, a behavioral scoring guide
made up of illustrative answers is used to assess each applicant’s answer
to a question. This type of interview ensures that
• Managers get good job-related information from the candidates
• Managers have a frame of reference that helps them reliably assess
the quality of an interviewee’s response
Most important, each question presents a dilemma, as shown below. It
is this dilemma that forces applicants to state what they believe they
would actually do on the job (that is, their intentions) rather than telling
interviewers what they believe the interviewers are hoping to hear. The
situational interview should be conducted by two or more people. The
interview panel should include the responsible manager and someone
from Human Resources.
For example, the Weyerhaeuser Company needed to staff a pulp mill.
As staff psychologist, I held a focus group with supervisors to describe
critical situations that hourly workers deal with in such a mill. We turned
these situations into “What would you do?” questions, and we then
generated answers that we agreed were highly acceptable, acceptable, or
unacceptable. These illustrative answers became our scoring guide. We
correlated the scores we gave job applicants’ responses to each situational
question with the scores the successful applicants received one year later
on the job. Eureka! What they said in the interview correlated with what
they did on the job.
The dilemma in each question forces applicants to state
what they would actually do on the job.
Creating a Situational Interview
To create a situational interview, take these three steps:
1. Conduct a job analysis.
2. Create situational interview questions that contain a dilemma.
3. Develop a scoring guide.
1. Conduct a job analysis. A job analysis identifies important situations
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