Whose #Evidence Is It Anyway?


One of the comments I hear from HR practitioners when explaining why they are hesitant to fully embrace Evidence-Based HR is the perception they hold towards scientific/academic research that its complicated, timely, inaccessible and academically written.

It’s hard to disagree with lots of this. Some of it is, some of it isn’t.

I myself am not especially enamoured by reviewing scientific research in its ‘raw’ state, but find the summaries presented by ScienceForWork for example, to be excellent. That doesn’t mean I need it dumbed down, or summarised or that i’m lazy, but I need it to be sufficiently altered to appeal to my practice without losing the key facts and information that will ultimately influence my work. I need it suitably condensed so I don’t spend a disproportionate amount of my time at work, reviewing the content to get to the insights I need.

But it’s important to remember and acknowledge that the research isn’t/wasn’t written for me or with me in mind. Rightly or wrongly, it’s usually an academic document to serve an academic purpose.

The research often feel’s like it ‘belongs to science’.

Whilst scientific research forms only one quarter of the four sources of evidence that are included within CEBMA’s definition of evidence-based management, it is a core component, often more accurate in reliability than personal experience, but not always entirely accurate and trustworthy it must be said. It’s weight and how the information is critically assessed, are undoubtedly intrinsic to being an evidence-based HR practitioner.


For evidence obtained from scientific research to form a core part of practice within HR, we must share it’s ownership where possible and almost certainly influence the areas of research being conducted. But how can we do this?

Forge stronger links between academia and practice

Firstly, we must create stronger links between HR practice and academia. In my 15+ years of working in HR, I’ve been contacted on maybe 3 occasions by academic institutions who are looking to work with me, my team or my business to use us as a case study for academic research. There are two things I have learned from this interaction summary; 1) that 3 times in 15 years is nowhere near enough requests, and 2) that I need to start saying yes and not use ‘no’ as my default position. Why was I saying no by the way? Too busy, which was BS. It was that I didn’t understand the value before, but I definitely do now.

It is only through working alongside academia, can we start to find mutually beneficial ways of influencing research that could have a significant effect on HR practice. This takes an appetite on both sides, as well as a meaningful strategy to make it happen.

Proactively pursue the evidence

Are the HR or management problems we face in the workplace right now, any different to the problems we’ve had in the last 20 years or any different to the problems we’ll face in the next 20 years? Obviously the answer to that question is both yes and no. Some problems might have gone away, some are waiting to be solved, and some problems will arise that we simply can’t predict yet. But if we invest the time to solving organisational problems that have been in place for some time and are likely to be in place for the near future, then that’s as good a place to start as any and if we start asking (or commissioning even) for these areas to be researched now, it could help close the loop on some of these issues once and for all.

We could make this about supply and demand. If we shouted about the organisational problems we want academia to help research and support us with, surely that can only best serve both the workplace and academic communities. And if the academic communities take us up on our quest, we have to reciprocate and give them the freedom, support and resources to get what they need from our businesses. And this isn’t new – this is happening already, it’s about enhancing it further, and adding more emphasis to it.

HR must also give academia sufficient time and notice to study our real-world problems too. Research takes time to conduct properly, and the problems we complain about/the issues that we regularly face in the workplace we have known about for a long time, or predicted their effect, well in advance. We can afford to give time for the research to be carried out, and we can give advance warning of the problems that need to be solved, in most (but not all) cases. Beware of the falsehood of urgency, or words to that affect (I forget the source of this comment, my apologies).

In the science, technology, engineering and mathematics sectors, collaboration is widespread. Universities and employers work hand in hand as they both recognise the mutual benefit of obtaining the insights and evidence. More could be done to make this the norm in the HR world too.

Work out loud more

To encourage other practitioners, businesses, workplaces, academic institutions, scientists and so on to collaborate more, we must more strongly promote the case studies of where collaboration is already happening, and what benefits have been gained from it. Let’s also not forget, the lessons that may have been learned during the collaboration so new partnerships that occur can potentially avoid repeating any pitfalls.

When we see what others are doing, and the results that they are yielding, we are often most encouraged to want to do the same. So promoting existing collaborations and working out loud on an ongoing basis, could potentially result in a snowball effect that s beneficial to both the wider academic and business communities.

These are just three ways that could improve the focus of scientific research that would benefit the business community. But desire is key. A desire to collaborate, to share, to empower and to promote, will determine its future success, and maybe even the success of evidence-based HR.