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Evidence-Based HR 101: What Is It and What Do You Need to Know?

What is evidence-based HR?

All too often, professionals today make important business decisions mostly by “winging it”. Their decisions are fueled less by facts and more by factors like time (a fast decision is more important than a considered one), by gut instinct (it feels right), by hearsay (after hearing a decision worked another time elsewhere), or by hope (optimism that a given decision will work out). “Nine times out of 10, [an HR management decision] was down to personal experience or one survey they’d read,” says Eric Barends, founder of the Center for Evidence-Based Management.

In fact, it’s not uncommon for organizations to implement major HR workforce changes – such as new recruitment methodologies, or new workplace policies – without having any real idea how likely they are to be successful.

That’s where “evidence-based HR” (EBHR) comes in: it’s the idea that HR should make decisions based on proven evidence, hard data, and experimental studies in order to eliminate subjectivity, uncertainty, and risk. EBHR originated as an analog to evidence-based medicine, which was a move away from subjective assessment by medical practitioners toward a more standardized approach based on the most current and relevant medical studies and research.

What are some examples of EBHR?

Should your organization stick with annual performance reviews or transition into regular, ongoing feedback sessions? Under an evidence-based methodology, you would research to see what kind of outcomes have been generated or observed in practice. The key is to use reliable sources. This might be reputable publications and industry groups like the Society for Human Resource Management or the Harvard Business Review; analysts and advisory services whose reputations rest on the quality of their expertise, like Deloitte; or you might turn directly to academic publications like The International Journal of Management. You can also conduct pilot tests within your organization, tracking before-and-after performance metrics. The critical thing is the credibility of the evidence.

Why don’t more organizations practice evidence-based HR?

More than half of the respondents to a KPMG survey express skepticism “about the potential of evidence-based HR to make a real difference to the HR function.” That’s partially because there are significant barriers to success in creating and implementing an EBHR culture. “Most companies have all the data that they need, they just don’t know how to use it,” says Jenny Dearborn, co-author of The Data Driven Leader.

CoAdvantage, one of the nation’s largest Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs), helps small to mid-sized companies with HR administration, benefits, payroll, and compliance. To learn more about our ability to create a strategic HR function in your business that drives business growth potential, contact us today.