The story of two models of professionalism for HR professionals

By Claude Balthazard, Ph.D., C.Psych., CHRL
Vice-President, Regulatory Affairs and Registrar at HRPA

In late 2015, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in the UK published a report on its new strategy for the future of the HR profession in the UK, which put professionalism front and centre[1]. A few years ago, at a session with the Algoma Chapter of HRPA, a model of professionalism was also worked out. The two approaches were quite different, but what about the outcome? How do the two models of professionalism compare?

CIPD’s report represented the culmination of an extensive research effort which comprised a review of sociological and practitioner literature on professionalism, of economic literature on human capital and organisational value-creation, of moral philosophy literature on the possible ways of looking at the choices regarding work and working lives, and a review of extant literature on the future world of work, HR and other people management professions, as well as a series of focus groups and a survey with nearly 10,000 HR practitioners, business leaders and line managers in the UK, US, Asia, the Middle East and North Africa on professional decision-making at work.

HRPA’s work was on a completely different scale. On September 18, 2012, at a luncheon meeting of the Algoma Chapter, the question put to the group was ‘what do you think are the drivers of the public’s perception of professionalism with respect to HR professionals?’ The starting point was a blank flipchart. The model that evolved from that session was never published.

CIPD’s model of professionalism

CIPD did not present their model of professionalism in diagram form. The diagram below was constructed by this author based on the CIPD report.

                       CIPD's model of professionalism

The essence of the CIPD model of professionalism is as follows:

  • Competence is not enough. Competence on its own is not a distinguishing feature of the professions. What makes a profession is the combination of competence and the use of knowledge for the good of society. Both need to be there to have a profession.
  • A key concept for CIPD is situational judgment, which is the application of principles to decision-making combined with competence. Principles are how ethical responsibility works.

HRPA’s Algoma Chapter model of professionalism

The question put to the Algoma Chapter group was slightly different. The participants in this discussion were asked to consider the question from the point of view of the public. What aspects cause the public to determine that the members of a given occupational group are professionals? After about 45 minutes of lively discussion, the following diagram emerged on the flipchart:

                  HRPA's Algoma Chapter model of professionalism

Note that the Algoma Chapter diagram uses the graphical language of causal modeling, where rectangles represent observable variables, circles represent latent variables, and arrows represent the direction of causation. The Algoma Chapter group identified four drivers of the public’s perception of professionalism:

  • Government recognition to statutory recognition of the profession[2].
  • Ethical standards referred to the idea that the public needed to perceive HR professionals to be trustworthy and ethical.
  • Independence referred to the idea that it was important for HR professionals not to be seen as simply the puppets of management. The public needs to understand that HR professionals are on the side of fair treatment and honest dealings with employees.
  • Knowledge and competence—the public needs to think of HR professionals as having distinct competencies and a high level of competence in these competencies.

Comparing the two models of professionalism

Although the methodologies were quite different, the two models are quite similar—especially if one allows for different terminology and a bit or re-arranging.

The two models contain the same elements for the most part.

CIPD model of professionalism Algoma Chapter model of professionalism
Knowledge Knowledge and competence
Ethical responsibility Ethical standards
Situational judgment Independence
Trust Enhanced status, better remuneration, more rewarding careers
  Government recognition

For instance, in the CIPD model, trust was discussed before situational judgment, but it makes sense to make trust an outcome of the proper exercise of situational judgment. In the Algoma model, the drivers were all considered to be at the same level, but it would possible to make independence the outcome of knowledge and competence and ethical standards. The Algoma model also identified some outcomes of benefit to HR professionals.

Let’s see what happens when we combine the two models.

Combining the two models

That leaves government recognition. This aspect does not appear in CIPD’s model, but is an important aspect of the Algoma Chapter model. A lot is packed into the term government recognition. One idea embedded in government recognition is external validation—it does not matter what the profession thinks of itself, it is what society at large thinks of the profession that matters. Inextricably linked with government recognition is regulation. Governments don’t ‘recognize professions,’ they set up regimes whereby members of the profession are subject to regulation. Professional regulation exists to ensure that members of the profession are competent and ethical; it also makes members of the profession accountable for their conduct as professionals. The fact that a profession appears on the list of regulated professions places the profession alongside the established professions. The idea is that making it to this list would also impact the perception of professionalism on the part of the public at large.

Combining the two models (2).png

What do we make of it?

It always interesting to see how two different groups, working from two different contexts, and each following a different process can come to quite similar outcomes. Of course, this is not suggest that the work of the Algoma Chapter group is close to the scale of the research conducted by CIPD; with its literature reviews, focus groups and surveys the CIPD model is built on much firmer ground. Nonetheless, the similarity of the two models is reassuring.

[1] CIPD (October 2015). “From best to good practice HR: Developing principles for the profession.”  Retrieved from http://www.cipd.co.uk/hr-resources/research/best-good-practice-hr-developing-principles-profession.aspx retrieved November 20, 2015.

[2] At the time, the “Registered Human Resources Professionals Act” was under consideration by the Ontario Legislature but had not yet passed.

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