Transformation Solutions Blog

Are you Ready for Evidence-Based HR?

July 17th, 2011

Whether we like to admit it or not, HR management, like management more generally, is full of fad and fashion. The pressures on human resources to adopt some of these apparently “new”, “cutting edge” and “best practice” techniques can be overwhelming. While these fixes sound logical, they often are adopted as an act of faith and tend to focus on style and presentation rather than content or process. So they are unlikely to actually fix the problem and are often followed by the next fad to come along.

In today’s knowledge economy, HR professionals are increasingly being asked to demonstrate how human capital strategies impact business results. In the 1980’s Jack Fitz-enz introduced measurement to the HR function. However, since that time most of the focus has been primarily on measuring the efficiency of the HR function rather than addressing the more meaningful issues of how human capital creates value and how HR interventions serve as a mechanism for improving business outcomes. According to research by the Conference Board, only 75% of companies measure anything in their HR departments, while fewer than 25% indicate they have anyone on their HR staff who can define, measure, and track HR metrics that are aligned to business strategies.

So what evidence do you have that your selection, development, competency frameworks, and engagement surveys are having any impact at all? Keeping the CEO happy might look like you have produced convincing evidence, but it isn’t.

Evidence-Based HR is about changing the way HR practitioners think, the way they look at information, solve problems, and evaluate solutions. Evidence-based HR is focused on providing factual evidence as a foundation for decision-making. Evidence means collecting data and facts that apply directly to your own organization, in its own context, now. Practicing evidence-based HR will provide the opportunity to become strategic partners in the business and help the profession move beyond chasing fads to getting to the real work of helping their organization improve business results through more effective management of people.

Evidence-based HR while very much in its infancy is the natural outcome of the ongoing evolution of the practice of HR management. For most HR professionals, the evidence-based approach represents a fundamental shift in their business roles. While it does provide the opportunity to become strategic partners in the business, at this point the approach is not widespread, so there is very little in terms of a “paved road” to identify a universal set of concepts, standards, practices or principles that are necessary for creating a genuine “decision science” for human resources.

But that shouldn’t stop us from pressing forward. Rather than wait to be challenged, learn to start strategic conversations with the right data. Start small and keep it simple. Begin with a small area to build experience and capability.

Evidence-based HR management requires challenging conventional wisdom and even personal preferences about particular management interventions. Be prepared to uncover weaknesses in long-held assumptions about human resources management.