Newsworthy research: Lifetime of work on evidence-based management recognized for influence

The Academy of Management this summer honored Denise Rousseau, H.J. Heinz University Professor of Organizational Behavior and Public Policy, with its Scholarly Contributions to Management Award, first awarded in 1983 to the late Herb Simon, Nobel laureate and Carnegie Mellon University professor. In addition, she also received the highest honor conferred by the academy’s Career Division, the Everett Cherrington Hughes Award for contribution to career and organizational studies.

A vital part of Rousseau’s research has focused on workers and the psychological contract between employer and employee, a previously neglected subject in management study. “If you can anticipate a positive future, you can overcome doubt, develop trust, have hope,” she said. “The construct of the future is fundamental to well-being. And my worry is that the employers have thrown it away, by making employees more insecure.” Rousseau aligns her research along four tenets: Think bottom-up as well as top-down; take heed of the psychological contract and the worker’s subjective experiences; understand variety and individualism; and follow the facts.

“Appreciate and support individual capabilities,” Rousseau said of her findings. “So much of an organization is shaped by what an individual brings to it.” Her work highlights bottom-up processes that apply workers’ individual differences as a partner to top-down management. “Individual workers negotiate and introduce their own changes in their jobs. These deals accumulate, big and small, and result in different sets of beliefs as to ‘what I’m owed’ and ‘what I owe in return.’” She calls these negotiations “I-deals.”

A key issue is the reasonable expectations people form about what they can expect from their employer and what they need to contribute in return. The vantage point of employees is not the same as their employer’s but still reflects the treatment they’ve received and should be taken into account in a healthy employment relationship.

In her writings, Rousseau refers to evidence-based management: a deliberate process that compels managers to seek out and evaluate evidence of problems in a conscious and conscientious manner. Evidence-based management is being taught across Carnegie Mellon, through its Online Learning Initiative, as well as at universities around the world. “In our effort to be rational, we can become conditionally better,” she said. “And better is good.”