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Evidence-Based Work Design

Beyond intuition and experience

Most of today's work-design decisions are based on the decision maker's personal intuition, supported by their formal education and limited experience. This is one explanation for why the design and management of work has not kept pace with changes in the nature of work, workers, and the workplace, and why relevant science-based additions to our knowledge go unutilized.

If personal intuition, formal education and limited experience were in fact a sufficient basis on which to design work, then companies would probably still push production flow, control the talk-time of customer service representatives, and consider 4 defects per 100 good enough. Decision makers who know the relevant science now understand the fallacy of such thinking, and know the opportunity that is revealed with a deeper understanding.

Surveys reveal that the operations managers, process engineers, HR practitioners, and others who conceive work roles (or jobs) have neither the time nor the temperament to sift through and make sense of the continuous flow of fragmented, opaque and conflicting advice from scholars in all relevant disciplines. As well, these decision makers are a prime target for advice that is either based on little more than an author's intuition and experience, marketed by suppliers as objective thinking, or offered persuasively yet without validation by well-intended advocates.

Adding to the challenge for decision makers, most of the limited knowledge they learned from MBA, OB, OD, HR, and engineering courses about how to design work and manage people was conceived between 40 and 120 years ago for a very different kind of work, worker, and workplace. Moreover, evidence (e.g., low engagement, talent shortage, declining wages) suggests that this current guidance is failing to resolve the workforce challenges actually faced by management.

Improving decision outcomes and reducing risks

Evidence-based practice in medicine, management and other fields entails the use of best-available scientific evidence to support decision-making, both to improve decision outcomes and to reduce risks. Taking an evidence-based approach to work design not only provides these same benefits, it is also highly profitable for organizations because of the systemic leverage work-design decisions have on so many organization members and their performance outcomes.

A core requirement for evidence-based practice is a trustworthy source to evaluate, translate and synthesize the continuous flow of transdisciplinary scientific evidence into reliable practice guidelines that are sufficiently robust they can be applied contingently based on unique circumstance. For evidence-based work design, the nonprofit Humaneering Institute is this source, and the Institute develops and maintains humaneering technology for this purpose.

Humaneering technology's open-beta release provides evidence-based work-design decision support for operations managers and practitioners. Humaneering complements engineering by focusing on the biopsychosocial nature of people and corresponding biopsychosocial dimensions of work. And beyond its roots in the disciplines of biology, sociology and psychology, humaneering draws on knowledge from many other relevant practice and theory disciplines such as industrial-organizational psychology, operations management, organization development, behavioral economics, and complex adaptive systems, to name just a few.

Research findings, knowledge, and insights created within these scientific disciplines have been systematically evaluated, translated, and synthesized for application to the work-design and management challenges confronted by operations managers. Additionally, a continuous flow of promising new research findings and theories is considered, and the more promising developments are evaluated in experimental field applications.

As a result, humaneering provides increasingly accurate, specific, and dependable evidence-based guidance for work-design decisions. It presents work-design decision makers with the opportunity to go beyond the inherent limits of their current intuition, education and experience to increase work performance and productivity, resolve persistent people problems, and make managing easier.

New potential for management effectiveness

Field application trials of humaneering technology have rather dramatically revealed that many of the performance limits and workforce challenges faced by managers today are the result of dysfunctional work designs. When current approaches to work and management are (re)designed in alignment with humaneering's guidelines, performance and productivity increase quickly and substantially, people problems are reduced or resolved, and management's time is freed-up to focus on other issues. Sometimes just the simple substitution of an approach that does not consider human nature with an approach that does will result in valuable gains.

Humaneering pioneers and early adopters have spawned discussions and experiments that further point to a potential for managing by work-design. Briefly stated, their experience is that a fully functional or optimized work design (i.e., engineered and humaneered) does not require much if any day-to-day managing. Rather, what creates the need for some much day-to-day managing is the dysfunction that has been (unintentionally) designed into work.

NEXT: Knowledge Work

Want to improve your operations and financial results?

Contact DesignedWORK for a proposal of our proprietary work-design consulting services, or learn more about our new program of humaneering technology-transfer services.