The National HR Standards: From application to internal and external audits


The National HR Standards: From application to internal and external audits
by Marius Meyer & Penny Abbott

In 2013, 13 HR Standards were developed for HR Management in South Africa by SABPP in association with HR Future.  Now that these standards have been launched throughout the country, and in seven other countries, it is essential to reflect on the early successes and to plan the way forward in ensuring the optimum application of the standards.

The National HR Standards are intended to outline the minimum set of HR practices that any organisation should have in place in order to build an aligned, engaged and productive workforce that will achieve the organisation’s objectives.  In addition to the HR Management System application standards released in December 2013, further guidelines to good practice and additional tools will be developed on an on-going basis, as benchmarking and research establishes what are truly good practices.

The spirit of the National HR Standards is to improve the quality and consistency of sound HR management, and not to be onerous from a compliance perspective.  However, we do believe that companies that don’t apply these standards will be at risk, and we therefore encourage organisations to meet or exceed the Standards.  Companies who conform will be able to optimise the contribution of HR to the achievement of organisational objectives.  Research clearly shows a correlation between sound HR and bottom-line performance.  Thus, we see the standard as “enabling”, and we will therefore encourage compliance and issue awards to encourage sound people practices in organisations. Using the HR standards from a continuous improvement perspective will raise the bar on HR management, and thus create more effective organisations.

A national standard is intended to be “national.” It supersedes any company specific or industry approaches.  As professional specialists, accountants don’t adapt their approaches and standards to companies and industries. Sectors and companies conform to the accounting standards in their financial reporting. Similarly, we expect organisations to meet the National HR Standard irrespective of specific organisational or industry perspectives.

Having said that, we do concede that different organisations or industries may have different cultures and contexts to consider and the application standards are written with this in mind.  For instance, the employment relations environment in the mining or manufacturing sectors may be different to banking or insurance given the fact that the nature of the workforce and unionisation is different. Also, safety will be a bigger priority in mining than in banking.

If we continue to hide behind the labour laws (which are truly “national”) or the “we are so unique” syndrome, we will never be able to professionalise HR. All professions must have explicit national and international mind-sets of professional identity and practice. Surely, the principles of sound recruitment and selection are the same in Cape Town, in Johannesburg, in London, Nairobi, Beijing and New York.

While the National HR Standard provides the overarching framework for sound HR practice, we do encourage flexibility in different organisations.  Admittedly, SABPP will not impose methodologies.  For example, we do expect all companies do have a performance management system, but we will not impose specific methodologies such as 360 degrees systems. Whilst we do expect a firm commitment to employee wellness, we will not expect all companies to have corporate gymnasiums. Organisations still have the freedom and flexibility to decide on methodologies, programmes and interventions, but they cannot ignore or neglect the overall standard element such as performance management, employment relations or organisation development.

Now that the standards have reached thousands of HR professionals all over the country, the next phase is to provide a framework for HR auditing.  Two types of audits have been conceptualised:

  • Internal audits will be used internally by the internal audit function of an organisation to audit the quality and consistency of HR practices based on the 13 standard elements.
  • External audits are conducted by SABPP as independent auditors conducting site visits and assessing the quality of HR work in accordance with the 13 standard elements.

An audit framework was developed to ensure that all audits are conducted in a consistent manner based on the same criteria.  According to the audit framework, organisations are expected to provide evidence of meeting the relevant standard element.  Typically, the evidence consist of relevant documentation pertaining to the standard element.  For instance, for the talent management standard, HR managers can provide evidence of a talent management strategy, or minutes of the meeting of the talent council at the organisation.  Likewise, for HR management, a document featuring HR risks such as a risk register may be provided as the necessary evidence in support of the standard element.

In conclusion, taking the National HR Standards into the 2016-2020 era, an audit framework has been developed to assist organisations with professional audits of the quality of their HR work against the standards. SABPP will send a team of five auditors to conduct site audits based on the 13 standard elements.  These audits will identify the extent to which the organisation meets the standards, and provide clear areas for improvement.  Moreover, the newly established National HR Academy will provide opportunities for capacity-building in all 13 standard elements, as well as the 14 HR competencies identified for South Africa.


Marius Meyer is CEO of SABPP and Penny Abbott is Head of Research at SABPP. You can follow them on twitter @SABPP1 or visit their website

More information about the 3rd Annual National HR Standards Roll-out on 17 September is available on the SABPP website or on twitter @SABPP1

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s