How to make HR more Evidence Based

With 69% of large organisations now having a people analytics team, interest in the topic has never been higher. But how do you actually drive business performance with people data and how can we make HR more evidence based?

The guest on this' week’s podcast is Edward Houghton, Head of Research and Thought Leadership at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, or the CIPD, where he has been the lead author on a number of landmark studies on analytics, measurement, metrics and impact evaluation.

In the podcast we cover a number of topics, but one in particular that we focus on is the topic of evidence-based management. To hear more about Ed’s thoughts on this topic, take a look at this short video or read the full transcript below. If you’re interested in hearing the rest of the interview, then you can listen or subscribe here.

David Green: So you touched on there that to actually do good HR we do need people data and analytics. For some of our listeners who maybe aren't as deep in the space as you and me, why is people data and analytics so important? And becoming more important as well.

Ed Houghton: So in the profession now we talk about evidence-based practice and in the last three years at the CIPD, we've been looking very closely at how we can incorporate the idea of evidence-based practice into the HR profession and to encourage HR practitioners to start to use more different forms of evidence in their decision making.

And in the school of evidence-based practice this idea of being evidence-based is all about incorporating four forms of evidence. One is evidence from scientific research. Research from academics who look at the theories and the phenomenon of work around practices that work in organisations and in particular how those practices influence outcomes. So that's evidence in the form of scientific literature.

Data and analytics around Workforce data is another form of evidence, it's the second form of evidence. It can come in different forms of data, but it's data that's captured on systems within the organisation.

The third form of data is this idea of insights from the stakeholders who will be most impacted by decisions that we make so in HR that would be the perspectives of workers or employees. That's another very important form of evidence that we use in decision making.

And finally is the one that we see HR professionals almost forgetting sometimes but it's a very important form of evidence, is their professional expertise, is what they've seen previously and what they've used in their decision-making historically. What kind of things they've seen through their practice, particularly senior HR professionals will draw a lot on their expertise and a lot from what they've seen historically to inform their decisions.

David Green: We talked a lot about business outcomes and you explained that people analytics is one of the four types of evidence-based decision-making HR professionals can use. Can you think of a couple of really good examples from your experience of how organisations have actually done that?

Ed Houghton:  Sure. So one example that I like to talk about a lot is the work of Greg Aitken at RBS who took a very methodical research-based approach to looking at engagement in the branch network at RBS, and they were very clear in wanting to understand the link between engagement in their branch network. Those Bank branches serving customers. What are the enablers of good customer service and good performance outcomes and through their work in the branches by working with their key stakeholders in the branches as well as collecting live data on engagement of employees and customer service data from those different branches. They were able to locate the best performing managers who they can then parachute in to parts of the organisation. Where engagement's low. Now to me that's a very, very simple methodology in terms of putting it on paper and the data probably already exists or existed in their datasets to be able to do this kind of work.

So it wasn't as if they were having to redefine a lot of the measures that they were collecting. So it is already there. They've already got access to it. It's all about, what I like about the case is, it's all about thinking of the question. It's all about what was the question that they wanted to answer. In my view the question is the most important part of what we do in analytics. And the RBS case study I think really highlights that if you have a good question such as what are the forms of engagement that are leading to good performance in our branches? You can start to then really look closely at what's working in the organisation.

Too often, I see HR practitioners getting stuck because they haven't defined a good question. They haven't defined a set of measures that they want to measure against that question. They've almost gone too quickly into doing the analysis, instead of stepping back and working with their stakeholders to work out actually what is the question you're trying to answer. So RBS, the case is public and it's available, Greg often talks about it at conferences. It's a really wonderful description of how you can use a simple measure like engagement to look at something that's very much a business priority to RBS, which is customer service.


David Green is a globally respected writer, speaker, conference chair, and executive consultant on people analytics, data-driven HR and the future of work. As an Executive Director at Insight222, he helps global organisations create more cultural and economic value through the wise and ethical use of people data and analytics. Prior to joining Insight222, David was the Global Director of People Analytics Solutions at IBM Watson Talent. As such, David has extensive experience in helping organisations embark upon and accelerate their people analytics journeys. You can follow David on LinkedIn and Twitter and also subscribe to The Digital HR Leader weekly newsletter and podcast.