Certification: The steps toward best practice

Peter Wilson AM FCPHR


written on April 2, 2015

A quiet debate is gathering momentum within certain developed nations which have traditionally set trends and best practices for the global human resources profession. The country in which the greatest level of contention appears to be transpiring is also the most prominent international force in the HR profession.

In the middle of 2014, the US Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), with 275,000 members worldwide, cut ties with the Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI), which has its own 135,000 members. Approximately 70,000 of those members are common to both SHRM and HRCI. The very public announcement by SHRM that the two bodies were “going our separate ways” seemed principally about desires by SHRM not only to control certification of its own members, but also to streamline the number of certification levels applying to those members from six down to two. But the split has shone light on the process of certification, and in particular, the question of whether professional certification of “competence” can be determined solely by the results of an examination.

Australian certification

The AHRI model of excellence is now the focal point of a three-stage approach that integrates local survey data, development of intellectual property, and the initiating of a self-assessment tool that enables the determination of knowledge gaps. The aim of this approach is to arrive at a reliable and sustainable benchmark for primary HR accreditation, and also a baseline for subsequent certification.

During the early part of 2014, AHRI surveyed its member base with a questionnaire titled “What Is Good HR?” Respondents were treated anonymously and the findings were published in a discussion paper under the same title in October 2014.2 This data was statistically significant and further informed the AHRI Model of Excellence. The results referenced in the discussion paper are based on answers given by Australian HR practitioners to a number of probing questions about their own profession, including what it expects of practitioners entering the profession and continuing to practice within it.

The survey is the first of a two-part exercise, the second part being a survey of Australian chief executives planned for 2015. In setting the scene for “outside-in” responses from chief executives about what they want from their senior HR people, we will get a reality check on the way HR performs its function now as well as how it might inform adjustments to the MoE in the future.

We are conscious at AHRI that rapid developments in technology and communication have exposed Australian enterprises to competitive pressures on a global scale that are now reflected in how work is done, how workplaces operate, and how the workforce of the immediate future needs to adapt. As players with the potential to shape the way organisations position themselves with respect to changing rules of engagement, HR practitioners will need to ensure they possess the broader range of capabilities that business increasingly demands, and that they display the agility required to become the trustees of high people performance within organisations that contribute to competitive advantage and sustainability.

Highly ranking qualities

The Australian data coming out of the AHRI survey indicates plainly the behaviours rated highly by respondents, especially at the senior and executive level of the profession. More than 90 per cent of respondents nominated testing qualities such as being decisive, following through on promises, and being skilled at managing priorities, in addition to less measurable behaviours such as being resilient, being approachable and open, and being personally credible.

Around a quarter of respondents indicated that they report to the CEO, and more than two-thirds operate as HR practitioners supported by either no reports at all or a maximum of two people, confirming that a great many Australian HR departments are running lean. That’s a good thing, of course, as long as they have sufficient resources to make an impact. And impact is at the heart of our approach to ‘certification’. What are the practices that HR practitioners regard as critical, and what do they believe are the expectations on the way they behave professionally in order to make an impact?

The expectations on new entrants to the profession list a number of transactional areas of practice but also list “workplace ethics and integrity.” It was gratifying to see that quality highly rated by their peers at stage one of an HR career. It might well be something that is difficult to tune into later if it is not front-of-mind early.

And it is not a characteristic that can be readily verified by a simple test. It was also pleasing to note that entry-level practitioners are expected to be role models in behaviours that include being personally credible, taking responsibility for actions and decisions, and acknowledging errors. These are vital behaviours to internalise early because a failure to do so affects the regard in which the person is held as well as the profession to which she or he belongs. In turn, those behaviours affect the degree of influence that HR is able to exercise in the business.

A question was asked about ideal backgrounds for HR. I was interested to see that respondents tended to indicate disciplines such as organisational behaviour, leadership, and psychology among the top items that they see as ideal. Without in any way denigrating the appropriateness of those fields of study, and being an economist with an accounting and mathematics background myself, I was somewhat disappointed to see that only 10 per cent indicated a preference for economics or microeconomics as an ideal background for HR. As a profession that increasingly sees itself called upon to be credible, influential, and business driven, professional expertise outside the human sciences could well complement those disciplines and be a career plus.

Certification program

Alongside the survey data, but also informed by it, has been the development of a four-unit AHRI Practising Certification Program. A distinguishing feature of the program is its work-integrated focus and practical application of learning in the organisation. Undertaking the final capstone work-based project of this program enables participants to demonstrate their professional competency against the HR capabilities and behaviours outlined in the AHRI model of excellence.

Assessment of professional competence is determined by candidates’ ability to demonstrate their advanced human resource management knowledge in HR strategy, organisational environment and workplace design, development, and performance, as well as showing evidence of the capacity to apply that knowledge in the workplace to contribute to the achievement of organisational objectives.

In order to embed the practices and behaviour into the certification of practitioners, AHRI has invested in an easy-to-use HR training needs analysis self-assessment tool that enables practitioners to determine where they sit with respect to the AHRI model of excellence and to plan their further study accordingly on their pathway to final certification.

This article is an edited version. The article is an excerpt from ebook The Rise of HR: Wisdom From 73 Thought Leaders, edited by Dave Ulrich, William A. Schiemann and Libby Sartain. You can download The Rise of HR for free.

To find out more about certification at AHRI read the article ‘The certainty of certification’.

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One thought on “Certification: The steps toward best practice

  1. Can I suggest that instead of Executives being asked (let us all face it, their opinion is also a large number of other interested individuals as well) that staff be asked for their opinion. And that their response is private and anonymous. Which no survey has ever achieved. Kills more than two birds with one stone as it also introduces that “rapid” technology development.

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