I’ve been hearing and reading a fair amount about this concept of evidence based practise for a while now. You are most likely familiar with the idea when it comes to medicine or government policy. Most medicine and policy decisions are informed by the evidence base. If a particular medicine proves to treat certain illnesses in clinical trials then it’s more than likely going to be made available to the public en masse. You can take that same approach and apply it to behavioural science and even further with areas like HR.
One of the areas of L&D where we’ve seen evidence based practise used effectively is in the study of ‘learning styles’ and their use in training / education design. What the research has proven time and again is that using learning styles as a design methodology for training / education is flawed at best and completely ineffective as a delivery methodology. Which is great because it forces us as L&Ders to really ensure we understand human learning processes and design learning interventions that are in line with natural processes rather than discredited and useless theories.
Another area where we can see evidence based practise in, er, practise is online retail and online learning environments. Research is able to inform with amazing clarity and accuracy which forms of design / UX and UI are effective and which are not.
So step in the applicability of evidence based practise to the wider world of HR / L&D and we start to understand that we could use this practise to inform interventions that are actually effective.
From what I’ve understood about Evidence Based Management so far is that it relies on research and evidence to inform exactly what is effective and what is not. Right, that makes complete sense to me. So, for example, we are able to know that NLP, MBTI, learning styles, employee engagement initiatives, learning and development all have weak evidence bases. Now, before my fellow L&Ders get all defensive about this, it is well worth you taking your time to understand why they have a weak evidence base.
What this means in the broader Evidence Based Management piece is if Consultant A suggests Intervention A, then they should be doing so with a decent evidence base that Intervention A will work. Now there’s a whole piece there about the education of HR / L&D professionals better understanding what to look and ask for when it comes to that evidence base. But I need to keep this moving along.
So far, I’m in agreement with the approach, what it can inform us, and what that means for the interventions we choose to implement.
Where I come unstuck is when Evidence Based Management approach can’t provide an answer for a solution that is effective. What do I mean? I mean this:
Company A what’s to implement Intervention A, but the evidence base for it is either weak or non-existent. They learn that Company B had a similar issue, and used Intervention B which had a positive organisational impact. Company A decide to go for using Intervention B. However, and this is a big however, Intervention B could only have worked for Company B because the culture and many other factors were aligned for that intervention to have worked. The research and evidence base may suggest it is effective, but that’s because the context of Company B helped make it work.
No two companies are the same. I know that Evidence Based Management doesn’t suggest blindly following examples and blindly following best practise solutions. What it doesn’t help with, though, is in offering solutions that can be effective.
Taking this further, what I’ve seen so far is Evidence Based Management help us understand what doesn’t work. That is really helpful and like I said, forces us as professionals and practitioners to examine what we’re doing and why. What I haven’t seen with this approach, yet, are models and theories that are effective that can work independent of culture and other organisational factors. The promise of Evidence Based Management is that it can potentially offer solutions that akin to medicinal solutions. I’m yet to see that in evidence.