#EBHR: Evidence – To Respectfully Challenge


My foray into evidence-based management/HR has made me realise that a stumbling block to making decisions based on evidence, is the quality and volume of evidence readily available.

Good work is being done around this and there’s recognition that instead of studies based on academic’s area’s of interest or desire, the focus needs to change to be in line with what the business and the HR community needs, which are not necessarily the same. But important to stress this isn’t an ‘academia-only’ matter.

Despite this, many studies and sources of information are already available and are sufficient for this world to grow organically over time.

But with some areas of HR practice not having scientific research-based evidence available at this stage to underpin decision-making, there will be much dependence on the three other sources (organisational evidence, experiential evidence and stakeholder evidence).

With this in mind, i’ve determined that there are 2 scenarios that I personally could support on my quest to becoming an evidence-based HR practitioner.

The first is where substantial evidence is available. I could use this evidence, appropriately weighted based on its accuracy and validity, to help underpin my decision-making. This is the ideal world for me. An obvious place to start.

The second scenario is where substantial evidence is not available. In this instance I could make measured decisions based on the information that is available, ensuring I learn from the process, help it to refine my own experience-based opinions, ensure I identify appropriate measurements for success and where possible partner with others to help form scientific evidence for the wider HR community in the future.

I’m ok with these two scenarios. I get that sometimes, what we often call a ‘stab in the dark’ is actually based on instinct, which I would guess is probably based on more than that, probably experiential evidence. So being more analytical about this, will help me too.

However there’s a third scenario which concerns me.

This scenario is where evidence exists to refute the validity or effectiveness of a particular process or task, but practitioners continue to use these tools/processes regardless. Where practitioners are provided with evidence which prove their processes are unlikely to work, but use those processes anyway.

I think this is something that needs wider debate. I have already heard cynical comments (such as the ‘evidence-brigade’ when describing proponents of EBP) when masking or downplaying the legitimate concerns being raised when challenging this third type of scenario.

To be better, we must challenge one another’s thinking when this occurs. We must respectfully challenge these views and encourage replacement processes/practices that have foundations based on good evidence, where its available.

  • When mechanics diagnose cars and identify a recurring fault due to a poorly designed part, they would stop using that part.
  • If a chef realises it’s meal doesn’t taste nice because they are using an inappropriate ingredient, they would replace or remove that ingredient.
  • If an architect identifies that the structural integrity of a building is at risk because of a design flaw, they would alter that design.

So why would we accept processes in HR that are no longer fit for purpose, according to available evidence?

We shouldn’t.

Hendy’s HR Mixtape

It’s 2017, you are a HR professional at whatever stage in your HR career. Lots of awesome work is being produced, shared, analysed and developed. Collaboration amongst other things is high up on the agenda, and an overarching theme of discernment through the active promotion of evidence-based practice is helping create sustainable work.

Technology has developed immeasurably and affordable systems means the optimal use of data is in site. However, despite advancements in modern technology you are sat in your 1997 Ford Fiesta, parked up at a beach, looking at the sea, taking some personal CPD time and you open a package from me. 

Inside the package is a cassette. You remember cassettes, small plastic things that you can rewind with a pencil and have a glorious, comforting hissing noise that digital recording has discarded, taking the viewpoint that removing imperfection is progress (that’s not always the case by the way).

Luckily your 1997 Ford Fiesta has a tape deck. You push the eject button and out comes something probably akin to Oasis ‘Be Here Now’, Stereophonics ‘Word Gets Around’ or maybe even ‘Steam’ by East 17. Written on the cassette is ‘Hendy’s HR Mixtape’. Also out of the package is a small note;-

Here are the songs, along with my advice;-

1) The Beatles – We Can Work It Out

Working in HR can be tough. When conflicting agendas result in you having to make a decision that cannot satisfy both employer or employee, it can be difficult. When you are potentially in a difficult employee relations consultation issue with your Trade Union partners, or you are agonising over a really difficult decision, it’s easy to see light fade, and take the pressure on your shoulders. But remember this. ‘We’ can work it out. Your colleagues, your line manager, operational managers, union partners, fundamentally want to reach amicable conclusions. Nothing is ever, really insurmountable. 

