Building the National HR Competency Model
Four pillars of professionalism are necessary to build a robust and credible HR profession.
By Marius Meyer
Last month saw the introduction of the new national HR Competency Model of the SA Board for People Practices (SABPP), the HR standards-setting and professional body for HR. The aim of the model is to set a national standard for HR competence and to provide HR professionals with a common framework for developing the required competencies in meeting the national standard. The model recognises that HR professionals are at different levels, specialisations and stages in their careers, yet a common framework is intended to provide focus, consistency and development opportunities.
The competency model consists of three broad competence areas:
The four pillars of professionalism form the square shape of the “house” as the foundation for professional HR practice;
Five core competencies needed by HR professionals to do high quality HR work constitute the building blocks; and
Five HR capabilities required to ensure strategic HR impact form the roof.
This article focuses on the pillars of professionalism: duty to society, ethics, professionalism, and HR and business knowledge. The central argument is that for HR to have an impact at the strategic and governance levels of organisations, we first need to get the basics right, not only to be regarded as true professionals, but also to develop our competence at the basic entry level where any profession gains stature and credibility, as the foundation of competence in any profession.
Pillars of HR professionalism
Drawing on the doctoral study by Penny Abbott at the University of Johannesburg, and master’s dissertation of Huma van Rensburg at the University of Pretoria, but reworked as part of the new national HR competency model, the four pillars of HR professionalism form the foundation of the HR Competency Model:
Duty to society
Penny Abbott highlighted the socio-economic role of HR in society. HR professionals have a duty to society in delivering high quality HR work that has an impact on society. As professionals, our duty is to ensure that employers comply with labour and other relevant legislation and codes of good practice. We also need to be the custodians for good people practices in organisations, and ensure that people are treated fairly, and with respect and dignity.
Furthermore, HR competence in driving effective transformation, skills development, sustainability and BBBEE interventions contributes significantly in fulfilling our duty to society. In addition, meeting or exceeding international labour standards such as the guidelines of the International Labor Organization epitomises our commitment and duty to society.
On the negative side, but consistent with the standards and approaches used by other professional bodies, SABPP needs to ensure that registered HR professionals who do not meet professional and ethical standards are scrapped from the HR register of professionals. In this way, we fulfill our duty to society by protecting society (employees, employers and broader society) against unprofessional and unethical practitioners.
HR professionals should contribute to ethics in organisations and drive ethics in accordance with the SABPP Ethical Code and HR Guide on Ethics. Hence, competence in the area of ethics enables HR professionals to support management teams in meeting the ethical requirements of the King III Code on Governance for South Africa, as well as the requirements of the Companies Act. On the one hand, we need to behave ethically as HR professionals and meet our own national professional code of ethics irrespective of where we do HR work.
On the other hand, HR professionals have to play a proactive role in driving ethics and values within their organisations in accordance with the espoused values and principles of their companies. Thus, HR professionals become champions of ethics, integrity and honesty in the workplace. The real test of HR competence in the area of ethics is whether we can challenge and influence management in creating an ethical values-driven organisational culture.
HR professionals should manage themselves professionally in acting and behaving like true professionals in the standard of HR work they deliver. Competence as a professional constitutes two areas of competency: getting the basics of professionalism right, and providing professional approaches to HR problems and issues in the workplace.
The ability to analyse problems in a professional and systematic way and deliver appropriate solutions that are implemented effectively is what the essence of professionalism is all about. The basics of professionalism are to get the few essential professional work skills right, such as doing your homework about an issue, preparing a high quality professional report or presentation, and providing appropriate feedback and measurements about the solutions implemented.
HR and business knowledge
HR professionals must have good HR and sound business knowledge if they want to be successful as professionals and strategic partners. HR professionals need sound HR knowledge of all aspects of HR, from HR planning and recruitment, right through to exit strategies. While functional experts such as organisation development or remuneration specialists require in-depth knowledge of their specialist areas, all HR generalists need to have sound knowledge of all HR functions in order to deliver integrated HR solutions.
In addition to HR knowledge, HR professionals must possess business knowledge to ensure alignment between HR work and the needs of the business. Therefore, the importance of sound business acumen to enable and complement the execution of professional HR work cannot be over-emphasised.
The new SABPP HR Competency model sets the benchmark for HR professionalism in the modern South African work environment. Considering the four pillars outlined in this article, one could say that our duty to society forms the foundation of the HR competency house. In essence, our duty to society compels us to answer the question: what difference do we make as HR professionals to our organisations and the society in which we operate? Ethics and professionalism are the walls. If the foundation and walls are not strong, the house will fall down.
Furthermore, HR and business knowledge is the ceiling of the house, thus acquiring sound HR and business knowledge opens up opportunities for HR professionals to move to the strategic level of the HR house, the roof. Ultimately, all professions are guided by similar pillars, although the context differs from profession to profession. Building the HR profession on a strong foundation and grounded in the four pillars, HR professional competence does not only revolve around the need for getting its own house in order, it also positions HR at a comparable level of competence to other professions. However, our credibility as HR professionals will depend on our ability to continuously develop our competence in the four pillars of the HR profession in order to raise to the level of excellence expected from our stakeholders.
SABPP acknowledges the master’s dissertation of Huma van Rensburg completed at the University of Pretoria and doctoral study of Penny Abbott at the University of Johannesburg as the conceptual background to this article