An update on the South African #HRStandards and #HRAudits by Marius Meyer

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Over the past five years, South Africa has become a world-leader in the development, implementation and auditing of National HR Standards.  The standards were developed by the HR quality assurance and professional body, the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP). The HR Standards journey started in 2013 with the development of the world’s first National HR Management System with 13 standard elements, namely Strategic HR Management, Talent Management, HR Risk Management, Workforce Planning, Learning and Development, Performance Management, Reward and Recognition, Employee Wellness, Employment Relations Management, Organisation Development, HR Service Delivery, HR Technology and HR Measurement.  The National HR Standards model for South Africa is as follows:


The South African HR standards model consists of three standard elements at the top of the model dealing with aligning HR to business strategy.  In the middle of the model the seven areas of the HR functional architecture are outlined ranging from workforce planning to organisation development.  Irrespective of the functional areas, all HR practitioners are expected to provide good HR service delivery, and this process is accelerated, customised and optimised by means of HR Technology.  At the bottom of the model, a standard element on HR measurement positioned the HR Head as an HR analyst in measuring the bottom-line impact of HR on the organisation.  To ensure that the HR standards model is dynamic in improving HR continuously, a typical quality management approach is used, i.e. preparation (strategic planning and alignment), implementation of HR practices along the HR value chain, and then improvement and review as part of the HR measurement cycle.  In addition, the 14 HR Competencies of the South African HR Competency Model ensure that HR professionals are competent in applying the standards in the workplace, thus the HR standards and competencies are two sides of the same coin.

The purpose of the HR Standards initiative driven by SABPP was to reduce inconsistencies in HR practice and to provide a common and standardised framework for sound HR practice. The HR Standards project enabled the HR profession in South Africa to improve its credibility, status and impact in the workplace. Since 2014, an additional 26 HR Professional Practice Standards were created to support the HR Management System with clear professional practices being implemented by HR professionals in the workplace. These Professional Practice Standards range from absenteeism management and succession planning to career development.

Furthermore, 2014 saw the setting up of a National HR Audit Unit responsible for conducting HR Audits against the National HR Standards. Several companies have already been audited and the boards of those companies audited now have full confidence in the quality of HR practice as verified by independent external auditors.  The National HR Audit framework is also the first of its kind in the world and over time will be able to compare and benchmark the application of the HR standards throughout the country and other African countries where the standards are also applied.

In 2015 SABPP also launched a draft framework within which a National HR Scorecard, Board and operational HR reporting has been developed, enabling HR Managers to measure the bottom-line and socio-economic impact of HR on organisations. This multi-year HR Standards journey has reached a level of integration and alignment so much so that the three dimensions (standards, audits and metrics) now form a synergistic approach to raising the bar on HR excellence in the workplace that extends the impact of HR work beyond the realm of internal HR practices to national and indeed global significance.

The National HR Standards Journey has been an unprecedented success with many different milestones along this exciting journey.  Key milestones on the South African HR Standards journey are as follows:

  • A total of 22 universities have committed to adapt their curricula to the HR Standards and the first master’s degree on the HR Standards has been successfully completed by an HR Manager.
  • The Minister of Justice and Correctional Services approved HR professionals as Ex-Officio Commissioners of Oaths when the Standards were submitted as part of the motivation to his office.
  • The world’s first HR audit framework was developed so companies can be audited against the National HR Standards.
  • More than 200 HR auditors have been trained to audit companies against the Standards.

One of the major highlights of the South African HR Standards journey has been the international interest it attracted from more than 20 countries all over the world. It was an honour for us to share our work with our global partners and we look forward to keep on engaging with our local and international partners. Now with the ISO process also gaining momentum it is indeed a special moment to reflect on not only our own local progress towards HR standardisation, but also to follow the global progress on HR standards.

Capacity-building in the understanding and application of the HR standards has been a key feature of ensuring that HR teams implement the HR standards in the workplace. I also want to thank the SABPP alliance partners for creating platforms for further information sharing about the HR standards. Ultimately, the success of HR standards application depends on how HR professionals support one another during its planning and implementation. If we combine our experience and knowledge, we can inspire one another to meet and exceed the standards.

The South African National HR Standards is a concerted multi-stakeholder effort to raise the standard of HR practice in South Africa.   Despite labour market challenges such as poor education and skills levels, coupled with a high level of labour unrest and workplace violence in certain industries, the HR Standards are positioned to inform investors that business leaders have taken ownership of creating a stable professional working environment around sound HR practices intended to drive the successful execution of business strategy.  Moreover, given the fact that South Africa is also a world leader in integrated reporting, the HR standards can make a significant impact in strengthening integrated reporting from an HR perspective.   For more information about the National HR Standards and HR visit the SABPP website

Marius Meyer is CEO of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP). Newcomers to the HR Standards journey are welcome to download a full set of more than 100 articles from twitter using the hashtag #HRStandards.