HR Managers in South Africa unite to set people standards for business

On 21 May, the HR quality assurance and professional body of South Africa, the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP), will launch a project in Johannesburg to generate the first formal human resource standards and metrics for South Africa. This initiative is the first step to move the practice of HR to a more professional footing along the lines of the accounting and engineering professions as well as to address issues related to the current labour unrest in South Africa.

HR Directors and HR Managers will work together to generate HR standards and metrics aligned to business strategy. HR metrics refer to tangible measures that show the impact of HR on the bottom-line of the business. It is no longer good enough to simply have an HR function. Companies must be able to show the business impact of HR by way of return on investment both in terms of business and socio-economic impact.

Recently SABPP launched a new HR Competency Model to address current gaps in the HR profession. The HR standards initiative builds on the HR Competency Model by focusing on raising the standard of HR work. Siphiwe Moyo, chairman of SABPP, says: “This project is the most profound national HR project in South Africa ever. Setting proper HR standards for South Africa will not only raise the level of professionalism in HR, but will also improve the quality of people practices in organisations.”

Penny Milner-Smyth, HR Executive at the SA Sugar Association, points out that HR is a critical item on the socio-economic agenda of the country because of the need to invest in communities to address poverty and skills development, and promote employment equity and transformation. According to Milner-Smyth, “Companies should consider employees as “whole” human beings with families and other commitments. If you pay a salary to an employee, a company is feeding a whole family.”

According to SABPP CEO, Marius Meyer, companies should approach their HR function and staff management from a risk perspective, identifying all the risks on the people side of the business, such as absenteeism, labour turnover, accidents and skills gaps in order to identify what can go wrong from a people perspective. The opposite is also true. If a company invests in its people, keeps them motivated and develops their skills according to the needs of the business, the company will manage their people risks more effectively. Meyer adds: “Every year this time we enter into strike season, and we have started to accept this as a normal way of dealing with management-union relations. While wages are often the main issue for negotiations, the source of the problem is a lack of clear people standards for business. Explicit people standards will make it clear to companies how they should manage people. Once the standards are in place, companies can be audited on the quality of their people standards in a similar way accountants and auditors assure the finances and processes of a business.”

Professors Gert Roodt from the University of Johannesburg and Gregory Lee from Wits Business School point out that it is important to consider the bottom-line impact of HR interventions and the human capital of a business by, for example, measuring the return on investment (ROI) of a training programme.

Meyer indicates that SABPP will generate HR functional standards (such as for workforce planning, training, performance management etc.), tangible HR metrics, as well as standards for integrated reporting. The latter project is an exciting development flowing from the King III Code on Governance for South Africa according to which companies should not only report on their financial bottom-line, but also on their environmental and social performance. HR can play a significant role in supporting business achieving the triple bottom-line.

Leading HR journal, HR Future is partnering with SABPP to make a success of the project. HR Future magazine Executive Editor Alan Hosking has given his full support to this historic project: “Clear, formal HR Standards will take the practice of HR to a new level of relevance, excellence and credibility. This is exactly what HR needs in order to play its rightful role. The project will therefore be writing a crucial chapter in the history of HR in South Africa.” Alan thanked the SABPP leadership and team for the effort in driving this project forward. SABPP and HR Future will work closely to mobilise the HR community during all phases of this project. The following three phases have been outlined: (1) Standards generation; (2) Consultation with market; (3) Final standards released.
SABPP will drive this process and stay in close contact with the HR community to ensure that their professional HR needs are addressed. The result of this project is a full set of HR standards for South Africa to be launched on 20 August 2013.

HR professionals who want to be a part of this historic project are welcome to contact Sithembele Stofile at the SABPP office on (011) 482 8595, or to visit the SABPP website on To participate in the project, send an email to

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