The National HR Standards Initiative: From standards to audits to certification
by Marius Meyer
Over the last three years (2013-2016) the National HR Standards Initiative in South Africa has made the transition from standards to auditing to certification. These three milestones go hand in hand. A sound standards model ensures the consistency in HR practice is achieved, and it is now possible to audit the application of the standards, providing clear evidence of application.
Since 2014, several companies have been successfully audited against the standards. But where did it all start? It is impossible to audit in the absence of standards. Thus, a proper standards framework or model was first developed as the foundation for audits. Being able to audit HR functions against the National Management System Standard provides an independent verification of the quality and impact of HR practices in organisations. The principle of independence is key in providing HR with status and credibility. Financial functions have been audited for decades and that helped finance to gain a high level of meaningful impact and it also raised the bar for the accounting and finance profession. Once the finance section has been audited, boards and the public have confidence in the quality of financial practice. Similarly, now by learning from our financial colleagues, and utilising the independence of HR audits, HR also has the opportunity to get its house in order with sound standards driving good HR practice and professionalism.
But how does the auditing process work? A team of four auditors will visit a site and audit the HR function against the national standard with its 13 standard elements. The auditors will write up their findings in an audit report. The strengths and areas for improvement are included in the report and form the foundation for reinforcing good work, but also in highlighting areas requiring attention. The auditors are looking for evidence around three key questions:
1. What is the quality of approach used at the organisation?
2. What is the extent of application of the standard?
3. What is the quality if the results achieved?
The requirements for the competence of auditors and lead auditors will ensure the relevant level of competency is established both for auditors and lead auditors and will enhance the professionalism of individuals carrying out the assessment of an auditee. It is envisaged the establishment and collective acceptance of these competencies will help minimise any inconsistency between individual auditors and the audit results. Ultimately, the audits should provide confidence to management teams that HR systems are effective. This will enable HR managers in ensuring that good practices are continuously pursued.
The end-result of auditing is certification. This means that a company is certified as meeting the National HR Standard. Certification is a formal confirmation about the quality of HR work done in an organisation. The challenge thereafter is to ensure that certification is maintained over the medium to long term. A commitment to continuous improvement is key in this regard. However, many companies will tend to focus more on certification. While certification is key, the real value lies in working on your HR system and improving the quality of HR practices. Being certified constitutes a formal recognition for the quality of your HR Management System.
In conclusion, HR standards must be audited to ensure quality in the application thereof. It is recommended that companies first raise a good level of awareness on the HR standards. Thereafter, contact the SABPP Audit Unit to arrange an HR audit. Once organisations are certified, we will know that the pioneers will be acknowledged for their good people branding, and others will be inspired to also get audited, and to implement practices driving talent. The 4th Annual HR Standards Summit on 27 and 28 July will feature results of all companies audited, and include the first national HR Audit Awards for the best performing organisations based on the outcomes of the audits.
Marius Meyer is CEO of SABPP and a member of the Institute of Directors.