What Is Evidence-Based Decision Making and Why Does HR Need It?

You Will Learn the 4 Components of Evidence-Based Decision Making

Businesswoman at desk holding pen
••• Cultura RM / Matelly / Getty Images

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. Evidence-Based Decision Making (EBDM) is a model you can use to ensure you're considering the relevant facts.

What Is Evidence-Based Decision Making?

When you make a decision, you take a lot of information into consideration—but EBDM helps you separate the facts from emotions and the data from the anecdotes. EBDM tells you to take data from four 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
  • The values and concerns of stakeholders (those affected by the decision) 

You can apply these four sources of information to any decision-making process, from business to science to art.

How to Apply EBDM in HR

In Human Resources, you should make decisions taking these four areas into consideration, rather than deciding based on your gut instinct or whatever methods you've used in the past. However, a recent study by Carol Gill at the Melbourne School of Business found that HR practitioners and HR academics fail to follow the EBDM model even though that leads to "negative consequences for employees, organizations, and HRM practitioners."

Empirical Studies

Gill points out that many HR managers are not knowledgeable about academic studies. She notes that these studies are rarely "translated" into everyday language. Some sources take academic studies and write them for general practitioner knowledge. The Harvard Business Review, for example, is well-known and a good source for easy-to-understand academic business studies.

So, the first step in EBDM for HR practitioners is to learn what the academics say. Whether this is accomplished through reading academic journals directly, reading analyses in other publications, or attending conferences, it's essential to know and understand the research.

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

Fifty-five percent of companies use either an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) or a Human Resources Information System (HRIS), so people data is available. The bigger companies use these systems out of necessity—you can't keep track of 50,000 employees in a spreadsheet.

When HR practitioners make decisions, they can look at factors such as turnover, time to hire, cost to hire, salary ratios, salary by gender, salary by race, etc. The data often exists, but you have to choose to use it.

Jenny Dearborn, co-author of The Data Driven Leader, says that understanding data and analytics is a crucial requirement for a successful HR leader. The number one thing, she says, that keeps HR people from moving into leadership roles is their inability to use data.

You need to understand the numbers to make a good, evidenced-based decision, and that means knowing the business as well as the math and statistics.

Professional Expertise from Practitioners

HR people might not necessarily read academic literature, but they do need to understand what other HR practitioners have to say. Conferences such as the Society for Human Resource Management, Work Human, and Unleash, regularly draw thousands of HR practitioners who share their experiences—even if it doesn't come with academic research. Additionally, you can find lists of HR influencers who drive Human Resources-based discussions all over the internet. For example, one list of “Top HR Experts to Watch for in 2020,” includes bloggers, speakers, and industry leaders.

When making decisions, HR managers can look at what the experts say. This can be important for developing both soft and hard skills. A person who can guide you on how to navigate an awkward conversation can decrease your turnover and increase employee satisfaction.

It's essential to listen to what others in your field say and keep up to date on these skills. HR practitioners can obtain certifications from the HR Certification Institute or the Society for Human Resources Management.

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, and HR Tech has come up with ways to take instant reads on what people think, which can even boost engagement and productivity.

However, do not let this component of EBDM overshadow its other aspects. It's important to know what stakeholders think, but if they are uninformed, this information is not as valuable as the other sources.

The Bottom Line

Setting out to obtain information deliberately and purposefully making your decisions can lead to better outcomes. Try to avoid taking the same path as the HR practitioners in Gill's study who ignored these principles and produced poor results because of it.

Article Sources

  1. Center for Evidence-Based Decision Making. "What is Evidence-Based Management." Accessed March 17, 2020. https://www.cebma.org/faq/evidence-based-management/

  2. Human Resource Management Review. "Don't know, don't care: An exploration of evidence-based knowledge and practice in human resource management." Accessed March 17, 2020. 

  3. Criteria. "2019 Pre-Employment Testing Benchmark Report." Accessed March 9, 2020. 

  4. Knowledge@Wharton. "How Big Data Can Make a Big Difference in HR." Accessed March 9, 2020. 

  5. People Managing People. "Top HR Experts to Watch for in 2020." Accessed March 9, 2020. 

  6. SHRM. "Instant Feedback Tools Can Boost Engagement, Productivity." Accessed March 9, 2020.