Standards, which frequently bring to mind technical and industrial fields, are often most recognizable in their application to the design or performance of certain products or processes.  For example, consumers commonly understand that light bulbs bearing the UL mark meet product standards for certification by Underwriters Laboratories, and view this mark as a sign of quality.  The US Federal government defines standards as “common and repeated use of rules, conditions, guidelines or characteristics for products or related processes and production methods, and related management systems practices;” however, standards can be broader in scope.  They encompass definitions of common industry terms, outlines of procedures, and metrics developed around what organizations produce and the processes they use.  Companies implement standards developed for voluntary use as a way to bolster the confidence of various stakeholders in the quality of the organization’s products, processes and practices. The same definitions and implementation expectations hold true for human resource management standards, an initiative to set minimum effectiveness levels in HR terminology, metrics, practices and programs.  Creation of HR standards is still in the developmental stages but quickly gaining momentum.  There has long been a recognized need for a level of standardization and improved quality and credibility in the delivery of HR, particularly as the HR profession has matured into a strategic business partner role and the importance of demonstrating the link between HR operations and business results has increased.  The world’s largest association for human resource management, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), responded to that need.  We are now leading the effort to develop standards in topic areas within the purview of human resource management.  In February 2009, we were designated by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) as the standards developing organization for human resource management and now serve as the administrator overseeing the development of national-level HR standards.  As of early 2011, SHRM is also an international standards developing organization, as recognized by the International Organization of Standardization (ISO) through the creation of the ISO Technical Committee (TC) 260 for Human Resource Management.  In pursuit of this effort, SHRM is the administrator of the US Technical Advisory Group (US TAG), the body representing the US perspective in global HR standards development efforts.  It is our hope that the resulting voluntary standards will be viewed as a hallmark of quality of organizations’ human resource management practices.  Published HR standards prescribe the minimum effectiveness levels for specific areas within human resource management, but at their core, HR standards are business tools designed to drive organizational performance.  This anticipated outcome is expected to resonate with the business community and generate broad support from HR and business leaders as a means to improving operational effectiveness According to Lee Webster, JD, MBA, SPHR, GPHR, who since 2008 has been the director of SHRM’s HR Standards initiative, “Organizations can always choose to do more than the minimum, but standards will set what organizations should at least be doing in the practice of human resource management.”  Our belief is that the establishment and implementation of HR standards will help give organizations peace of mind that their HR practices are effective so they don’t have to reinvent the wheel or waste time and money chasing ideas that may not be effective.  Instead, they can focus strategic resources on what is unique within the organization or industry and develop their own best-in-class practices above and beyond the minimum effectiveness level in the specific areas where the organization’s business strategy demands it or where they want to lead the industry and establish their employer brand. One of the main anticipated outcomes of HR standards is that organizations will see a strengthened connection of human resource management practices to business objectives and organizational performance. The creation of standards is also right for HR as a profession.  A primary objective spurring the development of HR standards is to bring increased credibility to the HR profession by injecting rigor and discipline through establishing practice standards.  It is hoped that through the implementation of HR standards, there will be greater consistency in HR delivery across organizations, which will allow for ease of comparison of organizational performance.  As a result, it will be possible for organizations that meet the standards of human resource management to emerge as preferred employers.  In addition, in an era of increasing globalization of business and mobility of professionals through expatriate assignments, the creation of global standards means that how HR is carried out within organizations will be consistent across international borders.  This can lead to very portable HR knowledge and workforce management practices for the HR professional who is operating in a diverse, global business world. Human resource standards are the product of a balanced, collaborative effort of the broader HR and business communities.  Domestically, we currently oversee four taskforces developing US-based standards: Performance Management, Staffing and Workforce Planning, HR Metrics and Measures and Diversity and Inclusion.  Each of these existing taskforces is comprised of approximately 50 to 200 persons with material interest in the subject matter of human capital management, with several workgroups under each taskforce working on a more narrowly focused HR practice or concept within the broader taskforce topic.  