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Evidence-based Management at XO Communications

Posted by Mark Bennett on June 11, 2008

A few weeks ago, David Haimes pointed out an article in CIO about XO Communications that serves multiple purposes for Talent Management. The article’s primary focus was about how XO Communications applied the lessons from Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game in combining information from Social Network Analysis with business metrics to directly improve their IT department performance. Several findings and ways of using the information were reported, including some brought up here previously (which also showed how enterprise social networks could help in gathering and reporting the information.) But the other takeaway for us is that we can and should gather evidence, even on intangibles, and apply it in Talent Management. Articles like this are very helpful in showing *how* to do that.


Why is this important for Talent? Making better business decisions results in increased business success, and without real metrics and evidence, we are left with the increased risk of making the wrong decision (including making no decision) in areas around hard to measure things like whether employees are more productive if they are more connected. Once we go beyond measuring activities (e.g. number of reviews completed, number of candidates interviewed) we quickly arrive at intangibles (e.g. competencies, performance rating, engagement, contribution). With hard to measure tangibles and intangibles, we often end up left with basing our decisions on:

  • Anecdote – “I heard of some more connected people being more productive.”
  • Gut Feel/Intuition – “It just seems to me more connected people will be more productive.”
  • Conventional Wisdom – “Everybody knows that more connected people are more productive.”

There’s nothing wrong about factoring those things in, but we should always be testing them against the evidence. In fact, the evidence itself can spark our intuition when it calls our current thinking and assumptions into question.


The article also serves as an example application of the principles of Evidence-Based Management (EBM). You can learn more about EBM at the Evidence Soup and Evidence-Based Management blogs and from the book, Hard Facts, Dangerous Half-Truths And Total Nonsense: Profiting From Evidence-Based Management. They provide a great explanation and background of how to use EBM to improve business success and this article provides an excellent example of the thinking that goes into using EBM. Talent Management will benefit greatly from this kind of thinking.


5 Responses to “Evidence-based Management at XO Communications”

  1. Mark,

    You make a good point, anything that tests conventional wisdom has some value, if only to confirm it. I was a little dismissive of that in my blog.

  2. Meg Bear said

    I have always been a big fan of using metrics to validate my assumptions vs. do my thinking for me. I think it is smart to be skeptical of both your own assumptions as well as captured statistics. Both are data points and both are subject to error. To me that is the true point of an evidence based approach.

  3. Mark, I like what you said. Evidence-based management won’t be worthwhile unless people go looking for non-traditional forms of evidence to supplement (or contradict) what they think they already know as ‘truth’.

  4. To tracy’s point, the easy metrics to capture are not likely the useful ones so we have to go after the more difficult metrics that we haven’t captured traditionally.

  5. […] Pitt. It’s based on the 2003 book by Michael Lewis and I’ve referred to it several times in previous posts. My colleague Ravi even posted a cricket […]

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