HR's Burden of Proof

By Sullivan, John | Workforce Management, January 29, 2007 | Go to article overview

HR's Burden of Proof


Sullivan, John, Workforce Management


'How CAN I PROVE to skeptical managers that my 'new' HR program works?" While this is a common question, it seems few HR practitioners know the answer. It is often perceived that while other functions enjoy significantly better program approval and end-user adoption rates, HR struggles. While the perception is just that, it is true that many other functions employ an approach to concept validation that makes getting approval of their budget requests much less painful.

What works for even the most cynical CFO is an approach borrowed from the world of science, where "split samples" are used to test a hypothesis. It's a relatively simple approach to understand and to replicate. The only barriers to employing split samples in the HR profession are a socialist mentality and ego. Some argue that providing access to training to one group and not another is unfair. Others are afraid to test their hypothesis because the results may show that what they "really want to do" doesn't work.

The process works like this: You implement your HR program with half of the target employee population, and for the other half you temporarily withhold the program. After a period of time has elapsed, you measure the performance differential based on the premise that those with access to the new HR program should demonstrate significantly improved results.

Let's take a common premise: Training impacts business results. Assume that you have a group of 30 salespeople in a region and you have a new sales training program that you believe will significantly improve sales. The design of the sales training appears logical and you have heard that it has worked at other companies, but have been unable to find any real proof of that. Select 15 salespeople at random (a critical element) and provide them with the new sales training. Inform the other 15 that the budget is limited and that they will get the training at a later date.

Nothing about the split sample is made public and nothing else is changed. Document the average sales of each salesperson prior to implementing the training and again at six months. If the sales training is effective, you should be able to see a marked increase in average performance for each individual who attended the training. The concept is quite simple, and hard to argue against. Splitting the training, while keeping everything else constant, allows everyone involved to know whether it worked and how well it worked. …

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