In the last 6 months my use of social media and blogging, including the launch of this website has seen an awakening in me that shows no signs of letting up. I’ve embraced technology and the ability to access instant information about leadership, management and general HR and I feel all the better for it.

I’ve read many articles, blogs, websites, reports and I’ve made many new acquaintances whose work I look forward to receiving, reading and engaging with. One of those new acquaintances who I was delighted to stumble upon is Professor Rob Briner from the Centre for Evidence-Based Management, who I referred to in an earlier blog (Whose Loyalty Is It Anyway, April 25th 2016).

You can read more about what Evidence-Based Management is by reading the Centre for Evidence-Based Management’s website but in summary, it is what it says on the tin. It is about “making decisions through the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of the best available evidence from multiple sources” to extract part of a quote from that very website.

My little dabble in this area to understand what evidence-based management is has got me thinking – could this be the answer to the credibility question in HR?

The credibility question

So firstly, I’d better define what I mean about the credibility question. Many HR thinkers and commentators have talked about the Holy Grail for HR being ‘a seat at the top table’ and believe me there are enough articles on that subject to last me a lifetime but some people suggest that the reason HR professionals are not represented at board level in some organisations is due to credibility and value to board-level decision making.

I’m remaining non-committal on this. This could be one of the reasons, I’m sure it is to some organisations, and I’m sure it’s not to others. There are also other factors which affect the make-up of boards, with some favouring a much smaller group and so this is in relation to just one element of this broader subject.

However, IF our profession’s credibility is questioned in some organisations and that is why we are not represented at board-level in those organisations, the question has to be; why?

It is my opinion that some of the factors that call our credibility into question relate to the occasional inability of some HR professionals to demonstrate factually how our work and strategic aims are as vital to the business as, for example, the Finance departments who work mainly in factual terms.

We are also guilty of implementing practices that are less black and white, and more grey

To put this in context, other departments generally have methods of working that are structured and based on accepted practices. Us in HR, we do too to a certain extent for example where we draft and implement policies and procedures that are aligned to employment law.

However we are also guilty of implementing what are perceived as ‘initiatives’ or practices that are less black and white, and more grey, and let’s be honest some don’t stick around for too long as we move on to the next idea. Not good.

As I was regularly told before I dropped a couple of stone of weight this year “it’s not a diet, it’s about a lifestyle change, there’s no quick fix”, so the same could be said for some of the sequence of initiatives we have perhaps been guilty of presiding over in the past.

Pointless exercises

Hands up if you’ve implemented an annual performance appraisal process or your recruitment campaigns still include asking for employment references? My hands are both in the air (yet still managing to type with my fingers so you can gauge my poetic licence).

However, are we not all being informed that annual performance appraisals are an outdated practice and don’t add value to our organisations and that references these days are usually one-line letters confirming start and end-dates, and so are fairly pointless exercises? So why do we do it?

If we could quantify the work we do and support it with a reasonable depth of evidence, would that not enhance our credibility and help achieve the holy grail?

The strategic plans we put in place focus on primarily treating people fairly

There is evidence out there which both supports and refutes some of the HR headlines we see every day, for example evidence both supporting and refuting the true success of employee engagement programmes and effectiveness of interview techniques and I get that we largely operate in many different shades of grey, but evidence-based management supporting our tasks, projects and decision-making can only enhance our profession.

Some of the strategic plans we put in place focus on primarily treating people fairly and that is, after all, what we love about this profession as well as enrichment, development and enhancing people’s lives.

The importance of data

These strategic plans come from a good place that we believe will add significant value and contribute successfully to our businesses achieving their aims, but we need that belief to be based on something more than what is often ambiguously defined as best-practice.

Evidence-based management, from what I understand of it, is not saying everything we know is wrong. It is saying there is metadata to suggest some of the things we believe to be true are not quite true but the whole ethos is ensuring that our management activities are underpinned by sufficient information backing it up.

It's about making decisions based on a strong depth of data and not doing what we “think” is right

To me, this is not about finding nothing but positive evidence reinforcing what we already know, as there will always be evidence of the alternative, but it is about making decisions based on a strong depth of data and purposely not doing what we “think” is right or effective although the evidence contradicts that it is in fact “wrong” or ineffective in simple terms.

If we embrace this, which is after all, a fairly basic principle that is the accepted norm in many other professions around the world, then this absolutely could enhance our reputation and help the profession transcend where it needs to be transcended.

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