In a Nutshell: Issue 81  

This new book from E. Barends and D. Rousseau details how HR professionals can utilise evidence based practice to make the best possible decisions.

Evidence-based management. Eric Barends and Denise Rousseau. Kogan Page 2018.

Book review

This excellent book looks at the nature of evidence and how managers can use it to make better decisions.
From experience, I’ve found that suggesting HR practice should be more evidence-based can get hesitant, even bemused reactions. There’s often a sense of: What’s the critique, exactly? Surely we all use evidence to inform our decisions? 
At the CIPD, we talk about a need for an HR profession that is principles led, evidence based and outcomes driven. We have discussed the challenge of being evidence based and provided examples of how to systematically draw on scientific literature to summarise the best available evidence – for example in our work on performance management and diversity.
Yet this book marks a clear first. Eric Barends and Denise Rousseau, both from the Center for Evidence-Based Management (CEBMa), set out all the basics of evidence-based practice in the context of people management. They give an authoritative, well thought out account of why it’s important, the core principles and how to do it. In particular, this includes how to make use of the four key sources of evidence – expertise, scientific literature, organisational data and stakeholder views. It is around these four sources that they structure the book.
It’s an enjoyable and lucid read – the core arguments are accessible, compelling and succinctly illustrated with real-life business decisions. This is surely a godsend for a subject that includes potentially bamboozling detail such as how research design determines the trustworthiness of evidence and how to acquire, appraise and aggregate scientific evidence. 
Examples of themes discussed include critical questions to ask in trying to solve management problems; strengths and weaknesses (including cognitive bias) in practitioner expertise; the nature of scientific evidence (it’s not about absolute ‘proof’!); how to search scientific databases to find a manageable number of relevant, high quality studies; types of organisational data and approaches to gathering it; and how to weigh and pull together different evidence to inform decisions.
Not all decisions may warrant an in-depth systematic approach, but where significant people management decisions are to be made – for example, on what approaches an employer uses to improve employee performance, increase workforce diversity or support health and well-being – there are major practical gains to be had from evidence-based practice. As such, this book has the potential to help you become more scientific and make better decisions more likely to achieve the desired results. 
More widely, we may be on the cusp of a quiet but profound revolution in people management. May the four sources be with you!
For a free webinar to find out about the CIPD Evidence-Based HR development programme, click here. 
Jonny Gifford is a Fellow of the Center for Evidence-Based Management.
Jonny Gifford

Reviewed by:

Jonny Gifford, Senior Adviser for Organisational Behaviour

Jonny has been conducting applied research into employment and people management for a number of years, with previous roles at the Institute for Employment Studies and Roffey Park Institute. Current interests include job quality and behavioural science insights into performance management and other areas of HR. Jonny runs the CIPD Applied Research Conference and actively promotes evidence-based practice, including through systematic reviewing and running randomised trials.

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