HR Managers unite to set formal HR standards for business

On 21 May, the HR quality assurance and professional body of South Africa, the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP) and its strategic partner HR Future magazine launched a project in Johannesburg to generate the first formal human resource (HR)  standards 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.

Marius Meyer, CEO of SABPP asserts: “While there are indeed many political and socio-economic problems leading to the poor labour situation in certain places, what we see at these sites are the symptoms of a bigger problem, and that is the absence of proper HR and people management standards.  HR standards are needed to manage the HR functions better, in conjunction with people management standards to guide line managers in the right way to manage workers.”

HR Directors and HR Managers worked together in May this year to generate HR standards aligned to business strategy.  Another phase of the initiative will be to generate HR metrics for organisations.  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.

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.”

“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.”

“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 to  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.

SABPP is facilitating the process of generating HR functional standards (such as for workforce planning, learning and development, 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.

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,” said Hosking

SABPP and HR Future will drive this process and stay in close contact with the HR community to ensure that their professional HR needs are addressed. HR professionals who want to be a part of this historic project are welcome to contact the SABPP office on (011) 482 8595, or to visit the SABPP website on


For regular updates about progress on the National HR Standards Initiative, contact him on or follow SABPP on twitter @SABPP1. Website:

People who are interested to join SABPP for the National HR Standards Roll-out Conference on 20-21 August 2013 are welcome to contact SABPP on

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