COACHING IN AFRICA: Building leadership-coaching-human resource relationships to leverage coaching for Africa’s future


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Thank you for the opportunity of addressing the coaching community of Africa. I feel honoured to be at this prestigious event of the African Board for Coaching, Consulting and Coaching Psychology.  It is wonderful to be with you.  And congratulations with this historic symposium for coaching in Africa.    I appreciate your openness to receive some ideas from your friend, colleague and neighbour, and we are indeed neighbours, not only as countries, but also as professional bodies.  In its broadest sense, as HR and coaching professionals, we are part of the people management fraternity.   Among other things, the science and practice of coaching is special to me:

  • When I lectured at the University of South Africa, I introduced staff and students to coaching;
  • I co-authored the first South African book on coaching and mentoring published in 2004.
  • When we launched the SA HR Standards in August, several HR managers from Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zimbabwe and Swaziland were present, and they helped us to convert the generic HR Management System Standard into HR Application Standards. More recently, HR Managers from Kenya, Zambia and Malawi joined the HR Standards journey. Thus, we could say that HR managers from several African countries were part of the process of developing the first set of National HR Standards in the world.
  • In 2014 we also developed the first HR Professional Practice standards on coaching and mentoring for South Africa.

In March 2011 when I was appointed as the new CEO of SABPP, the first thing I did was to visit HR professionals in all nine provinces of South Africa in order to learn about their needs.  Since then I have interacted extensively with HR managers from Lesotho, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Zambia.  The major message from these road-shows was that HR practitioners lacked a national identity given the absence of a national framework on HR professionalism. In short, each HR practitioner does his own thing, or conforms to his or her company’s approach to HR, right or wrong.  Hence, the reality is that there are inconsistencies in HR practices, within companies, across companies, industries and nationally.  For instance, each organisation will implement performance management according to the way in which they think it should be done.  I always say, if you give your financial figures to 20 accountants, they will all come back with the same financial statements. However, if you give it to 20 HR managers, they will return with 27 different versions. The problem is inconsistency and variance in HR standards and practice.

Even within an organisation, especially companies with multiple sites, inconsistencies occur.  The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that HR practitioners have different levels of competence.  The different philosophies of universities and learning providers contributed to the problem, given the fact that some institutions’ HR curriculum are dominated by a psychological approach, while others adopted a more business approach, with the result that students exiting these institutions come from different academic backgrounds based on vastly different schools of thought.  In many cases, these students had to be retrained according to the needs of the organisation, and some companies even went as far to create their own corporate universities to train their own staff.  Hence, the lack of a national HR standard was the main concern for the SABPP Board, and a dual strategy featuring two strategic projects was conceptualised to build the HR profession nationally:

  1. New National HR Competency Model (to replace the previous SABPP Competency Model developed in 1990);
  2. National HR Standards (providing a common set of HR standards).

The new SABPP strategic vision culminated in the rebranding of SABPP and the “setting HR standards” tagline as the main strategic focus of the work of the HR professional and quality assurance body.

However, to once again consult with the market, provincial summits were arranged throughout the market during 2012, and an original draft conceptual model featuring 13 standard elements was developed and shared at these summits in order to obtain further inputs and support.  The draft HR standards model was unanimously supported throughout the country and subsequently approved by the SABPP Board. Likewise, the HR Competency Model was developed with inputs from several HR   Managers, academics and competency specialists.  The HR Competency Model was launched on 10 May 2012 and published by HR Future.


The main elements or features of the HR Standards Model

The Standard is based on a system model which encompasses the four phases of good quality management practice, i.e. prepare, implement, review and improve, but contextualised for the field of HR Management.


The 13 HRM Standard elements as agreed by a wide range of senior HR practitioners are as follows:

Business strategy and HR alignment

  1. Strategic HRM
  2. Talent management
  3. HR Risk Management

Functional/cross functional HR value chain within the HR architecture framework

  1. Workforce planning
  2. Learning & Development
  3. Performance management
  4. Reward & Recognition
  5. Employee Wellness
  6. Employment Relations Management
  7. Organisation Development
  8. HR Service Delivery
  9. HR Technology

Measurement of delivery and impact

  1. HR Measurement

The benefits of the National HR standards

The vision of the project is to set national HR standards in order to improve the quality of HR work irrespective of the location of an HR professional, or industry and organisational differences.  Ultimately, HR professionalism will be enhanced by reducing inconsistencies in the profession.   The goals of the project are as follows:

  • To improve standardised approaches to professional HR practices and thus promoting HR professionalism;
  • To develop a national HR scorecard with specific HR measurements and metrics, supported by a national HR Research and Benchmarking Centre;
  • To create a National HR Academy with a standardised HR Curriculum;
  • To ensure that HR features in integrated reporting;
  • To develop a foundation for developing a South African governance code.

The National HR standards development journey

The standard development process consisted of three phases:

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)

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, employee engagement etc.).

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 the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP) and leading HR magazine 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.

The summit was facilitated by Dr Michael Robbins, Managing Director of IMOR (UK), a leading international expert in management standards. Michael asserted: “South African HR Directors are leading the world after today.  There are six groups doing this work globally, but you are at the forefront of setting HR standards.”

