I want to be an Evidence-Based HR Practitioner, but…. observations on EBHR from a HR Pro


If you’ve read my blog before, (and if you haven’t, Welcome!), you will know that i’ve written on the subject of Evidence-Based Management and Evidence-Based HR. It’s a topic i’ve become really interested in and something that I feel is important to the HR profession.

Whilst scrolling through Twitter on the weekend, I read an article written by Professor Denise Rousseau from Carnegie Mellon University on ‘How To Become An Evidence Based HR Practitioner’ from the Human Resource Management Journal, which was retweeted from the ‘ScienceforWork’ twitter account. I posted a comment urging all HR Pro’s to read this and here’s a link. Please do take the time to digest the content. The article is 5 years old, but still hugely relevant.

The reason I am encouraging others to read this is because since becoming aware of Evidence-Based Management earlier in 2016, I recognised the significant positive effect this might have on the effectiveness and credibility of the HR Profession. Indeed I wrote a blog post asking ‘Could Evidence-Based Management Be The Answer To HR Credibility?’ which is the most popular blog post i’ve written to date according to my analytics.

So i’m in. I’m engaged with EBM and EBHR and i’m an open door, wanting to champion this cause within the HR community. I’m trying to do that with this blog post too.

I’m writing this post on the eve of the CIPD’s Annual Conference 2016 #cipdACE16 where i’m booked to attend a workshop with CIPDs David D’Souza and Professor Rob Briner of the Centre for Evidence-Based Management (recently announced as the HR Most Influential Thinker by HR magazine) on this very subject. In my opinion, the fact that this has formed an important part of this conference’s agenda, along with Professor Briner being awarded this title, further demonstrates the importance of Evidence-Based Management to our profession.

The article I refer to above gives good advice on how a HR practitioner can understand what EBHR means, why it should be adopted and how it can be practiced. I previously thought I had a good enough grasp of what an Evidence-Based approach was but reading this article has opened my eyes to so much more.

But as I read the article, I could see barriers which might prevent EBHR from becoming ‘mainstream’ in HR. As such, as an enthusiastic proponent of this area, i’m going to list my 3 main observations so those bringing this into the forefront of HR, can gain an opinion, from an HR practitioner on some of the challenges they might face, and obstacles they might need to overcome. This is just my opinion (as is everything in my blog) and as always, open to challenge.

1. Not enough people in the HR Community know what Evidence-Based HR/Evidence-Based Management Is

I became aware of EBM through Twitter. For me, Twitter is an ideal environment to learn about such topics. My #PLN engage in EBM but my experience in my network outside of Twitter, in my locality at least, have never heard of EBM let alone know how to consciously practice it. So maybe i’m wrong, although I don’t think I am, but more needs to be done to educate the HR community on what this is. This will involve HR media and professional bodies taking an active role in taking this forward. It also involves us, the HR community, promoting EBHR to each other.  On to my second point.

2. HR Practitioners need to understand the value of EBM/EBHR

In Professor Rousseau’s article, she states “Evidence is not answers”. Kind of obvious, but not so when you think about it. Several popular HR practices have stood the test of time, despite their effectiveness being questioned. To prove my point, how many of us still ask for references for new hires? So adopting EBHR would be a fairly significant step change, and one that HR practitioners might not understand the value of. EBHR is asking us to change the way we do some pretty significant tasks.

The value of adopting EBHR is that it demonstrates strong credibility to our practices, and means we are less likely to adopt the fads that some of us have been guilty of implementing in the past. However, being a real evidence-informed practitioner adopting EBHR practices will involve effort, and the HR community might need a stronger sell, to want to put that effort in.

Finally, for now…

3. HR Practitioners need to know how to access the best available evidence

In the article mentioned above, Professor Rousseau explains that EBHR combines four fundamental features which are as follows;-

  1. Use of the best available scientific evidence from peer-reviewed sources.
  2. Systematic gathering of organisational facts, indicators and metrics to better act on the evidence.
  3. Practitioner judgement assisted by procedures, practices and frameworks that reduce bias, improve decision quality and create more valid learning over time.
  4. Ethical considerations weighing the short and long-term impacts of decisions on stakeholders and society.

So stage 1 – where can HR practitioners access the best available scientific evidence? There’s plenty of sources of good ‘HR’ information out there that practitioners use, but is this information based on scientific evidence from peer-reviewed sources. In order to address this, i’d suggest, that content based on scientific-evidence from peer-reviewed sources, will need to be easily accessible and promoted to the HR community. The more difficult it is to access this information, the less likely, in my view, EBHR will have of becoming a widely-used practice. We also need more structured tools to facilitate the process of peer-reviewing scientific evidence and publishing the findings.

If “evidence is not answers” then neither is this blog post, but I do hope its useful. Can’t wait for the #cipdACE16 workshop on this subject matter, to learn lots more.