The CIPD aims to support HR professionals to continually improve the quality of work and working lives for the benefit of individuals, organisations, economies and society. For this to happen, we encourage organisations to focus less on a static body of knowledge based on received wisdom (often labelled as ‘best practice’) and more on deciding what is the best thing to do, in their unique circumstances, in order to help create sustainable and successful relationships between people and the business. In encouraging this change of approach we aim to make a case for a greater focus on evidence-based practice.
Evidence-based practice involves basing decisions on scientific evidence as well as organisational data, stakeholder views and professional expertise. We all use evidence to inform decisions, but there are several fundamental things we need to do (and unfortunately they are easy to get wrong).
Firstly, we need to exercise critical thinking and ask robust questions that can be clearly tested against the best available evidence. The first step in evidence-based HR is to develop the right orientation. This means being willing to face uncomfortable truths: being both anti-fad and ready to challenge received wisdom.
Secondly, we need to gauge the quality of evidence we’re looking at. When looking at cause-and-effect relationships (will I achieve y by doing x?) there is a well-established hierarchy of evidence for scientific studies. The ‘gold standard’ is randomised controlled trials, which carry a good deal more weight than, say, simple before-and-after studies, and far more than cross-sectional surveys (run at one point in time). If we can take note of this and other strengths or weaknesses of evidence, and then give more weight to that which is better quality, we are well on the way to making more reliable, better decisions.
Thirdly and related, we tend to cherry pick evidence that supports our pet theory. It is very satisfying to find a piece of research that confirms what you long suspected. But because of the wealth of research available, the chances are you’ll be able to find a study – even a good quality one – that backs your opinion whatever it is. To find out if a management technique is really worth using, we should look at the wider body of evidence. The exemplar of this is the ‘platinum standard’ of systematic reviews and meta-analyses, which sit above the hierarchy of single studies.