2) Oasis – Don’t Look Back In Anger

The key to being a good HR professional is not taking things personally, dusting oneself off, and constantly moving forward. A failed reorganisation, a dodgy disciplinary decision, a grievance raised against you simply for doing your job. Try not to worry about these. Don’t get angry about them. Absolutely learn from them, but focus on turning that energy into self-improvement and move on. You’ll be better for it. Plus anger just sucks energy that would be better used elsewhere.

3) Black Rebel Motorcycle club – Ain’t No Easy Way

Okay so there probably is always an easy way of doing things, but by taking the shiny ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach without spending time looking for the best solutions, you are probably creating rework by implementing unsustainable pieces of work. Don’t always take the easy way. Spend time, effort and energy into implementing good practice into your work, not necessarily ‘best’ practice. Sometimes the real successes come from the work that you’ve slogged your guts out to achieve, which makes that success even sweeter.

4) Simon & Garfunkel – Bridge Over Troubled Water

You can build this bridge. You can support managers and employees to help get through some real issues. You are the skilled person that others are counting on to help get through troubled periods. You are valued for doing this. Just think about that skill you have. You make a difference.

5) The Beatles – Money (That’s What I Want)

A real basic rule and will always be a critical piece of advice. Are you ready? I’ll quote it verbatim from how my first HR Manager said it to me. It’s really complicated (not really). Here goes…. “Don’t piss about with people’s money”. It’s their livelihood. Its Maslow. It’s common sense. Always be cautious when making a decision that affects remuneration.

6) The Who – The Seeker

Constantly seek out new practice, new ideas, new concepts but always look for supporting evidence. Keep on top of emerging HR thinking and spend time understanding how it can affect you, your business, your employees, your clients. HR is changing at a rapid pace. Don’t get left behind.

And lastly;-

7) Bloc Party – So Here We Are

Stop and reflect. Look at where you’ve come from, evaluate where you want to get to, don’t take your successes for granted and don’t forget to learn. Always learn. It’s fine to pause life and take stock. So much goes on that we can easily get sucked in and get dragged along. You are no use to anyone if you lose your path. Stand still for a moment.

The tape comes to an end.

What would be on your HR mixtape?

The HR Dilemma

HR has always wrestled with an identity dilemma. 

Time has been spent focusing on who we are, what we do and, rather tediously, where we sit within the overall structure of the business environment.

We are, arguably, the only function, or profession if you’d rather, that continually does this by the way. Sure there will always be some sub-departments in other areas of business arguing about where they feel they should report and how they should be perceived, but on a grand scale, worldwide, I don’t see many other functions debating the subject as much as us. 

And we in-fight too. Should learning and development be part of HR (yawn) and is payroll a finance function (so what) and ‘i’m not HR, i’m OD’ and what about health and safety and….. 

They don’t feel like the right questions to me.

I get the irony, after all i’m blogging about the subject and fuelling the debate now too.

We’ve wrestled with this issue because we’ve evolved and maybe more than many of our counterparts. We have grown and we have matured. We have modified our focus, refined our purpose, relinquished ill-fitting counter-productive tasks that should not have been ‘owned’ by us in the first place and yet are entirely aware that our work is far from done and that further work is necessary. 

However, I fear business is growing tired of this discussion. As the old saying goes “actions speak louder than words”.

We must forget this tired debate and move to demonstrating our strategic contribution by making a strategic contribution where we aren’t already. 

We are, undoubtedly, an intrinsic organisational function and we have a significant value that we can add to business, but we aren’t entitled to expect business leaders to perceive us as this way without demonstrating our worth. 

If we are to be architects of organisational development, the experts of people at work and the champions of better work and working lives, then we need to just do it, and then do it more, and then do it better. 

And share our ideas about how we are doing it.

And support each other to do it.

And promote within our businesses what we are doing.

It is only then that the perception of HR as a function will start to change, or continue to change where the process has already started (which it has done, in many businesses, all over the world).

HR for me, has always been about supporting and contributing, and that means different things to different HR practitioners in different organisations. One size doesn’t fit all, and in the real world, in some businesses and industries, we might never change our perception. 

But it starts with us individually looking in the mirror, evaluating our contribution, and getting good work done. Good, value-add, vital work. 

The recognition should follow.