Studies Reveal Everything Wrong With HR – And How To Fix It

Two recent studies – one by a well-respected university, a second by a leading industry journal – chastised human resource departments in general, saying they rely too much on “gut instincts” and fads instead of hard numbers and science.

“Faulty practices and decision making (is) abound in HR,” read one study by the Human Resource Management Journal (HRMJ) entitled ‘Become An Evidence-Based HR Practitioner’. “Blind faith has no place in professional practice.”

“Though, of course, all HR managers do use some evidence in some ways,” read a second studyby the University of Bath, a well-respected UK university. “But HR (is) generally still a fad junkie waiting for the next big thing.”

The studies found that HR departments rarely use evidence to support their decisions. Both studies instead recommended that their goal should be to become evidence-based human resource (EBHR) departments, where decisions are based off of data or scientific research.

“Using only a little evidence or evidence that is not relevant or valid is likely to produce poorer decisions and poorer outcomes,” the Bath study read. “Using more and more relevant and valid evidence is likely to produce better decisions and results.”

The Problem

Both studies found that human resource departments were making most of their decisions in one of two ways: either HR professionals were trusting their “gut instinct” or they were following fads, for the allure that they would fix their problems quickly.

The HRMJ study gave the example of human resource departments using unstructured interviews as a way to determine candidates’ cultural fit, despite studies showing that the method is ineffective. This type of groundless decision-making leads to, at best, innate cognitive bias and, at worst, power abuses, according to the Bath study.

“The complexity and fast pace of today’s organizations often lead to knee-jerk business decisions, fad chasing and guesswork regarding ‘what works’,” the HRMJ study read. “Busy HR managers put on autopilot critical choices affecting the future of their firms, their employees and the public.”

The Solution

Both studies pointed to an evidence-based management structure as a solution. Both suggested either using metrics, when available, or relying on the best scientific evidence as the foundation of all decisions and processes.

The HRMJ study laid out a road map on exactly how to incorporate that sort of management style into an organization. It said the first step is to adopt the evidence-based mindset and then begin reshaping processes and making decisions based off scientific research or internal metrics.

The crucial part though is the next step, according to the HRMJ study – to consistently question those processes and decisions to ensure they continue to improve over time. Again, though, a change shouldn’t be justified by gut or some new fad, but instead by metrics revealing an issue, according to the study.

The result of this evidence-based approach is better outcomes, an empowered HR team and assurance that the HR team continues to learn and improve, according to the HRMJ study. The Bath study agreed.

“Evidence-based practice, whether in medicine or business, means doing things right and doing the right thing,” read the HRMJ study.

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Tags: HR, Hiring, Human Resources

Comment by Matt Charney on July 16, 2014 at 5:16pm

If only it were this easy ;) - nice post, Paul.

Comment by Keith Halperin on July 17, 2014 at 4:17pm

@ Paul: If companies required practical, effective evidence-based (and not faith-based) recruiting programs, then most self-proclaimed "Recruiting Thought Leaders" and "Recruiting Experts" would be out of work. 

Comment by Paul Petrone on July 18, 2014 at 8:24am

Are you proclaiming me a self-proclaimed recruiting thought leader? No, but in all seriousness, I think sharing experiences is always a good thing, so they'll always be posts about what people learned or what they think. 

But to your larger point, I completely agree - I do believe data and empirical evidence is key always the best guide. 

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