HR Application Standards take the National HR Management System Standard to the Workplace


HR Application Standards take the National HR Management System Standard to the workplace by Marius Meyer

While the National HR Standards has entered its third year in 2015,  he year 2013 will be remembered as a crucial turning point in the history of HR in South Africa.  While many top HR professionals have done excellent HR work at leading companies all over the country for decades, these pockets of excellence never became the norm given the absence of National Standards.  With the National HR Standards Initiative launched by the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP) and HR Future, HR as a profession has embarked on a journey to standardise and build the HR field with clear national standards for consistent high quality practice.

The standard development process consists of three phases as outlined below:

Phase 1: Development of HR System Standard (the overall systems framework with the 13 elements);

Phase 2: Development of HR Application Standards (detail on “how to” apply the 13 standard elements in the workplace); and

Phase 3: Development of Professional Practice Standards (working down from the overall standard elements, specific HR professional practice standards will be developed for different areas of professional practice, e.g. on-boarding, succession planning,  mentoring and coaching etc.).


The first two phases have been completed in 2013, and the third phase, i.e. the development of HR professional practice standards commenced in 2014.

Phase 1: Development of HR System Standard:

On 21 May 2013, a 108 HR directors and eight HR professional bodies and associations under the leadership of SABPP and HR Future gathered in Johannesburg to set national HR standards for South Africa.  A total of 13 groups were formed (13 tables for the 13 standards) for senior HR professionals from leading companies to generate the standards, based on three components:

  • A clear definition of what the standard element means;
  • The objective of the standard;
  • Broad guidelines for implementation of the standard in practice.

At this historic session, there was a collective realisation and commitment that as HR professionals, we owe it to our clients, and other stakeholders within and outside our organisations to drive a framework for high quality HR work.  SABPP and HR Future were driving this process and staying in close contact with the HR community to ensure that they are involved in the generation, consultation and finalisation of the standards.

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.

Building on the initial development of the National HR Standards (The overall HR Management System with its 13 standard elements), the HR Standards Roll-out event took place on 20 and 21 August 2013 in Krugersdorp, in addition to hearing case study examples from organisations that have good practices in each of the 13 Standard areas, and worked on implementation guidelines.   This conference was a huge success with a total of 468 HR managers from all nine provinces and four other countries attending.   Also, the project attracted significant international interest and the standards have now already been launched in Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Swaziland and Zambia, with further interest shown from Kenya, Botswana, Liberia and Namibia.

Phase 2: Development of HR Application Standards:

The second phase consisted of the development of HR application standards to help HR professionals in applying the 13 HR standard elements in the workplace.   While the Phase 1 Standards focused on the broad aspects of the particular standard element, such as Strategic HR Management, or Talent Management, the phase 2 standard addresses the “how to” of the standard element. In other words, how companies should apply the HR Standards in practice. For instance, now that we know what talent management really is, and what the overall objectives and implementation framework entail, HR professionals are guided on how to make it work in practice.   This phase was done by gathering inputs in brainstorming sessions from all the delegates at the Standards Roll-out event in August.  From the delegates’ inputs, the draft application standards were prepared by the SABPP office and as at October 2013 were out for consultation across the profession.  On 30 November 2013 the HR application standards were signed off.

Given the broad level of HR professional participation and the excitement the standards generated, several awareness sessions were held to engage HR professionals on this exciting journey.  Almost a 1000 HR professionals contributed directly to the development of the standards and first round of awareness sessions.  In addition to the first eight institutions, a further sixteen HR and associated professional bodies and industry forums have directly or indirectly supported or contributed to the initiative, thus expanding the overall reach to more than 15 000 HR professionals.

With a consistent framework for HR practice, the HR profession in South Africa has for the first time being formalised with clear standards for professionalism.  The HR Application Standards provide explicit guidelines to HR professionals and organisations on how to implement the standards in the workplace.


Marius Meyer is CEO of SABPP.  For daily news about the National HR Standards Initiative, follow SABPP on twitter @SABPP1.  For more information about the 3rd Annual National HR Standards Conference on 17 September 2015  visit SABPP on

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