What Is Evidence-Based Decision Making?

Definition & Examples of Evidence-Based Decision Making

Two employees consult a tablet while seated at a table
•••

 shapecharge / Getty Images

Evidence-based decision making is a process for making the best decisions possible using the evidence available. It avoids decision making that is based on gut feeling, intuition, or instinct and instead relies on data and facts. When you need to make a decision in any setting—but especially in a business one—it's essential to do so based on facts and not feelings if you want the best possible outcomes.

Learn more about this method of decision making and how it is used in human resources.

What Is Evidence-Based Decision Making?

Evidence-based decision making (EBDM) is a model you can use to ensure you're considering the relevant facts.

When you use EBDM, you take data from four types of sources that have been identified by The Center for Evidence-Based Decision Making:

  • Empirical studies from academic journals
  • Internal company data
  • Professional expertise from practitioners
  • Values and concerns of stakeholders 

These varied types of evidence—academic, internal, and experiential—must be evaluated for quality if they are to be used as the basis for making decisions. In other words, the evidence considered should be the best available.

  • Alternate name: Evidence-based management 

How Evidence-Based Decision Making Works

During an evidence-based decision-making process, there are three stages of action:

  • Gathering evidence
  • Intrerpreting evidence
  • Applying what you have learned

A study by Carol Gill at the Melbourne School of Business found that HR practitioners fail to follow the EBDM model even though that leads to "negative consequences for employees, organizations, and HRM practitioners." Implementing evidence-based decision making in a human resource department can help it to overcome the knowledge-research gap and make decisions that drive the company forward.

For example, an HR manager who resists putting an employee recognition system in place because they don't want their workers to become "complacent" is missing out on a chance to use evidence-based decision making.

With the EBDM approach, the manager would seek out the experience of other HR managers who have used employee recognition to see the effect it had on employees. The manager could look for data from academic studies about the efficacy of employee recognition systems. And they could inquire with actual employees what their projected reception would be to instituting such a policy.

If, after doing such due diligence on this decision, the overwhelming evidence was not in favor, the manager could feel justified in resisting the new approach. But if the evidence pointed to the likelihood of increased employee engagement and morale with a recognition system, the HR manager owes it to the business to go forward.

The four sources of information that provide data for an evidence-based approach are each unique but important factors for decision-making.

Empirical Studies

The first quality source of evidence for decision making is empirical or academic studies. Whether this information is discovered through reading academic journals directly, reading analyses in other publications, or attending conferences, it's essential to know and understand the research behind human resources practices.

In addition to studies, HR practitioners need to understand employment law. While this isn't specifically a tenet of EBDM, it's essential to make decisions within the framework of current legislation and case law.

Internal Company Data

Another important source of information is internal data from your company. Fifty-five percent of companies use either an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) or a Human Resources Information System (HRIS), so likely there is data from your own organization to be used.

HR practitioners can look at factors and key performance indicators such as turnover, time to hire, cost to hire, salary ratios, salary by gender, salary by race, and so on when making decisions.

HR practitioners who are comfortable using and analyzing data can bring their department in line with other business functions that are improving their efficiency with data. Using data can help them differentiate competitively as well.

Professional Expertise from Practitioners

In addition to internal data and academic research, human resources practitioners should keep up with what others in the field are saying. Conferences by groups such as the Society for Human Resource Management, Work Human, and Unleash regularly draw thousands of HR practitioners who share their experiences. You can also find discussions online that center around trends and topics in human resources. These discussions are a great way to find new ideas and different perspectives to inform your decision-making.

Consulting HR experts can be important for developing both soft and hard skills. For example, finding a person who can guide you on how to navigate awkward conversations can help you decrease turnover and increase employee satisfaction.

HR practitioners can also obtain certifications from the HR Certification Institute or the Society for Human Resources Management to maintain their skills.

Stakeholders

When HR managers make decisions, they directly affect employees. Employee satisfaction surveys and exit interviews can give you an idea of what your employees think. Human resources tools can also take instant reads on what people think, which can boost engagement and productivity.

Getting a read on what key stakeholders think about proposed actions is part of evaluating all the best data available in order to make a good decision.

Key Takeaways

  • Evidence-based decision making is a method that emphasizes using data and experiential evidence to make decisions.
  • Setting out to obtain information deliberately and making your decisions using data can lead to better outcomes.
  • Evidence-based decision making is not always the standard in human resources departments, but HR has a responsibility to use the best evidence available in the drive to meet business goals.

Article Sources

  1. Center for Evidence-Based Decision Making. "What is Evidence-Based Management." Accessed Oct. 8, 2020.

  2. CDC.gov. "Introduction to Evidence-Based Decision Making." Accessed Oct. 8, 2020.

  3. Human Resource Management Review. "Don't know, don't care: An exploration of evidence-based knowledge and practice in human resource management." Accessed Oct. 8, 2020. 

  4. Criteria. "2019 Pre-Employment Testing Benchmark Report." Accessed Oct. 8, 2020. 

  5. Wharton. "How Big Data Can Make a Big Difference in HR." Accessed Oct. 8, 2020. 

  6. SHRM. "Instant Feedback Tools Can Boost Engagement, Productivity." Accessed Oct. 8, 2020.