People professionals are faced with complex workplace decisions and need to understand ‘what works’ in order to influence organisational outcomes for the better.
Evidence-based practice helps them make better, more effective decisions by choosing reliable, trustworthy solutions and being less reliant on outdated received wisdom, fads or superficial quick fixes.
At the CIPD, we believe this is an important step for the people profession to take: our Profession Map describes a vision of a profession that is principles-led, evidence-based and outcomes-driven. Taking an evidence-based approach to decision-making can have a huge impact on the working lives of people in all sorts of organisations worldwide.
This factsheet outlines what evidence-based practice is and why it is so important, highlighting the four sources of evidence to draw on and combine to ensure the greatest chance of making effective decisions. It then looks to the steps we can take to move towards an evidence-based people profession.
On this page
- What is evidence-based practice?
- Why is evidence-based practice important?
- What evidence should we use?
- How can we move towards an evidence-based people profession?
- Useful contacts and further reading
At the heart of evidence-based practice is the idea that good decision-making is achieved through critical appraisal of the best available evidence from multiple sources. When we say ‘evidence’, we mean information, facts or data supporting (or contradicting) a claim, assumption or hypothesis. This evidence may come from scientific research, the local organisation, experienced professionals or relevant stakeholders. We use the following definition from CEBMa:
“Evidence-based practice is about making decisions through the conscientious, explicit and judicious use of the best available evidence from multiple sources… to increase the likelihood of a favourable outcome.”
In search of best
The reasons why evidence-based practice is so important, the principles that underpin it, how it can be followed and how challenges in doing so can be overcome.
In their report Evidence-based management: the basic principles, Eric Barends, Denise Rousseau and Rob Briner of CEBMa outline the challenge of biased and unreliable management decisions.
People professionals face all sorts of contradictory insights and claims about what works and what doesn’t in the workplace. As Daniel Levitin puts it:
"We're assaulted with facts, pseudo facts, jibber-jabber, and rumor, all posing as information. Trying to figure out what you need to know and what you can ignore is exhausting."
While assessing the reliability of evidence becomes more important as the mass of opinion grows, with such a barrage of information, we inevitably use mental shortcuts to make decisions easier and to avoid our brains overloading.
Unfortunately, this means we are prone to biases. Our reports a head for hiring and our minds at work outline the most common of these:
- authority bias: the tendency to overvalue the opinion of a person or organisation that is seen as an authority
- conformity bias: the tendency to conform to others in a group, also referred to as 'group think' or 'herd behaviour'
- confirmation bias: looking to confirm existing beliefs when assessing new information
- patternicity or the illusion of causality: the tendency to see patterns and assume causal relations by connecting the dots even when there is just random 'noise'.
So-called ‘best practice’
Received wisdom and the notion of ‘best practice’ also creates bias. One organisation may look to another as an example of sound practice and decision-making, without critically evaluating the effectiveness of their actions. And while scientific literature on key issues in the field is vital, there’s a gap between this and the perceptions of practitioners, who are often unaware of the depth of research available.
Even when looking at research, we can be naturally biased. We have atendency to ‘cherry-pick’ research that backs up a perspective or opinion and ignores research that does not, even if it gives stronger evidence on cause-and-effect relationships. This bad habit is hard to avoid – it's even common among academic researchers. So we need approaches that help us determine which research evidence we should trust.
Our ‘insight’ article When the going gets tough, the tough get evidence explains the importance of taking an evidence-based approach to decision making in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. It emphasises and discusses how decision makers can and should become savvy consumers of research.
How can evidence-based practice help?
Our thought leadership article outlines the importance of evidence-based practice in more detail but, essentially, it has three main benefits:
- It ensures that decision-making is based on fact, rather than outdated insights, short-term fads and natural bias.
- It creates a stronger body of knowledge and as a result, a more trusted profession.
- It gives more gravitas to professionals, leads to increased influence on other business leaders and has a more positive impact in work.
The four sources of evidence
The issues above demonstrate the limitations of basing decisions on limited, unreliable evidence. Before making an important decision or introducing a new practice, an evidence-based people professional should start by asking: "What is the available evidence?" As a minimum, people professionals should consider four sources of evidence.
- Scientific literature on people management has become more readily available in recent years, particularly on topics such as the recruitment and selection of personnel, the effect of feedback on performance and the characteristics of effective teams. People professionals’ ability to search for and appraise research for its relevance and trustworthiness is essential.
- Organisational data must be examined as it highlights issues needing a manager’s attention. This data can come externally from customers or clients (customer satisfaction, repeated business), or internally from employees (levels of job satisfaction, retention rates). There’s also the comparison between ‘hard’ evidence, such as turnover rate and productivity levels, and ‘soft’ elements, like perceptions of culture and attitudes towards leadership. Gaining access to organisational data is key to determining causes of problems, solutions and implementing solutions.
