Putting evidence-based HR into practice | HR Leaders

8 minute watch
The movement to evidence-based HR (EBHR) is growing. But often HR professionals find it challenging to do in practice. Kevin Lyons, senior HR manager at educational publishing and services corporation Pearson, talks through how he took an EBHR approach to a learning and development programme



When Kevin Lyons was tasked to develop a learning and development programme that would apply to half of the managers and leaders at his company his instinct was to take a micro-learning approach. But was that the best strategy to take?


To enable him to make the best decision on strategy and how to implement the programme, Lyons decided to take an evidence-based approach. He was already a keen advocate of evidence-based HR (EBHR) which relies on structured evidence gathering and assimilation to make informed decisions. 


In this video Lyons talks through his definition of EBHR and how he took an EBHR approach to the L&D programme. 


He calls for a broader adoption of EBHR among HR professionals, arguing that understanding and utilising a wide range of evidence can lead to more optimal outcomes and enhance organisational practices. He challenges the traditional reliance on "hard data" alone, promoting a more holistic view of evidence that includes qualitative insights and contextual understanding.


Plus, he talks about where he believes organisations are failing to take an evidence-based approach today and offers three tips to help other HR leaders start their EBHR journey. 


About Kevin Lyons


Kevin Lyons is senior HR manager, assessment & qualifications, Higher Education UK at educational publishing and services corporation Pearson and a commentator on HR trends and topics and business strategy. He has greatly enjoyed his career in human resources with successful companies and his passion is talent. He is also fascinated by the impact of technology on HR, organisations and wider society, and is an AI champion. Kevin believes strongly in evidence-based management, championing tangible change and progress on the inclusion journey, as well as being an expert on ways of working. He also has experience and expertise in mental health and wellbeing in the workplace, being a professional in the field of neurodiversity inclusion and he advises companies and speaks widely on the subject.




Transcript of interview


What is evidence-based HR to you?


So evidence-based HR is about using various forms of evidence. It's about having a kind of structured and explicit process around that evidence gathering and assimilation. And it's being able to use that evidence to translate that into decision-making. 


How do you take an EBHR approach in Pearson?


So what I do is I use the EBHR chart, which says that there are  four sources of evidence. What I have had to do in my job is build a programme, a learning and development programme, which would apply to half of the managers and leaders within the company. Before I set out on that and what is the best approach, before I really delve into the strategy, what I would want to be doing is looking at what sources of evidence exist to help me make the best decision as to what that strategy should be and therefore how I'm going to implement that programme. 


So I naturally look to build on my own experience. If it's a learning and development programme, I'd speak to other key people who could provide the professional expertise such as the learning and development team.


So we start to understand what could be our potential solution, what evidence do they have to help arrive at that from the L&D point of view. And then I can look at other evidence from within the organisation. So for example, engagement surveys would be a good example. Any data that we've got, data on retention, any data on absence, on training – is all helpful to me as I'm building that programme. So I start to understand the patterns and where do I need to address the training and development need, the learning and development need. Then what I did, what I do, is think about senior leadership and what is their view and input, what evidence can they give to the process. 


So I start off with my own expertise and that of other key stakeholders who provide expert professional expertise. I move into the evidence within the organisation. I take in the context of senior leadership. And then the other thing I enjoy doing or like doing, and I think it's an important part of the wheel, is looking at what evidence is there in what we call grey literature, which is organisations that produce stuff that has not gone into a commercial context.


And also any scientific information. And for this particular programme I was looking at some of the evidence produced by Gallup, for example. There might be case studies as well. I found a couple of case studies which were useful. What I was particularly interested in was micro learning. My idea was this programme is going to be based on micro learning. And so using some case studies of companies that had already done that was helpful for me to understand how we might build it.


So the result of that is that, we're at the stages of implementing that programme now, and it's essentially a programme based on micro learning and leveraging a platform provided by the L&D team, and building on the evidence that we've got we're able to put in place the right structure, whether it be communications, for example. 


And we also build the right structure to deliver the data and insights that we need in the future. So for example, all the HR team will have training on how to pull data from the platform and they will be able to evaluate it as we go. It's believed that hard data is the only way that you can gain a basis for better decision-making. And what I explained was a wide range of evidence.


So I'm trying to make the most optimal use of the evidence that's available. And it's not just big data or it's not just hard numbers. 


Are there any areas today in which the evidence is being ignored?


I think HR professionals just need to have experience of using evidence-based HR as a process. And I think that will then encourage greater take-up because once you have that educational awareness, then I think it's a relatively short step to exploit because the things I talked about are very much within the reach of HR professionals in organisations. 


Where we work and how we work has been governed by a lack of evidence. I think it's been judged by some organisations in the context of the predilections and views of certain individuals in the organisation, rather than looking at the evidence. And I think the mandated return to office for some organisations, and I totally understand as well that organisations have their own business context and decisions to work in their own conditions. I just wonder, my question is more:


Did we completely look at the evidence that we gained from the pandemic and the lockdown? Did we look at all of the sources before we made the decision that we had to tell people they had to come back to the office for mandated days of the week? 


I'll give you an example, just a survey that was out there, that was fairly recent, A Pebble survey said of 2,000 parents surveyed, 1,000 said that they would leave the workplace because the increased costs of childcare brought about the mandated return to office. Now, if organisations had taken into account that evidence, which is powerful, but also judged it along with other evidence, I'm not sure so many would have said in a default way, you know, we just need to get people back in the office as mandate days.


First three steps on the EBHR journey


I think the first thing is expand your reading and watch list and so it's just about educational awareness and, for example, the Evidence Based HR Forum and the materials and information resources and content that Rob Briner and the team produce is second to none really, it's brilliant. And so I'd certainly say it's expand your reading and watch list as an HR professional. 


Then think about a programme or an initiative that you could implement with an evidence-based HR approach, going along the lines that I talked about with the process, etc, with the four sources of evidence. 


And then I would say, because it helps you in terms of future programmes, I would produce a report or evidence myself from that trial programme initiative and seek to promote and evangelise that within my organisation. And those three things would really help the individual, they'll help that organisation and they'll help the general move towards a more evidence-based HR approach within HR.


Published 17 April 2024
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