How to Practice Evidence-Based HR in Healthcare

Marketing Specialist

Providers make decisions based on evidence every day in a healthcare organization. They’re prescribing treatments and medications, ordering surgeries and sending people home, all according to the evidence they gather in the course of their work. This approach is a valuable one for HR leaders as well, leading to strong outcomes rooted in data — but for many it will mean a change.

“The decisions we make in HR are by gut or rote, the way we’ve always done things,” says Ben Eubanks, Founder of upstartHR and Principal Analyst at Lighthouse Research & Advisory. “The problem is, maybe that’s not the right way to do it; there’s no evidence that’s the right direction to go.” Evidence-based HR — practices and processes that are based on data and analysis — can drive better performance in your department and across the organization.

Here’s how to adopt an evidence-based decision process at your healthcare organization.

Encourage Curiosity

Experts agree: Evidence-based decision making doesn’t work unless you approach it with a spirit of curiosity. Ask why decisions are made the way they are, and why this process is the way it is, Eubanks says. “It shows you care about what’s going on in the business, not just the HR bubble.”

This spirit of wanting to learn more can also make HR’s role within the organization more strategic. “The more curious you are, the more people in the business will see you as an expert they come to with challenges,” Eubanks says. “The hallmark of great HR practice is that people come to you for business problems, not just HR or people problems.”

Define the Issue

What decisions do you want to use evidence to make? For HR it may be changing a performance-management process, improving onboarding outcomes, reducing turnover or measuring the effectiveness of employee benefits programs. For example, Eubanks says he worked with a senior-care organization that linked staff engagement with outcomes and satisfaction.

Because HR processes often happen annually, chances are you have something coming up that you can measure, change and compare with past years. Annual reviews or benefits enrollments are examples that are easy to try. Running HR data for insights may seem a little “softer” than patient outcomes, Eubanks says, but the results all affect the organization’s bottom line, and thus are important to measure and manage.

Gather the Data

HR departments are sitting on piles of data just waiting to be used for evidence-based solutions. Even if you haven’t performed any recent sentiment or engagement surveys, you still have information about tenure, promotions and participation rates in benefits programs. Other options for outside data include the Society for Human Resource Management, industry journals and Google Scholar, Eubanks says.

“An evidence-based approach allows HR professionals to build solid business cases in support of their recommendations,” says Larry Sternberg, a Fellow at talent-assessment company Talent Plus. Collect and analyze the relevant data about any process you follow. Looking at which recruiting outlets get the most responses and then allocating your resources to those outlets is an example of evidence-based HR, Sternberg says; the data you review points to solutions you have.

Execute and Measure

Once you make a change based on data, it’s important to keep measuring to see what effect the change has. If you add a new wellness program, how many people join? Is it more or less than it was before you made the change? Evidence-based HR can be an ongoing strategy to continuously improve HR’s processes, policies and offerings within the healthcare organization.

“I’ve never met an HR person who says ‘I don’t really care about our people,’ but when we come to the table and make decisions or support positions with our gut instead of research, we’re not doing the right thing by them,” Eubanks says. “By coming to the table with data and evidence rather than instinct or opinions, we have more credibility and are more able to drive value.”

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