Within the Metrics and Measures Taskforce, a workgroup is putting together a standard for investor metrics and another is working on a turnover definition standard, while a workgroup under the Staffing and Workforce Planning Taskforce is creating a standard for job descriptions. Taskforce members are as diverse as the constituency that these standards will serve, and come from a variety of interest groups including academia, consultants and private- and public-sector organizations.  Taskforce members do not necessarily need to be HR practitioners.  Within these taskforces, HR standards development follows the established, credible process set forth by ANSI to arrive at consensus for what will become codified HR practices. After draft standards are developed by the workgroup members, they are put through extensive public reviews and revisions.  Once individual draft standards are adopted by ANSI and become published standards, they will be made available free of charge.  The ultimate goal for the HR standards development effort is broad implementation by the business community, and our expectation is that removing the cost barrier to access HR standards will be an important step in moving organizations towards practicing HR that is at least effective and seeing business results follow from that. This is particularly important for the area of diversity and inclusion, which in recent years has seen a shift in organizations’ diversity initiatives centering around compliance efforts to becoming focused on developing strategic initiatives to serve business needs.  The definition and face of diversity as it pertains to the US workplace has itself been subject to changing trends in workforce demographics such as age, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation.  Employers often recognize the theoretical value of diversity and inclusion programs but lack a practical guideline for determining whether their diversity programs will be effective in their organizational culture, or how to measure the return on investment for their initiatives.  This is where HR standards for diversity and inclusion come in. “There are many areas within HR that we could have targeted first to begin creating standards, but it is our belief that Diversity and Inclusion is one of the key areas to begin with because of the criticality of this issue to the success of organizations today.  Competition for talent is keen as it is clear that there is a skills shortage – regardless of the current unemployment rate – and this points to the need to understand the diversity of your workforce and be inclusive in hiring and developing talent,” says Deb Cohen, Ph.D., SPHR, chief knowledge officer for SHRM. At the time of this article, Cari M. Dominguez, former chair of the EEOC, and Effenus Henderson, chief diversity officer at Weyerhaeuser Co., are co-leading the Diversity and Inclusion Taskforce (DAI) of more than 200 people immersed in the work of creating diversity and inclusion standards.   Three workgroups are currently operating under the DAI taskforce, each with about 70 participants.  These groups are moving forward with standards development in these areas using the SHRM definitions of diversity and inclusion, which are “the collective mixture of differences and similarities that includes for example, individual and organizational characteristics, values, beliefs, experiences, backgrounds, preferences and behaviors” and “ensuring that all of organizational talent is valued, treated fairly and respectfully, and is fully utilized in a way that enables the organization to succeed. It also means ensuring that everyone has equal access to opportunities and resources,” respectively.  Progress is well underway on creating standards for a top diversity professional profile, diversity and inclusion programs and diversity metrics.  Each of these areas maintains a scope that is focused without being too small to be relevant, and will be accessible to a broad variety of organizations that may have differing needs.  These standards will help organizations to become more operationally effective in their diversity and inclusion efforts and to be better able to demonstrate the strategic business value of diversity initiatives in their workplace.  Taskforce members who have been involved in the domestic standards taskforces since their inceptions are seeing their efforts come to fruition and making history as the inaugural HR standards are due to be released to the public in the coming months.  The first published American HR standard, the Cost Per Hire Metric Standard, is anticipated in early 2012.  A number of other domestic draft HR standards are currently moving towards the public review phase and are expected to be published by the end of 2012.  Further, the ISO TC 260 Human Resource Management plenary meeting took place in the Washington, DC, area in November 2011.   This very first meeting of the international HR standards developing technical committee drew more than 40 attendees, including delegates from the US TAG and international mirror committees of 10 other countries, to begin charting the pathway for the work of developing global HR standards.  Progress on HR standards is picking up momentum, and we fully expect these efforts to lead to enduring change in how HR is practiced.

We enthusiastically invite new participants to the human resource management standards developing bodies and fresh ideas for to-be-developed standards.  For more information about the status of HR standards development in the US and globally, or to get involved in developing HR standards, please go to or contact Lee Webster at