What is Evidence-Based Human Resource Management? EBHRM is, above all, a habit of thought and action in day to day personnel management, based on three fundamental principles:
- Critital thinking. Our intuition is always ready to provide us with solutions that proved to be optimal in similar situtations or are just plain “obvious.” In business, it’s even more dangerous, as managers tend to base their decisions on what seemed to have worked for others – benchmarking today is not only a multimillion dollar business, it’s also a fully fledged form of religion in many managerial circles. Unfortunately, all to often collective experience is just a simple sum of individual mistakes. Verifying critically all available solutions (both internal and external) with relation to their validity, reliability and utility is a crucial practice for personnel and hiring managers. The fundamental question that needs to be asked in HR (it doesn’t matter whether we talk about choosing recruitment sources, selection methods or IT trainings) should be this: how do I know that my decision is going to bring about the results I expect? If the answer to this questions satisfies the criteria I mentioned, we can move on to two other principles – scientific evidence and experimental practice.
- Scientific evidence. I mentioned before that the scientific method offers a unique, privileged and very practical insight into “how things are.” Applying scientific evidence established by reliable academic bodies and sources (e.g. meta-analyses, systematic reviews – I will publish the full list in one of the upcoming posts) usually translates directly into tangible organizational outcomes. This makes it necessary for people applying EBHRM to be able to use social science vocabulary and keeping their organizational behavior knowledge up to date. Connected to scientific evidence is the realization that even the best intervention will have side effects – applying findings you have to take into consideration the negative aspects of a given phenomenon.
- Experimental practice. The scientific method, apart from being limited internally by research design types, is very often limited with regards to application. Does the fact that conscientiousness is the single best universal predictor of performance among personality traits means that it’s going to work in your organizations? Not necessarily, as its predictive power depends heavily on a series of factors, including the target job position, the test you’re using and the organizational culture you operate in. This is why when applying scientific evidence we have to remember that every organization is indeed an unfinished prototype – as managers we make decisions, including decisions about personnel, but it’s key that we verify whether these decisions translate into individual or organizational performance. A part of this perspective is systems thinking with relation to talent acquisition which should translate directly into continuous improvements of the recruitment and selection processes. What’s important for EBHRM is the ongoing collection of personnel data as well as conducting experimental and correlational studies of our decisions. Interestingly enough, we don’t need advanced analytical methods for that – in many cases the fundamental scientific method and a basic office software will do. Some very good examples of this approach can be found in Laszlo Bock’s “Work Rules!”. Equally important, as indicated by Denise Rousseau, is including the opinions of stakeholders in the ultimate decision making as well as building a culture in which people feel obliged to speak the truth, even, if it’s inconvenient.