- Expertise and judgement of practitioners, managers, consultants and business leaders is important to ensure effective decision-making. This professional knowledge differs from opinion as it’s accumulated over time through reflection on outcomes of similar actions taken in similar contexts. It reflects specialised knowledge acquired through repeated experience of specialised activities.
- Stakeholders, both internal (employees, managers, board members) and external (suppliers, investors, shareholders), may be affected by an organisation’s decisions and their consequences. Their values reflect what they deem important, which in turn affects how they respond to the organisation’s decisions. Acquiring knowledge of their concerns provides a frame of reference for analysing evidence.
Combining the evidence
One very important element of evidence-based practice is collating evidence from different sources. There are six ways – depicted in our infographic below – which will encourage this:
Evidence based practice infographic
- Asking – translating a practical issue or problem into an answerable question.
- Acquiring – systematically searching for and retrieving evidence.
- Appraising – critically judging the trustworthiness and relevance of the evidence.
- Aggregating – weighing and pulling together the evidence.
- Applying – incorporating the evidence into a decision-making process.
- Assessing – evaluating the outcome of the decision taken so as to increase the likelihood.
Through these six steps, practitioners can ensure the quality of evidence is not ignored. Appraisal varies depending on the source of evidence, but generally involves the same questions:
- Where and how is evidence gathered?
- Is it the best evidence available?
- Is it sufficient to reach a conclusion?
- Might it be biased in a particular direction? If so, why?
Evidence-based practice is about using the best available evidence from multiple sources to optimise decisions. Being evidence-based is not a question of looking for ‘proof’, as this is far too elusive. However, we can – and should – prioritise the most trustworthy evidence available. The gains in making better decisions on the ground, strengthening the body of knowledge and becoming a more influential profession are surely worthwhile.
To realise the vision of a people profession that’s genuinely evidence-based, we need to move forward on two fronts.
First, we need to make sure that the body of professional knowledge is evidence-based – the CIPD’s Evidence review hub is one way in which we are doing this.
Second, people professionals need to develop capacity in engaging with the best available evidence. Doing this as a non-researcher may feel daunting, but taking small steps to making more evidence-based decisions can make a huge difference. Our thought leadership article outlines a maturity model for being more evidence-based in more detail, but to summarise, we’d encourage people professionals to take the following steps:
- Read research: engage with high-quality research on areas of interest through reading core textbooks and journals that summarise research.
- Collect and analyse organisational data: in the long-term, developing analytical capability should be an aim for the people profession. More immediately, HR leaders should have some knowledge of data-analytics, enough to ask probing questions and make the case for the resources needed for robust measures.
- Review published evidence, including conducting or commissioning short evidence reviews of scientific literature to inform decisions.
- Pilot new practices: evaluate new interventions through applying the same principles used in rigorous cause-and-effect research.
- Share your knowledge: strengthen the body of knowledge by sharing research insights at events or in publications.
- Critical thinking: throughout this process, question assumptions and carefully consider where there are gaps in knowledge.
Developing this sort of capability is a long journey but one that people professionals should aspire to. As the professional body for HR and people development, the CIPD takes an evidence-based view on the future of work – and, importantly, what this means for our profession. By doing this, we can help prepare professionals and employers for what’s coming, while also equipping them to succeed and shape a changing world of work.
Our Profession Map has been developed to do this. It defines the knowledge, behaviours and values which should underpin today’s people profession. It has been developed as an international standard against which an organisation can benchmark its values. At its core are the concepts of being principles-led, evidence-based and outcomes driven. This recognises the importance of using the four forms of evidence in a principled manner to develop positive outcomes for stakeholders. As evidence is often of varying degrees of quality, it’s important that people professionals consider if and how they should incorporate the different types of evidence into their work.
Evidence-based practice is a useful concept for understanding whether practices in HR lead to the desired outcomes, and whether these practices are being used to the best effect.
Both our guide and thought leadership article offer a detailed, step-by-step approach to using evidence-based practice in your decision making.
All our evidence reviews are featured on our Evidence Hub. For a learning and development perspective, listen to our podcast. There's also Using evidence in HR decision-making: 10 lessons from the COVID-19 crisis, part of our coronavirus webinar series.
Books and reports
BARENDS, E. and ROUSSEAU, D. (2018)Evidence-based management: how to use evidence to make better organizational decisions. Kogan Page: London
Levitin, D. (2015) The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload. London: Penguin.
RANDELL, G. and TOPLIS, J. (2014)Towards organizational fitness: a guide to diagnosis and treatment. London: Gower.
