#EBHR: Evidence – To Respectfully Challenge


My foray into evidence-based management/HR has made me realise that a stumbling block to making decisions based on evidence, is the quality and volume of evidence readily available.

Good work is being done around this and there’s recognition that instead of studies based on academic’s area’s of interest or desire, the focus needs to change to be in line with what the business and the HR community needs, which are not necessarily the same. But important to stress this isn’t an ‘academia-only’ matter.

Despite this, many studies and sources of information are already available and are sufficient for this world to grow organically over time.

But with some areas of HR practice not having scientific research-based evidence available at this stage to underpin decision-making, there will be much dependence on the three other sources (organisational evidence, experiential evidence and stakeholder evidence).

With this in mind, i’ve determined that there are 2 scenarios that I personally could support on my quest to becoming an evidence-based HR practitioner.

The first is where substantial evidence is available. I could use this evidence, appropriately weighted based on its accuracy and validity, to help underpin my decision-making. This is the ideal world for me. An obvious place to start.

The second scenario is where substantial evidence is not available. In this instance I could make measured decisions based on the information that is available, ensuring I learn from the process, help it to refine my own experience-based opinions, ensure I identify appropriate measurements for success and where possible partner with others to help form scientific evidence for the wider HR community in the future.

I’m ok with these two scenarios. I get that sometimes, what we often call a ‘stab in the dark’ is actually based on instinct, which I would guess is probably based on more than that, probably experiential evidence. So being more analytical about this, will help me too.

However there’s a third scenario which concerns me.

This scenario is where evidence exists to refute the validity or effectiveness of a particular process or task, but practitioners continue to use these tools/processes regardless. Where practitioners are provided with evidence which prove their processes are unlikely to work, but use those processes anyway.

I think this is something that needs wider debate. I have already heard cynical comments (such as the ‘evidence-brigade’ when describing proponents of EBP) when masking or downplaying the legitimate concerns being raised when challenging this third type of scenario.

To be better, we must challenge one another’s thinking when this occurs. We must respectfully challenge these views and encourage replacement processes/practices that have foundations based on good evidence, where its available.

  • When mechanics diagnose cars and identify a recurring fault due to a poorly designed part, they would stop using that part.
  • If a chef realises it’s meal doesn’t taste nice because they are using an inappropriate ingredient, they would replace or remove that ingredient.
  • If an architect identifies that the structural integrity of a building is at risk because of a design flaw, they would alter that design.

So why would we accept processes in HR that are no longer fit for purpose, according to available evidence?

We shouldn’t.