Successes of the South African HR Standards and Audits Journey


Successes of the South African HR Standards and Audits Journey
Marius Meyer

Over the past three years, South Africa has become a world-leader in the development, implementation and auditing of National HR Standards. The standards were developed by the HR quality assurance and professional body, the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP). The HR Standards were developed as part of SABPP’s drive to continue professionalising HR in terms of high quality HR practices and conduct by HR professionals. In essence, the HR standards are intended to reduce inconsistencies in HR practice between different sites, organisations, provinces and sectors in the business community. Learning from other professions like accounting, engineering and psychology, SABPP identified the need to create consistent practices. Too often variance in practice has been observed, not only to the detriment of HR Managers, but also to the image of the HR profession at large, and organisations in which they operate. With a full HR audit framework in place to audit companies against the HR standards, the purpose of this multi-year project is to raise the standard in HR practice. Ultimately, the HR standards are positioned to ensure that HR adds value to the overall goals of the organisation.

The HR Standards journey started in 2013 with the development of the world’s first National HR Management System with 13 standard elements, namely Strategic HR Management, Talent Management, HR Risk Management, Workforce Planning, Learning and Development, Performance Management, Reward and Recognition, Employee Wellness, Employment Relations Management, Organisation Development, HR Service Delivery, HR Technology and HR Measurement. The National HR Standards model for South Africa is as follows:


The South African HR standards model consists of three standard elements at the top of the model dealing with aligning HR to business strategy. In the middle of the model the seven areas of the HR functional architecture are outlined ranging from workforce planning to organisation development. Irrespective of the functional areas, all HR practitioners are expected to provide good HR service delivery, and this process is accelerated, customised and optimised by means of HR Technology. At the bottom of the model, a standard element on HR measurement positioned the HR Head as an HR analyst in measuring the bottom-line impact of HR on the organisation. To ensure that the HR standards model is dynamic in improving HR continuously, a typical quality management approach is used, i.e. preparation (strategic planning and alignment), implementation of HR practices along the HR value chain, and then improvement and review as part of the HR measurement cycle. The 14 HR Competencies of the South African HR Competency Model ensure that HR professionals are competent in applying the standards in the workplace, thus the HR standards and competencies are two sides of the same coin.
The purpose of the HR Standards initiative driven by SABPP was to reduce inconsistencies in HR practice and to provide a common and standardised framework for sound HR practice. The HR Standards project enabled the HR profession in South Africa to improve its credibility, status and impact in the workplace. In 2014, an additional 19 HR Professional Practice Standards were created to support the HR Management System with clear professional practices being implemented by HR professionals in the workplace. These Professional Practice Standards range from absenteeism management and succession planning to career development.
In addition, 2014 saw the setting up of a National HR Audit Unit responsible for conducting HR Audits against the National HR Standards. Several companies have already been audited and the boards of those companies audited now have full confidence in the quality of HR practice as verified by independent external auditors. The National HR Audit framework is also the first of its kind in the world and over time will be able to compare and benchmark the application of the HR standards throughout the country and other African countries where the standards are also applied.
In 2015 SABPP also launched a framework within which a National HR Scorecard, Board and operational HR reporting has been developed, enabling HR Managers to measure the bottom-line impact of HR on organisations. This multi-year HR Standards journey has reached a level of integration and alignment so much so that the three dimensions (standards, audits and metrics) now form a synergistic approach to raising the bar on HR excellence in the workplace that extends the impact of HR work beyond the realm of internal HR practices to national significance.
The National HR Standards Journey has been an unprecedented success with many different milestones along this exciting journey. Key highlights on the South African HR Standards journey are as follows:
• The South African HR Standards were the first set of its kind in the world and attracted interest from 23 countries. Several countries on the African continent such as Zimbabwe, Zambia and Swaziland have either adopted or slightly adapted the HR Standards for their purposes. Next month the standards will also be presented in Malawi.
• Top HR professional bodies and interest groups from the USA, UK, Australia and other countries have reacted favourably to the South African HR Standards with some of them visiting South Africa to learn about the process and outcomes.
• A total of 22 universities have committed to adapt their curricula to the HR Standards and the first master’s degree on the HR Standards has been successfully completed by an HR Manager.
• The Minister of Justice and Correctional Services approved HR professionals as Ex-Officio Commissioners of Oaths when the Standards were submitted as part of the motivation to his office.
• The world’s first HR audit framework was developed so companies can be audited against the National HR Standards.
• More than 200 auditors have been trained to audit companies against the Standards.
The South African National HR Standards is a concerted multi-stakeholder effort to raise the standard of HR practice in South Africa. Despite labour market challenges such as poor education and skills levels, coupled with a high level of labour unrest and workplace violence in certain industries, the HR Standards are positioned to inform investors that business leaders have taken ownership of creating a stable professional working environment around sound HR practices intended to drive the successful execution of business strategy. Moreover, given the fact that South Africa is also a world leader in integrated reporting, the HR standards can make a significant impact in strengthening integrated reporting from an HR perspective. For more information about the National HR Standards and HR visit the SABPP website


Marius Meyer is CEO of SABPP. You can follow him on twitter @MariusSABPP and SABPP on @SABPP1. He will be a speaker at the 4th Annual National HR Standards Conference on 27 July in Midrand. The programme is available on

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