by Marius Meyer


SABPP launches phase 6 of National HR Standards Journey

HR Standards Journey.jpg

Today I am proud to announce that phase 6 of the National Human Resource (HR) Standards Journey is now officially open.  Phase 6 is about the development of people management standards in support of the HR standards developed by the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP) over the last five years.  The purpose of the people management standards is to guide managers on how to manage people. But let me first give you some background about the whole HR standards journey so that you can see the full standards development process from 2013 to 2017, as well as get a glimpse of the future (2018-2020).

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 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.  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. 

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.

The HR Standards journey with its six phases is outlined below. You will notice that the phases are not necessarily linear, as certain phases are embarked on by different working groups, while others are still in progress. This makes he standards development process dynamic as different milestones are achieved along the journey, while others are work in progress along the strategic process of HR standards development and implementation. This dynamic approach also ensures that the outputs of one phase becomes inputs of other phases, thereby creating good opportunities for testing and refining the standards as they reach a level of maturity, while affording HR teams opportunities of adopting the different types of HR standards.

Phase 1: Development of HR Management 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 overall systems framework and its 13 standards elements, 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.

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.

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 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 two below).  

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 as at October 2013 were out for consultation across the profession and subsequently improved and signed-off at the end of November 2013.

Phase 3: Design of HR Standards Audit Framework:

The third phase encompassed the design of an HR Audit Framework. The purpose of the audit framework was to audit companies (auditees) against the 13 National HR Standard elements. A total of 25 organisations have been audited from 2014 to 2017 and a further 26 audits are in the pipeline over the short term.  More than 150 auditors have been trained by SABPP to audit companies against the National HR standards.

Phase 4: Development of HR Professional Practice Standards:

The last phase of the project was the development of HR Professional Practice Standards (14 May 2014).  Working down from the overall 13 standard elements, specific HR professional practice standards were developed for different areas of professional practice, e.g. on-boarding, succession planning, absenteeism management and performance appraisals.  A total of 19 of these standards were developed in 2014, a further 5 in 2015 and another 3 since 2016, thereby reaching a total of 27 by August 2017.  This process is kept open to develop further professional practice standards as the need arises.  For instance, in October 2017 South Africa’s first payroll standard will be launched, i.e. a collaborative effort between SABPP and the SA Payroll Association (SAPA).

Phase 5: Generation of HR Metrics in the form of a National Human Capital Scorecard:

The National HR Metrics Committee commenced its work on 30 September 2013.  The remit of this committee was 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 Human Capital Scorecard provides an HR Reporting Framework consisting of 5 HR metrics dimensions used consistently in three scorecards:

  • National Human Capital Confidence Index (for the country)
  • Human Capital Board Scorecard (for boards)
  • HR Operations Scorecard (for HR teams)

The HR Metrics process is still in development and will be launched once all identified stakeholders have signed-off on the draft HR metrics framework for the country.

Phase 6: Development of People Management Standards:

This year the project is expanded to develop a set of people management standards. This will include a leadership standard for managers.  The objective of the leadership standard journey is ultimately to create a set of leadership standards for the country. It aims to inform stakeholders and debate their role in the leadership landscape, as well as to motivate people in business and government with the power to take action. 

A ‘hands-off’ approach to leadership issues is no longer an option. Leaders need a framework with a clear standard on what is acceptable and unacceptable leadership behaviour. The right leadership practice will enable the right staff and stakeholder behaviour, thereby leading organisations and the nation towards success.

Inevitably, with SABPP having raised the bar on HR practice, attention is drawn by many stakeholders to the parallel need to raise the bar on the people management skills and behaviours of organisations’ leaders and line managers, and the SABPP has been requested to address this issue. Many of the HR Directors implementing the HR Standards have commented on the lack of leadership and people management skills of their management teams, which is seen as a major obstacle to implementing the HR Standards successfully within their organisations.

The SABPP sees leadership as the first in a list of key people practices that managers need to master for proper governance and performance. Once the leadership standard is in place, other people management standards will follow from 2018 onwards.

As partners in developing this unique leadership journey, an opportunity is created to reach a common understanding on the demands of leadership which can serve two important functions:

  • To present to leaders in simple terms what is expected of them; and
  • To form the basis from which to understand current failures of leadership in many sectors.

From here, we can identify actions to improve leadership in South Africa. The country calls on leaders to share, develop and create the change they want to see.

Within an organisation, especially those with multiple sites, inconsistencies in leadership and people management practices occur.  The problem is further exacerbated by the fact that leaders at different levels have different levels of competence.  The different philosophies of universities, business schools and other learning providers contribute to the problem, given the fact that some institutions’ management and leadership curriculums are dominated by traditional management approaches developed during the previous century, while current and future demands require a different leadership paradigm and competence. The result is that students exiting these institutions come from different academic backgrounds based on vastly different schools of thought.  In many cases, these students have to be retrained according to the needs of the organisation, and some companies even go as far to create their own corporate universities to train their own leaders. 

The enormous body of research and academic writing on the topic of leadership illustrates how complex the concept of leadership can be.  However, most people taking on leadership roles would like to know in simple terms what is expected of them and how they can continuously improve their leadership skills.

An explicit model and approach is needed to utilise the knowledge of South Africa’s good leaders and to replicate and build on their successes. Good leadership should become the norm and not the exception, hence the need for a leadership standard that spans across industries, sectors and spheres of society. Exceptional leadership is needed to take organisations, industries and South Africa as a country forward.

Against the backdrop of the leadership crisis, the development of a national leadership standard will assist in mobilising and developing authentic leaders to rise to the occasion with clear guidelines for leadership practice.  An honest conversation will form the foundation, followed by focused collaboration and action. As authentic leaders we will recognise our shortcomings, but individually and collectively commit to improve our leadership based on a clear standard of action.   The standard will be developed in a collaborative manner and formally launched at the 5th Annual HR Standards conference in October. 

In the light of the above explanation about the need for a national leadership standard, it is clear that a formal approach is needed to commence with this important initiative to formalise a national approach to first set leadership standards, and then to develop the country’s leadership talent.  It is the intention of this project to move away from the current approach of leaders being appointed without leadership skills, but rather to encourage and develop good leadership behaviour and practices. 

The leadership standard journey starts in September 2017, but it will continue through the different phases and milestones of the process until pockets of excellence are replicated to multiply leadership success stories.  Also, a leadership network will be formed to ensure that leaders are supported by fellow leaders and leadership experts in ensuring that all leaders are set up for sustainable success. In 2018, further people management standards will be developed in support of the leadership standards. These people management standards will guide all managers to become better managers of people, thereby assisting them to unlock the potential of their people and organisations. The leadership journey has started, and we need to ensure its success in creating successful and sustainable organisations. 

Marius Meyer is CEO of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP). Individuals and organisations interested in joining the leadership standard development (2017-2020) process can contact him on




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