Frequently asked questions about the South African National HR Standards



Over the last three years, since the National HR Standards were developed and launched the SABPP office has been inundated with enquiries by HR professionals from 23 countries.  We have now consolidated a full list of frequently asked questions (FAQs) we received and provided you with some clear answers.

Where did the idea of developing National HR Standards come from?
Under the leadership of the SABPP Chairperson, Siphiwe Moyo a new area for HR Standards was embarked on as the top priority of the 11th Board of SABPP (2012-2015).  In March 2011 when the new CEO of SABPP, Marius Meyer was appointed, the first thing he did was to visit HR professionals in all nine provinces of South Africa in order to learn about their needs.  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.  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.

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.  Thus, 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.

What are 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 National HR Standards file guides HR Managers on how to implement all the above standard elements in the workplace.

What are the benefits of the 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 a national HR governance framework.

As a first success story, the Minister of Justice of South Africa, Advocate Michael Masutha approved SABPP HR Professionals as Ex-Officio Commissioners of Oaths on 23 February 2015.

Who was involved in the consultation process on the development of the National HR Standards?
The HR Standards Project consisted of a very wide process of consultation.  All HR professional bodies and associations were invited to participate in the project.  In addition to the SABPP professionals and other HR Directors and Managers, the following HR related associations were involved, either directly or indirectly by expressing support or commenting on the standards:

  • African Society for Talent Development (ASTD)
  • Assessment Centre Study Group (ACSG)
  • Association for Skills Development of South Africa (ASDSA)
  • Association of Mining HR Practitioners (AMIHRP)
  • Association of Personnel Service Organisations (APSO)
  • Corporate Governance Research Institute (CGF)
  • Employee Assistance Professionals Association of South Africa (EAPASA)
  • Executives Global Network South Africa – HR Directors Forum (EGN)
  • Human Capital Institute (Africa)
  • Institute of Municipal Personnel Practitioners of South Africa (IMPSA)
  • Institute of People Management (IPM)
  • International Society for Performance Improvement (ISPI-SA)
  • Nelson Mandela Bay HR Forum
  • South African Graduate Employers Association (SAGEA)
  • Society for Industrial and Organisational Psychology (SIOPSA)
  • South African Organisation Development Network (SAODN)
  • South African Payroll Association (SAPA)
  • South African Professional Trainers Association (SAPTA)
  • South African Reward Association (SARA)
  • South African Society for Labour Law (SASLAW)
  • Steel and Engineering Industries Federation of South Africa (SEIFSA)
  • Western Cape Hospitality Industry HR Forum (WCHIHR)

The level of consultation was extensive, with HR managers from both the private and public sectors participating, as well as non-profit organisations. The launch of the HR Standards was opened by the Department of Public Service and Administration, clearly demonstrating government support for the HR Standards.

Has there been international support for the National HR Standards?
Yes, positive comments were received from several countries such as the USA, UK, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Australia, Kenya, Netherlands, Swaziland, Lesotho, Angola, Botswana and Saudi Arabia. The support and/or positive comments from the following international organisations was encouraging:

  • Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development in the UK (CIPD)
  • Society for Human Resource Management in the USA (SHRM)
  • Association for Change Management Practitioners (ACMP)
  • United Cities and Local Governments of Africa (UCLG)
  • Standards Australia (SA)
  • Institute of People Management of Zimbabwe (IPMZ)
  • Zambia Institute of Human Resource Management (ZIHRM)
  • Institute of People Management of Namibia (IPMN)
  • Institute of People Management of Swaziland (IPMS)

Were line managers involved in the standards development process?
While some line managers were involved in the process, there was a clear intent to address their needs. Hence, the continued reference to alignment with organisational objectives. However, the approach was to ensure that line managers do not dominate the consultation process. We had to clean up the HR profession ourselves by taking full responsibility for the HR profession. The accounting profession doesn’t consult other professions on accounting standards. The HR Directors who gave us input all sit on Exco’s or Boards and they were very mindful of aligning their approaches to line management needs during all phases of the standard development or consultation processes.

How did the HR standards development process work?
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 were 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) 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.  SABPP is driving this process and staying in close contact with the HR community to ensure that they are involved in the generation of the standards, as well as supporting them with the necessary capacity-building when applying these standards in practice.

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.

One delegate at the 21st May workshop said: “This was the best day in my HR career. After today I am proud to be in HR.”  David Bischof, chairman of the Assessment Centre Study Group summarised the day as follows: “An exciting, invigorating and intellectually stimulating day with fantastic colleagues.”  Stan Horwitz, a board member of the South African Organisation Development Network described the event as an “outstanding, ground-breaking summit.”

Already 22 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.

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 at Silverstar Casino 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 (The HR Application Standard).

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. Given space limitation, 87 people were turned away.  A total of 23 exhibitors participated at the event.  The SABPP AGM took place on the last day, and a press conference was held at the end.

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.