Visit theCIPD and Kogan Page Bookshopto see all our priced publications currently in print.
BRINER, R. (2019)The basics of evidence-based practice.People + Strategy. Vol 42, No 1. pp16-21.
Petticrew, M. and Roberts, H. (2003) Evidence, hierarchies, and typologies: horses for courses. Journal Of Epidemiology And Community Health. Vol 57(7): 527.
ROUSSEAU, D. (2020) Making evidence based-decisions in an uncertain world.Organizational Dynamics. Vol 49, Issue 1, January-March. Reviewed inIn a Nutshell, issue 96.
SEVERSON, E. (2019) Real-life EBM: what it feels like to lead evidence-based HR.People + Strategy. Vol 42, No 1. pp22-27.
CIPD members can use ouronline journalsto find articles from over 300 journal titles relevant to HR.
Members andPeople Managementsubscribers can see articles on thePeople Managementwebsite.
This factsheet was last updated by Jake Young: Research Associate, CIPD
Jake’s research interests cover a number of workplace topics, notably inclusion and diversity. Jake is heavily involved with CIPD’s evidence reviews, looking at a variety of topics including employee engagement, employee resilience and virtual teams.
Acquiring – systematically searching for and retrieving evidence. Appraising – critically judging the trustworthiness and relevance of the evidence. Aggregating – weighing and pulling together the evidence. Applying – incorporating the evidence into a decision-making process.What is evidence-based practice for effective decision-making? ›
It is an approach to decision-making and day-to- day work practice that helps practitioners to critically evaluate the extent to which they can trust the evidence they have at hand. It also helps practitioners to identify, find and evaluate additional evidence relevant to their decisions.What are the 4 sources of evidence-based practice? ›
The four sources of evidence for management decision-making include the best available scientific evidence, organizational evidence, experiential evidence and stakeholders' and patient's expectations (1–3).What are the 3 components of evidence-based practice? ›
- Best Available Evidence. ...
- Clinician's Knowledge and Skills. ...
- Patient's Wants and Needs.
What does EBP mean in practice? Evidence-based practice is a process that involves five distinct steps which we call the five 'A's: Ask, Access, Appraise, Apply, Audit.What are examples of evidence-based decision-making? ›
Example of Evidence-Based Decision Making
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.
Evidence-based decisionmaking is driven by empirical analysis of policy problems. The types of evidence commonly generated through the process of policy research are multiple and varied, but often include some of the following: Impact evidence (reviewing effectiveness)What is evidence-based practice CIPD? ›
Effective HR decision-making is based on considering the best available evidence combined with critical thinking.What are the 6 steps of evidence-based practice? ›
- Ask a question. The evidence-based practice process begins by asking questions about the patient and their health issues. ...
- Look for evidence. ...
- Analyze the evidence. ...
- Integrate your finding. ...
- Evaluate the outcome. ...
- Share the information.
|Ask the question||Construct a well-built clinical question derived from the case|
|Apply the evidence||Integrate evidence with clinical expertise and patient preferences and apply to practice|
|Assess the effects||Evaluate the performance and success of the change in practice|
To effectively apply the EBP process, in addition to the basic skills required to undertake nursing work, a nurse must have the ability to: (1) identify knowledge gaps, (2) formulate relevant questions, (3) conduct an efficient literature search, (4) apply rules of evidence to determine the validity of studies, (5) ...What is the main purpose of evidence-based practice? ›
EBP is a process used to review, analyze, and translate the latest scientific evidence. The goal is to quickly incorporate the best available research, along with clinical experience and patient preference, into clinical practice, so nurses can make informed patient-care decisions (Dang et al., 2022).What are the 4 steps of evidence informed practice? ›
- Overview of EBP.
- Step 1: Ask the Question. Define the Problem/Opportunity. PICO. Types of Questions.
- Step 2: Acquire the Evidence. Study Design. Search for Evidence.
- Step 3: Appraise the Evidence. Biostatistics. Appraisal Tools.
- Steps 4: Apply the Evidence. Implementation.
- Step 5: Assess the Results.
- Overall Patient Care. The first step within the evidence-based practice process is for patients and nurses to meet and identify health concerns. ...
- Leading Research. ...
- Clinical Experience. ...
- Learn More.
EBP is a process used to review, analyze, and translate the latest scientific evidence. The goal is to quickly incorporate the best available research, along with clinical experience and patient preference, into clinical practice, so nurses can make informed patient-care decisions (Dang et al., 2022).What are the components of evidence-based practice in HR? ›
In short, evidence-based HR refers to a process in which the organization evaluates any decision or process against data, real experience, expert opinions, and/or other types of information to ensure the decision is likely to have the desired outcome.