HR PROFESSIONALISM: It all starts with getting the basics right by Marius Meyer

HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE SABPP AGM: A perspective from the Free State by Kgomotso Mopalami
July 9, 2018
Growing the HR Profession in the Free State Province by Kgomotso Mopalami
July 11, 2018

Over the last five years, since we have launched the National HR Competency Model, the SABPP Board, Management, Staff and Auditors have visited hundreds of organisations in all nine provinces and several other countries.  We typically engage with the members of the HR department, but sometimes also with line managers, trade unions and employees. When we interact with HR professionals, these discussions normally revolve around five key issues:

  1. The 14 Competencies of the South African HR Competency Model;
  2. The 13 National HR Standards;
  3. HR Professional Registration on any of the 5 levels of designations;
  4. HR Audits against the 13 HR Standards;
  5. HR Ethics

While the National HR Competency Model is clear in terms of the 14 HR competencies, it is evident that many HR practitioners have a long way to go in achieving competence in some or all of these competencies.  Fortunately, though, we also met with some brilliant HR professionals who have already achieved competence in almost all of the competencies. These HR professionals are not only adding significant value to their companies, they are also ambassadors for the HR profession at large.


Source: SABPP (2012)  South African HR Competency Model.




Sadly, on the other hand, we also witnessed a total lack of HR professionalism in so many areas.  It is clear that while HR knowledge is lacking in several areas of HR competence, it is evident that the basics of professionalism are not always in place, in particular in companies and government departments that have not yet embarked on the process of professionalism.  Examples are as follows:

  • Practitioners who are not guided by the four pillars of a profession are bringing the profession into disrepute, i.e. when they have a lack of knowledge, are unable to ensure self-governance, behave unethically, and are failing in their duty to society;
  • While some issues are complex and require significant planning, the reality is that poor judgement is one of the major causes of unprofessional HR work;
  • In addition to missing deadlines, in some cases, HR practitioners arrive late for meetings – this presents them in a bad light, not only among their peers, but also when meeting with line managers, external guests, employees and other stakeholders;
  • Some HR practitioners are not well-prepared for meetings, in particular when they do not have key facts or information ready to influence decision-making;
  • The written work of HR practitioners is not always at the required professional level, it often contains many unnecessary errors or omissions;
  • Trust is broken down when meetings are scheduled, often at short notice, and then rescheduled or cancelled, let alone the inconvenience caused to stakeholders;
  • Confidential information entrusted with HR departments leak out to other employees and external parties;
  • While HR practitioners themselves are expected to be impartial, independent and champions of respect and dignity of all employees, it is disappointing that we hear about examples of HR practitioners engaging in gossip and the spreading of rumours;
  • Many HR practitioners are too reactive, with a lack of foresight and the absence of a proactive approach when dealing with business problems, challenges and complex issues;
  • Using the wrong communication channel for certain issues, e.g. dealing with sensitive issues via email or SMS instead of a face-to-face meeting;
  • HR professionals are not exempt from the unprofessional use of electronic communication, social media and net-etiquette;
  • Weak HR practitioners will not be able to stand up to an unprofessional or unethical line manager, and in some cases, this means that an employee may be exploited, treated in an inhuman manner or even their human rights being violated;
  • Practitioners who make promises to their stakeholders and then fail to keep these promises;
  • Poor customer service is the outcome when HR practitioners do not follow-up with their clients;
  • A lack of evaluation and tangible measurement of HR work and business impact.

What is sad about the above examples, is that most other professionals such as engineers, accountants and auditors do not make these mistakes, and they are therefore more professional in their conduct. These professions are then seen as “true professions,” while HR is merely seen as another career choice or “pseudo-profession.”

It is time for HR practitioners to rise to the occasion and improve their professionalism. Now is the time for HR professionals to step up and start behaving like true professionals. The SABPP Code of Conduct with its four values of Responsibility, Integrity, Respect and Competence provides a clear guideline for HR practitioners on HR professionalism.  While mastering sophisticated conceptual and strategy models is essential for more senior HR professionals, no level of sophistication is more important if you neglect the basics of professionalism. Getting the basics of professionalism right is key to embark on the professionalism journey and to ensure that you keep your professional image intact.

Marius Meyer is CEO of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP).