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Evidence-based practice in HR: Why and how you should do it

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Imagine going to see your doctor because you are ill and she tells you she is going to diagnose and treat you by only looking at your blood tests, MRI and CAT scans, and that she was going to completely ignore evidence from medical science, her professional expertise as a doctor, and what you as the stakeholder believe and feel?

That how Prof Rob Briner drove the point across – on why evidence-based practices are not a solution in itself for HR, but rather one of the tools that must be used in a whole toolbox for making better decisions.

Presently professor of organisational psychology at Queen Mary, University of London, Rob Briner was the keynote speaker at Talent Management Asia 2018, Singapore edition held on 27-28 March 2018.

In addition to the doctor’s anecdote, Briner cited further misconceptions of evidence-based management (EBM):

  • Practitioners can’t use their own experience and expertise in EBM- myth
  • Evidence tells you the truth and can prove things – nope, not by itself
  • It’s about making perfectly-informed decisions using all the necessary information – nope, only better-informed decisions
  • Gathering the evidence will give you “the answer” – nope, what you’ll get is a better-informed answer.

In fact, Briner affirms that fads and fashions get in the way of evidence-based practice. “If it sounds cool, it’s probably a fad,” he says.

How to spot a likely management fad, in Briner’s words:

  • Buzzy and exciting
  • Massive claims with no good quality supporting evidence
  • Involve management gurus and academic superstars
  • It’s all good! No downsides considered
  • Presented as universal panacea – work everywhere for everything for everyone
  • Use of unverifiable anecdotes and success stories (usually from big well-known companies whose success is attributed to fad with no good evidence)
  • Involve new words which don’t actually describe anything new – e.g., metrics (=measures), analytics (=analysis), big data (=data), talent (=people), human capital (=people)

In response, he says HR practitioners must encourage solutioneering – i.e. identifying a ‘problem’ by the absence of the ‘solution’ (for example, the problem is our managers have low emotional intelligence, our engagement scores are too low).

Diving further into EBM, Briner says evidence-based practice is about using the best available evidence from multiple sources to identify problems and solutions. “HR as a profession is not very evidence-based yet – and not unusual for that,” he says, pointing out the barriers to evidence-based practice (EBP) such as cognitive biases, fads, fashions and (some) consultancies, etc.

What could you start doing differently today when it comes to evidence-based management?

  • Apply the EBM process to decisions you are making right now
  • Consider decisions you have coming up in a few months’ time: How can you start planning now to apply the EBM process?
  • Conduct an evidence-based audit of your key HR practices (e.g., talent management, performance management, engagement)
  • Think about the quality and quantity of evidence you have now and how it can be improved (experiential, scientific, organisational, stakeholder)
  • What extra knowledge, skills and abilities do you and your team/organisation need to become more evidence-based?
  • What are the main personal and organisational barriers you identified and how could they be tackled?

This knowledge was shared at the Human Resources’ conference, Talent Management 2018, Singapore. To know more and attend more such events, please visit: http://www.humanresourcesonline.net/events/.

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