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14th August 2019

How Important is Evidence-Based Practice for Organisational Success?

Article written by Anya Moore, Assistant Business Psychologist.

At Impact, evidence-based practice (EBP) is at the heart of our business, enabling us to share the most rigorous best practice with our partners and clients. EBP is important in business psychology as it helps bridge the gap between research and practice. It originally emerged from the field of medicine to improve decision making by identifying, evaluating and applying the ‘best available’ evidence from various sources. Interest in developing this approach has grown over the past 25 years in business psychology and its principles have extended to management practices1. It continues to grow with both scientific research and practice-related information being incorporated into decision making e.g. increasing use of data analytics in HR. In this article, we explore the importance of the four sources of evidence defining EBP, the benefits of this approach and how to become an evidence-based organisation.

Research Practice Gap

The lack of sound evidence being put into practice is an important issue in business, management and HR; and this is known as the research-practice gap. Managerial decisions are often made based on knowledge, experience and on-the-job success stories rather than scientific research. Evidence-based management, as defined by Briner, Denyer and Rousseau2, aims to close this gap and improve decision making processes through the “conscientious, explicit, and judicious” use of practitioner expertise in combination with the ‘best available’ research evidence, as well as information from the local context and the perspectives of those who may be impacted by the decision.

The four sources of evidence in Evidence-Based Practice

There are four sources of evidence that should be considered before a major management


© CIPD and Center for Evidence-Based Management, 2016

Integration of the Four Sources in Evidence-Based Practice

In EBP, a combination of scientific evidence and professional expertise is important at all steps in the research process. Evidence-based practitioners such as Business Psychologists offer guidance to organisations on how to find and critically evaluate different sources of evidence and how to apply it to practice. Literature reviews are an essential part of EBP and provide practitioners with critically sound existing research relevant to the practice problem. Practitioner knowledge and experience helps to identify the most urgent problems, thus produce the most valuable research questions.
Organisations now have an abundance of data available to carry out meaningful internal research in relation to specific practical problems3. However, organisations may not use this data due to a lack of specific research skills required to accomplish this internally. This highlights the need for evidence-based practitioners to collaborate with organisations to equip them to carry out such research. These may be internal such as HR practitioners who have access to various data sources and analytical tools allowing them to gain insight into many organisational processes. This leads to more effective decision making, and HR professionals can act as internal facilitators of the research or commission others to help. One criticism for the use of scientific evidence in EBP, is that it relies on “human judgement” when making decisions about which evidence to use, which is influenced by bias. For example, evidence may be selectively chosen that supports an organisational process so that it is implemented. Therefore, continuous evaluation of the effects of EBP is important4.

In addition to scientific evidence and professional expertise, the role of context and stakeholder perspectives in decision making is helpful. Gathering information about an organisation’s local context is necessary to assess whether scientific evidence has been effectively applied. Situational factors such as lack of time, budget and resources can produce many challenges for carrying out research and evidence-based practice. The views and preferences of both internal (employees, managers and board members) and external (suppliers, investors, shareholders) stakeholders can also play an essential role in whether EBP is adopted4. For example, perceptions that there are barriers and negative beliefs towards EBP (e.g. ‘a waste of time’) is another reason for why research may not be carried out. Therefore, it is important to understand stakeholders’ values and concerns to determine how well decisions will be received and whether the outcomes of those decisions are likely to be successful. Both internal and external support systems can improve the likelihood of EBP adoption, for example, rewarding stakeholders for their research efforts is one way to gain their support and motivate them to adopt EBP5.

The benefits of becoming an evidence-based organisation

CEBMa research indicates that adopting an evidence-based approach is likely to be more effective than using less structured decision-making processes in various ways:

  • Decisions made based on a combination of evidence from multiple sources yields more effective outcomes than decisions based on a single source of evidence.
  • Forecasts or risk assessments based on the experience of many people are generally more accurate than those based on one person’s experience.
  • Professional judgements based on hard data or statistics are more accurate than judgements based on individual experience.
  • Knowledge from scientific literature is more accurate than the opinions of experts.
  • Evaluating the outcome of a decision improves both organisational learning and performance.

Organisations that have effectively integrated an evidence-based approach into their policies, programs, practices, principles, and management techniques have been found to share common characteristics that contribute to their performance and success. These include, for example, an organisationally shared vision and mission, a culture of learning and innovation, enhanced communication and collaboration, decision-making guided by data and scientific evidence, and efficient use of resources6.

How can you become an evidence-based organisation?

The Evidence-Based Professionals Society describe 5 components of becoming an evidence-based organisation:

  • Awareness and gathering of information/data on evidence-based policies, programs, and practices to support decision-making, problem solving and achieving goals and objectives.
  • Demonstration of effective organisational leadership and management techniques which embraces the use of scientific research to guide decision making and organisational change efforts.
  • Understanding of organisational culture and use of organisational assessment to prepare for change and successfully implement and sustain evidence-based policies, programs and practices.
  • Effective use of strategic/action planning, performance measurement, and program evaluation for implementation of evidence-based practice.
  • Continuous improvement to enhance organisational capacity (e.g. knowledge, skills, motivations and collaborations) and sustainability of change.

At Impact, we believe that applying evidence-based and psychological principles to the world of work has a huge part to play in business success. We bring the best scientific theory and research to every project and share this knowledge to gain the deepest understanding of our clients’ organisational challenges.

To find out how Impact can benefit you, your people and your organisation, get in touch with our expert Occupational Psychologists here.

References

1. Rousseau, D.M. (2006).‘Is there such a thing as ‘evidence-based management’?. Academy of Management Review, 31, 256– 269.

2. Briner, R. B., Denyer, D., & Rousseau, D. M. (2009). Evidence-based management: Concept clean-up time?. Academy of Management Perspectives, 23, 19–32.

3. Garman, A. N. (2011). Shooting for the moon: How academicians could make management research even less irrelevant. Journal of Business and Psychology, 26(2), 129-133.

4. Rousseau, D. M., & Gunia, B. C. (2016). Evidence-based practice: the psychology of EBP implementation. Annual review of psychology, 67, 667-692.

5. Thayer, A. L., Wildman, J. L., & Salas, E. (2011). I–O psychology: We have the evidence; we just don’t use it (or care to). Industrial and Organizational Psychology, 4(1), 32-35.

6. Myers, D. L. (2016). Becoming an Evidence-Based Organization: Five Key Components to Consider. Retrieved from https://www.ebpsociety.org