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.  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.

Already 21 universities have committed to developing their curricula based on the output of the National HR Standards Initiative. Thus, we have influenced the next generation of the HR talent pipeline with a new HR standards framework for South Africa.

Phase 2: Development of HR Application Standards:

The second phase consisted of the development of HR application standards to help HR professionals to apply the HR standards in the workplace. This was done by gathering inputs from all the delegates at the Standards Roll-out event which was a huge success with 468 HR managers from all over the country (and four other countries) attending the event. From the delegates’ inputs, the draft application standards were prepared by the SABPP office and approved after extensive consultation with professionals throughout South Africa.

Phase 3: Development of Professional Practice Standards:

The last phase of the project consisted of the development of Professional Practice Standards (February-March 2014).  The table below provides the titles of the 30 Professional Practice Standards (typical HR practices applied by most organisations).


Lessons for ABCCCP

Given the fact that the response to the National HR Standards Initiative has been overwhelming with good feedback from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Kenya, Botswana, Namibia, USA, UK, Netherlands and Australia, we are convinced that this project has added a lot of value to people exposed to the initiative in all these countries. We have learned the following lessons:


Some suggestions for ABCCCP are as follows:

  • It is time for coaches from different African countries to work together in unleashing the people potential of the continent.
  • If coaching fails, Africa fails. We have to get it right.
  • We need to adopt a multi-disciplinary mind-set by leveraging several fields to build competence and sustainability: Psychology, Sociology, Consulting, Management, Leadership, HR Management, Education, Learning and Development. If any of these fields could have resolved our problems, they would have done so already.  Now is the time to work together across functional areas of specialisation.
  • Balance the need for flexibility with standardization. In driving things forward, prioritise standardization.  In fact, if you want to continue letting people do what they want, you might as well dissolve your organisation.  An organisation is a group of people working together in achieving a common goal.
  • Focus on values, principles, ethics. Build it into the fabric of your organisation and the practice of all your members.
  • Build alliances to collaborate and pool resources, but never lose focus of where you are going to.
  • Focus on your goals and don’t allow political and other agendas to derail you.
  • Recognise the successes of your members like you are doing tonight. Give awards.
  • Use and leverage technology and social media. It is not only the new world of work, it is the new way of life and living. If you are not connected, you may become irrelevant.  By 2020 more than 80% of the world will be on smart phones. Be smart, be connected, be responsive, be fast.
  • Concentrate on business strategy. While soft approaches to coaching are useful, CEOs and CFOs demand business results.
  • Form good relationships with line managers and all stakeholders.
  • Work closer with Africa’s universities in ensuring that coaching becomes part of our thinking, curriculum, teaching, research and practice.
  • Make HR Managers part of the solution – form relationships and develop joint solutions meeting the needs of companies and all its stakeholders.
  • Use a more systematic approach to coaching, record actions and drive results.


The HR-Coaching interface

The reality is that the HR Manager is the most important people specialist inside an organisation. While competency levels may differ, HR competence is key in ensuring that coaching is implemented effectively in organisations.  Build good relationships with HR Managers.  Encourage HR Managers to leverage coaching for improved impact. The average ROI of studies measuring coaching ROI was 600%. Therefore, coaching has business impact.  Imagine what can be achieved if HR Managers and coaches can collaborate more proactively in leveraging coaching for improved business impact.  HR Managers are the custodians of sound people practices, and they need coaches to drive the right behaviours and actions in organisations.  Also, HR Managers are needed to develop proper HR policies, including clear frameworks for learning and development and coaching in the workplace.  In fact, coaching should be integrated in the learning and development policy of the organisation.  Moreover, coaching is one of the most powerful talent management interventions. Thus, HR can make coaches look good, and coaches can make HR look good, and then employees and management look good – a win-win for all parties.  Ultimately, if HR Managers and coaches can coach line managers to become better line managers, the performance of line managers will improve, and therefore also organisational performance.



Now that you have done the first symposium it is time to start planning the second one.  Don’t lose momentum. Develop a good plan and move forward.

Congratulations with a superb event uniting coaches from all corners of our beautiful continent. You are the coaching professionals of Africa. The success of the coaching  profession in Africa depends on your collective wisdom. For too long, coaches in Africa have been slaves of Western (mainly American and European) theories, models and approaches.  These theories have not been tested in Africa.  While it is indeed essential to learn from global trends and “best” practices, the time has arrived for coaches in Africa to assume leadership roles.  We need to find African solutions to African problems.  You are most welcome to consider the lessons we learned from the South African HR Standards Initiative, but please develop your own coaching standards. Having said that, I do believe that HR and coaches in Africa must work together more actively.  There are thousands of coaching professionals in Africa and we all face similar challenges, perhaps it is only the context and environment that really differs.  The future of the coaching profession is in your hands.  My call is for HR and coaching professionals to work together in making Africa a better continent for all of us. We can do it.  It was great being with you.  I thank you.


Marius Meyer is CEO of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP).  You can follow him on twitter @MariusSABPP and SABPP on @SABPP1 for daily news about HR.


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