Closing the HR-Science Gap

April 12, 2016

Closing the HR-Science Gap

In Daniel Pink’s notable TED talk, “The Puzzle of Motivation,” he drew attention to our inability to bring more rigorous thinking, data, and evidence to decision-making in business. We can address that problem by learning how to apply scientific insights to help solve everyday business problems, particularly those that impact organizational strategy and people.  Time has come for HR to close the gap between “what science knows” and “what business does.”

The world of people management is inundated with talk of analytics, science, and evidence-based practices. However, there are still two things leaders must get right.

  • First, they must be able to distinguish good science from empty hype. We must question unsupported claims about analytics, neuroscience, and real-life evidence without becoming cynical about the value of science itself.
  • The second thing leaders must get right is actually building scientific thinking into their daily practice. Leaders need to get better at assessing the quality of numerous claims about data so that they can use the best available evidence in decision-making. 

Take the transformation many companies have undergone by redesigning an unpopular annual performance management process. The pioneering organizations  abandoned "the best practices track" and  went all the way to the roots of the science dusting off decade old research in behavioral economics, motivational theory, neuroscientific reports.  They ended up with a transformed practice that challenged all traditional assumptions,  dropped performance ratings and invested in trust between managers and teams.

What’s the payoff in distinguishing good science from hype and establishing the discipline to apply scientific thinking as a matter of business routine? It’s that we end up with practices that work and that will be a significant advancement for the human resources profession as a whole.

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For a more in-depth exploration of the science and HR, check out the spring issue of the People + Strategy journal on The New Science of HR.

The Authors: 

Anna Tavis, Ph.D., is a senior organizational consultant and executive coach with an extensive global practice in business, academia, and consulting. Anna’s corporate career spans a broad variety of industries, including financial services, technology, manufacturing. and pharmaceutical firms. Most recently, her consulting practice expanded in the nonprofit sector. She has held senior leadership positions with Motorola, Nokia, United Technologies, AIG, and BBH. Anna is academic program director at Columbia University. She is the founder of GlobalLabPlus ( and serves as an adjunct instructor at New York University. She is also Perspectives Editor for the People + Strategy journal. Anna an be reached at or on Twitter @annatavis.