The past couple of years have spotlighted HR and our critical role in our organisation’s success. However, for HR to truly shape the performance of our business, we need to develop people strategies that are data-driven and evidence-based. The solutions may not be the ones that first come to mind, and they are often harder to meaningfully change, and at times this may not be as appealing as the shiny new initiative.

Many of the recent challenges we have faced have been unique, and we did not have any precedents. Consequently, we have been biased toward trying things in response to these challenges. In these circumstances, complexity theory would tell us our best bet is to experiment, learn and iterate. Whilst I agree with the concept of experimentation, I would argue that in most cases, we have a lot more data than we would initially imagine and a wealth of understanding of human behaviour that we can leverage even when embarking into unfamiliar territories.

Let me give you a real-life example. One of the biggest challenges we face is how we keep people energised at work, as it fuels engagement. It increases the likelihood of a person giving discretionary effort and results in greater innovation, commitment, retention, and wellbeing. All of these outcomes are especially important as we compete for talent.

"We need to develop people strategies that are data-driven and evidence-based to truly shape the performance of our business"

We have thrown many solutions that made intuitive sense at the problem, hoping that something will stick. I would put some initiatives in the shiny new category, such as giving people additional days off work and paying out partial bonuses mid-cycle. We also ran countless webinars on mental and physical health.

After announcing the additional days off and partial bonus payments, there was a real buzz and excitement. This buzz translated to an immediate slight uplift in energy, butte uplift did not last, and energy levels have continued to decline. We know this as we pulse the sentiment of our people every six months.

So how could a data-driven approach help? In our context, looking at what correlates with energy reveals some gems that we would not have initially thought of. The data showed us that believing that your work is meaningful and having sense of agency is closely associated with energy. With this insight, it is no wonder initiatives like days off and early bonus payments did not have any lasting impact.

The solution that will actually help people feel more energised at work is less obvious and harder to achieve. First, we would need to build the personal resources of our people. There is a concept of psychological capital, which is evidence-based and drives motivation and energy in people. Psychological capital is a composite of the personal resources of hope, optimism, resilience, and self-efficacy. Designing a solution to build psychological capital requires us to lift the capability of our people and leaders. This solution will make a meaningful difference to our people, yet it has been met with less buzz, shine, and excitement.

The next time you are faced with a challenge, as an HR practitioner, I implore you to look at the data and take an evidence-based approach. What does the data tell you, and consider what is likely to have a lasting impact? It may not be the first thing you think of or what generates excitement.