ISO Accepts Plan For Global HR Standards

Imagine an international standard for determining cost of hire. Or one for valuing the human capital of a company.

A pipe dream just a few years ago, now both are possible following yesterday’s decision by the International Organization for Standardization.

“A major milestone was passed,” says Lee Webster, SHRM’s director of HR standards. “There’s a lot of work, but we’re on the way.”

What the ISO approved was an application by the American National Standards Institute to develop globally applicable HR standards. It’s a companion effort to the one underway now to create HR standards for the U.S.

Lead by SHRM, the first standard — to create a uniform way of measuring cost of hire — is working its way through the public comment process. That closes March 18th. Depending on the comments and suggestions that come in, the proposal could become a standard by the summer.

Led by Webster, SHRM began the standards process a few years ago, applying to ANSI to create a body of minimum standards for the HR profession. ANSI is a private, non-profit organization that accredits industry standards for products, services, processes, and people, now including HR.

Although ANSI is the technical lead in the application for global standards, it’s SHRM that is leading the way. In the U.S., SHRM is the standards developer, and has multiple volunteer groups developing standards in the areas of diversity, measures and metrics, and staffing and workforce planning. It was the latter group that developed the cost per hire standard.

Webster says it’s likely the cost per hire standard will be the first one to be proposed to ISO. As in the U.S., ISO standards development is a long process. A proposed standard is reviewed by a technical committee, potentially composed of a representative of all 156 member nations of the ISO, but practically only a few dozen may choose to participate. Public comments are also solicited. Also as in the U.S., the comments must be addressed and may lead to revisions in the standard. That then starts another public comment round, until, finally, the ISO accepts the standard.

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While cost per hire seems fairly straightforward — some 36 comments have been received so far, most endorsing the standard or suggesting additional financial components — the standard Webster is most excited about is one dealing with valuing a company’s human capital.

Former SHRM CEO Susan R. Meisinger wrote about it recently in her HR Executive column. If a metrics standard for human capital valuation can be developed and accepted by the financial community then, wrote Meisinger, “we will enter a new frontier for the HR profession.”

It’s no easy task, agrees Webster. “The (volunteer group working on it) might not be able to agree. But we’ve got some great people working on it. Not just HR professionals. We have professionals from finance and investment,” he says.

“If we can develop a standard,” he says, “It’s no longer whether we should have a seat at the table. We are there.”

John Zappe is the editor of and a contributing editor of John was a newspaper reporter and editor until his geek gene lead him to launch his first website in 1994. He developed and managed online newspaper employment sites and sold advertising services to recruiters and employers. Before joining ERE Media in 2006, John was a senior consultant and analyst with Advanced Interactive Media and previously was Vice President of Digital Media for the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

Besides writing for ERE, John consults with staffing firms and employment agencies, providing content and managing their social media programs. He also works with organizations and businesses to assist with audience development and marketing. In his spare time  he can be found hiking in the California mountains or competing in canine agility and obedience competitions.

You can contact him here.


3 Comments on “ISO Accepts Plan For Global HR Standards

  1. This looks promising. At the same time, there’s a difference between developing a standard and adopting a standard. See: Metric System.


  2. My knee-jerk reaction is that ISO standards for human resources would go a long way toward creating a respected atmosphere around a profession that is often glossed over as too touchy-feely and sometimes contrary to productivity. I am reserving final judgement until after hearing the public debate and following the evolution of standards.

    Part of my reservation in jumping to a positive conclusion is what I see as inherent conflicts in valuation of human capital. Will the ability to standardize the valuation of the human resource result in re-humanizing companies that would dispose of human assets as easily as they would sell off real estate? If it is only an impersonal measurement tool, I doubt that the talent that drives a company will be any better off. On the other hand, placing a real value on talent could be a step in improving not only the outcome of careers but the bottom line of employers.

    Will these standards be a list of suggestions or would there be consequences if they are not followed? Anything short of full-blown ISO certification of a company could make the standards meaningless. We do not have a universal seat at the table and this could be the opening to having greater impact. Smaller organizations could benefit by becoming ISO “certified” in HR, however larger companies with good systems in place may not see any value added and can pick and choose standards or ignore them altogether. In looking into manufacturing companies with established ISO standards, the ISO accreditation audits are generally not trusted to replace customer audits, government audits, or process audits. Some industries are already highly regulated and would not benefit from certification. They would be hammered with additional requirements that nit-pick at the details without adding any return on the investment.

    Any kind of generally accepted standard may be better than the chaos of differing ideas clashing in the public arena. This could be the most meaningful endeavor that SHRM has embraced. Until the debate is concluded, I hope the discussion will be firey, controversial and bring out all points of view that can have an overall benefit to human resources as a profession. Otherwise, ISO will be another three-letter fraternity with not much substance.

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