Phase 3: Development of Professional Practice Standards:
The last phase of the project was the development of Professional Practice Standards (14 May 2014).  The table below provides the titles of the 30 Professional Practice Standards (typical HR practices applied by most organisations).


Are the National HR Standards compulsory minimum standards or a guideline to best practice?
The National HR Standards are intended to set out the minimum set of HR practices that any organisation (large or small) should have in place in order to build an aligned, engaged and productive workforce that will achieve the organisation’s objectives.

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.

Will the National HR Standards impose an additional burden on companies from a compliance perspective?
No, 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.

Our company and industry is very unique. Can we adapt the National HR Standards to our own needs?
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. Industries and companies conform to the accounting standards in their financial reporting. Likewise, 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.  Moreover, 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.

Who will be responsible for roll-out of the National HR Standards?
Different parties will make a contribution to ensure the overall success of the HR Standards:

The CEO of SABPP is responsible for championing the HRM Systems Model and the National HRM Standard as a national SABPP project, linked to CPD, mentoring and professional registration.

The SABPP Audit Unit with its trained auditors will audit companies against the standards and provide advice on how to improve HR practices in meeting or exceeding the standard.

The SABPP Head of Knowledge and Innovation will co-ordinate research and development projects on the standards and develop tools to support HR managers applying the standards in the workplace.

The SABPP Higher Education Committee, and Learning and Quality Assurance Committee will oversee the process of accrediting university and learning provider curriculum based on the Standard.

The SABPP Provincial Committees will be responsible for creating awareness about the standards in the different provinces.

HR professionals in all organisations will be responsible for exercising leadership within their organisations to ensure implementation of the Standard in the workplace.

How does the HR Metrics Initiative fit into the overall HR Standards Project?
The National HR Metrics Committee commenced its work on 30 September 2013.  The purpose of this committee is to develop a set of national HR analytics and metrics for South Africa positioned as a national HR Scorecard.  This will not only provide specific metrics for companies, but also enable the development of a full HR Benchmarking Service with meaningful benchmarks and comparisons for all organisations throughout South Africa.   A Human Capital Reporting Framework was launched on 17 September 2015. The committee consists of the following members:

  • Deon Pieterse, HR Director: African Rainbow Minerals
  • Natasha Carstens, HR Analyst: Telesure
  • Theo Veldsman, Head of Department of Industrial Psychology and People Management, University of Johannesburg
  • Gregory Lee, Professor in HR Management, Wits Business School
  • Tracy Harper, Executive Consultant, EOH
  • Penny Abbott, Research & Policy Advisor: SABPP
  • Maropeng Sebothoma, HR Planning Executive: SARS

What will the next steps be?
The immediate next steps are:

  1. Continue with HR Audits (since 2015).
  2. Additional awareness campaigns (media and newspapers).
  3. Launch of additional HR Professional Practice Standards (2016-2017).
  4. Launch of National HR Academy Curriculum (2016).
  5. First Annual HR Audit Awards (2016).

SABPP has set up a system to provide auditors to conduct external audits within organisations.  A clear process, criteria and evidence requirements have been developed to assist in this process.

Additional practice notes will be made available, as well as tools for implementation.  HR professionals will then apply the standard over the next three years, until its first review in 2018.  Next, the HR Standard will be worked up to include audit frameworks and checklists, so that organisations can evaluate their practices in relation to the Standards and make improvements where necessary.

What should an organisation do to align with the HR Standards?
The first step would be to internalise the standards at the workplace. The following guidelines could be followed:

  • Read all the HR Standards and compare the standards to what you are currently doing.
  • Ensure that your HR team has a proper understanding of the both the HR Standards Model and HR Competency Model.
  • Join the SABPP linked-in, twitter group and blog for regular progress updates.
  • Liaise with the SABPP office if you need more information, an independent HR Audit or an in-house presentation.
  • Request a presentation for your HR team:
  • Register your HR team members as HR professionals in accordance with the NQF Act, Act no 67 of 2008 – enquire from
  • Attend the 4th Annual HR Standards Summit on 27-28 July in Midrand:
  • Request an Audit against the standards from

Where can I get a file on the National HR Standards?


You can order a copy from Sarie Venter on

Where can we find more information about the HR Standards?
Regular updates about the National HR Standards Project are available on the SABPP blog (, twitter (SABPP1), the SABPP Linked-in Discussion Group, facebook and website (  The HR standards were launched on Morning Live on SABC2, ZBC, Kaya FM, and published in The Star, HR Future, HR Pulse, Achiever Magazine, Sunday Times, Mail & Guardian, Rapport and HR Voice.  HR Managers who require a personal visit to their office or in-house presentation for their HR teams, can contact the SABPP office on +27 (11) 045 5400 or

For daily updates on the National HR Standards Initiative, follow SABPP on twitter @SABPP1   Presentations, updates, case studies, lessons from audits and other news items are shared on a regular basis.  More information and articles are also available on the SABPP website:

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