Many of us naturally gravitate to people management practices that appear cutting-edge, but there is a danger that we are following passing fads. Others tend to stick to established traditions without ever questioning their relevance. In both cases, important decisions suffer from not being grounded in a firm evidence base.

This positioning paper sets out reasons why evidence-based practice is so important, before looking at the principles that underpin it, how it can be followed and how challenges in doing so can be overcome. We explore the hierarchy of evidence that distinguishes the varying quality of research findings on cause-and-effect relationships. We also consider the benefit of assessing the overall weight of evidence, rather than cherry picking research findings to support a particular view.

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To illustrate our arguments we draw on our research report, Could do better? Assessing what works in performance management, based on a short systematic review of the scientific evidence.