HR Standards for South Africa: Creating an integrated approach to governance, risk and compliance – Dr Michael Robbins

The months of June and July are two historic months in the history of HR in South Africa, it is HR standards season.  These SABPP Standards establish a common set of criteria for the management of human resources within all South African organisations, irrespective of size, sector or industry. This is a national standard for all organisations in South Africa, including multinationals operating in South Africa.  In this blog we focus on HR standards from the perspective of governance, risk and compliance.  Good standards form the foundation of good governance.  Standards also assist in managing risks from a national perspective, and compliance ensures that standards are embedded within national professional practice.

Corporate governance refers to the policies, procedures and processes according to which an organisation is directed and controlled, according to the approaches adopted by the European Central Bank and the King III Code and Report on Governance for South Africa. The corporate governance structure specifies the distribution of rights and responsibilities among the different participants in the organisation – such as the board, managers, shareholders and other stakeholders – and lays down the rules and procedures for decision-making.   Likewise, HR governance refers to the policies, procedures and processes according to which HR is directed and controlled.

The overall purpose of a management review is to evaluate the suitability, adequacy, and effectiveness of an organisation’s management system, and to look for improvement opportunities.

Management reviews are also used to identify and assess opportunities to change an organisation’s policy and procedures, to address resource needs, and to look for opportunities to improve its products or services.

For governance and management reviews to be effective, clear standards and requirements must be established, and this HR Management System Standard for South Africa intends to ensure that HR is effectively governed and managed in South Africa.

The SABPP HR Standards are compatible with international management standards in their format and requirements and as such, can be introduced into any organisation that is currently using one or more of the sets of international standards. The South African HR Standards will provide clarity and detail to implement relevant parts of the other international standards in our national context.

According to the International Standards Organisation (ISO) a standard is a document that provides requirements, specifications, guidelines or characteristics that can be used consistently to ensure that materials, products, processes and services are fit for their purpose. Thus, standards are about consistency and quality.  ISO International standards in common use in organisations include:

  • ISO 9000 Quality management
  • ISO 14000 Environmental management
  • ISO 3166 Country codes
  • ISO 26000 Social responsibility
  • ISO 50001 Energy management
  • ISO 31000 Risk management
  • ISO 22000 Food safety management
  • ISO 4217 Currency codes
  • ISO 639 Language codes

The Risk Management series is of particular relevance to HR. According to ISO 31000, risk is the “effect of uncertainty on objectives”. An effect is a positive or negative deviation from what is expected. Risk management refers to a coordinated set of activities and methods that is used to direct an organisation and to control the many risks that can affect its ability to achieve objectives.

According to the Introduction to ISO 31000 2009, the term risk management also refers to the architecture that is used to manage risk. This architecture includes risk management principles, a risk management framework, and a risk management process.  I want to applaud SABPP for introducing HR Risk Management, you are leading the world on this innovative approach to risk management.  Most risk management experts will agree with you that human capital risk is the biggest business risk, and should therefore be governed in a proactive and systematic way.

The national HR Standards Initiative provides an opportunity for HR managers and professionals to adopt an integrated approach to HR governance, risk and compliance.  Clear standards for HR practice position the HR side of business at the centre stage of organisational activity.  No longer will HR be at the periphery of business, it becomes one of the most important aspects of doing business.


Dr Michael Robbins from IMOR (UK) is the Chief Facilitator of the National HR Management System Standards Initiative driven by SABPP. Dr Robbins has been involved in standard development projects for the British Standards Institute.  He orientated the 13 local HR Standards Facilitators, and facilitated the standards-writing day on 21 May with more than a hundred HR Directors.  He will also be the key note speaker at the launch of the HR Standards on 20 August and will manage the second phase of the HR Standards writing process (i.e. developing the “how to” standards with clear guidelines for application in the workplace).


To view the full programme of South Africa’s HR Standards Roll-out, visit  To book your seat at the SABPP National HR Standards Roll-out Conference in Krugersdorp on 20-21 August, please contact


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