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Moving towards better evidence-based decisions in HR

Human resources (HR) staff and departments play a critical role, being responsible for activities that help organisations to find the best talent and get the most from that talent. The work of HR includes overseeing employee recruitment, performance management, and training and development.

Given the impact of the decisions made by HR, we would expect those decisions to be sound and appropriate. But are they? In a recent HR Magazine article, Shonna Waters, the former vice president of research at SHRM warns that disconnects between evidence and practice may be more common than we think. She states that:

A U.S. survey found large discrepancies between what HR practitioners believe works well and what research has found to be effective.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is the world’s largest HR professional society, representing 285,000 members in more than 165 countries.

Waters encourages moving towards better evidence-based decisions in HR. She advises HR professionals to consider the four sources put forward by the Center for Evidence-Based Management, along with the quality of the evidence, when making a decision:

  • Findings from empirical studies published in academic journals.
  • Data, facts and figures gathered from within the organization.
  • The experience and judgment of practitioners.
  • The values and concerns of the stakeholders who may be affected by the decision.

To help draw the broader HR community into evidence-based products and solutions, SHRM established a new research department earlier in 2017:

The Department’s vision is to advance the HR profession (and professional) by providing evidence-based insights, recommendations, and innovations at the intersection of people and work to improve the employee experience and business performance.

This is achieved through engagement in four activities:

  • Research. Conduct and curate research to monitor and anticipate trends and evaluate the effectiveness of HR practices.
  • Innovate. Fund and/or conduct experimental and quasi-experimental research to address gaps in knowledge and practice and explore the impact of future trends.
  • Develop Practical Insights. Develop SHRM’s evidence-based positions and guidelines for effective practice.
  • Translate Research into Application. Translate or support the translation of science into customer-centric products and tools (e.g. publications, tools, infographics).

SHRM’s encouragement of evidence-based decisions in HR parallels RealKM’s encouragement of evidence-based knowledge management. Let’s hope this trend continues: for our organisations to perform at their best, all aspects of management need to be evidence-based.

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Also published on Medium.

Bruce Boyes

Bruce Boyes ( is a knowledge management (KM), environmental management, and education professional with over 30 years of experience in Australia and China. His work has received high-level acclaim and been recognised through a number of significant awards. He is currently a PhD candidate in the Knowledge, Technology and Innovation Group at Wageningen University and Research, and holds a Master of Environmental Management with Distinction. He is also the editor, lead writer, and a director of the award-winning RealKM Magazine (, and teaches in the Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU) Certified High-school Program (CHP).

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