· 2 min read · Features

No 'rules' for HR standards

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Industry leaders agree any British standards for HR must be focused on overarching principles and not be rules-based.

British HR standards are to be purely principles-based and focus on outcomes rather than process, CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese has said.

Speaking to HR magazine, Cheese said the aim of standards is to encourage comparability and a ‘kitemark’ of quality.

“In trying to enshrine better and more consistent good practice around how you manage people and build good cultures, it is more helpful to think about it in terms of principles rather than trying to prescribe a whole set of processes, which can vary,” Cheese explained.

“Recruitment processes, for example. I might have an entirely online process using LinkedIn to recruit one set of staff, and for another I might use executive search and detailed interviews.

“We shouldn’t prescribe the processes so much as to say ‘what we’re looking for is the good outcome’, which we believe is better described through principles.”

Last issue, HR magazine reported the release of the first HR standard BS 76000, which deals with management systems for valuing people in organisations.

Cheese described the principles-based approach as a “significant evolution” in standard setting.

Typically, standards in professions like accounting and medicine are a combination of principles and processes, with the balance varying depending on the culture. For example, the litigious nature of the US means standards are based on rules, whereas the UK and Europe prefer principles-based standards.

Dave Ulrich, professor of business at Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, told HR magazine he preferred principle-based standards, but questioned whether HR was “ready to do standards”.

Speaking about US attempts at HR standards, he said: “I get a little worried about standards because there are so many variables that go in and I don’t think we have the data to make them yet.

“We have professional groups who want some degree of consistency going to the lowest common denominator. What can we measure? Cost per hire. So what? What business leader is saying that’s the dominant thing I want from HR, to reduce the cost of hiring somebody? I think [the principles approach] is better.”

Ulrich believes indices that measure how well the function is doing against a set of criteria might prove more valuable. He added that the debate on certification versus competence were separate issues and urged the profession to work out how to evaluate competence.

Principles-based standards do throw up challenges, such as how to enforce a principle, which can be open to interpretation.

Cheese said standards would not be enforced through punitive measures, but he hoped they would be subject to market pressure.

“With standards it’s about strongly encouraging practices and recognising there can be much more consistency through the use of standards,” he said. 

“You’ve got to demonstrate you are in compliance with those kitemarks. For example, here are the principles, like openness, now demonstrate that your processes comply to those principles.”