The Professionals

In recent months the CIPD has been developing its new Principles. Considering these has made me wonder about the whole concept of professionalism in the HR community.  In this blog I’ll discuss some of this, perhaps somewhat controversially.

I was first alerted to the principles during #CIPDACE16 where there were some focus groups going on. Engaging with some of these on social media, I retweeted something about professionalism in HR by saying that I thought that the CIPD qualification ought to be a criteria for entry into the profession, and that the CIPD should regulate the profession in a similar way to how the legal and accountancy (amongst others) professions and professional bodies operate.

I got no reaction until some hours later when Doug Shaw retweeted my views, asking for comments.

And we got a lot of comments then. Almost all of them disagreed with my view, stating that it was narrow minded and restrictive to think that the CIPD qualification was the definition of professional status, and that many good people and ideas are operating in HR without having joined the CIPD or done its qualification and so restricting entry to the profession would prevent many talented people being part of the HR community.

I was taken aback by the strength of the views, and realised my own views were not the conclusion of my own thinking but perhaps an opening salvo, and needed to be developed through discussion and research.

I immediately followed all the people who had disagreed with me, and there were more than a few. Only one followed me back though.

I’ve not finished developing my views, either, and this blog is part of that development process so I’m hoping your reactions will help me.

I do still believe that there ought to be a professional entry requirement in order to practice in HR. But the reactions of people the other month, I thought, said more about their views of the current CIPD professional qualification rather than the general point of having a professional entry requirement and regulation. It’s clear that a great many people don’t view the CIPD professional qualification as effective in instilling professionalism or assessing professionalism amongst the HR community.

A fair point. But that doesn’t mean it couldn’t in future.

So should it? And if we ripped it all up and started again, would we end up with the same CIPD qualification we have today?

After all, I don’t think we can really call ourselves a profession if we don’t have some kind of entry requirement and, especially, no widely agreed definition of professionalism?

So how would YOU define professionalism?

I think it has to be assessed as a standard, and upheld throughout ones career. It has to embody more than just knowledge and skills, but a set of values or principles. It is about ascribing to a set of behaviours that represent a way of life for the said professional.

That’s how it is for those in the legal profession. And chartered accountants (my wife is one. I supported her through her qualification and she describes her current manager as “everything I aspire to be as a professional”, meaning not just skills but behaviours and values too).

And yet in some professions, the concept of a professional means nothing more than someone who is paid for their work, to distinguish them from amateurs.

So we can’t agree what professionalism means. Is this why the CIPD have launched their principles?

I think they come close to establishing something like professionalism for our HR community. Amongst the principles are the following points on professionalism:

  • An ethical duty to use the profession’s unique knowledge of people and organisations to champion better work and working lives; 
  • Striving to create situations where work benefits everyone – whether workers, organisations or the societies they are part of; 
  • Being an ambassador for the profession and an advocate of good HR, acting with integrity, and using expertise responsibly, for the public good 

And I think this is spot on. It captures everything I think professionalism means.

But does the current CIPD qualification assess this? I’m not sure it does, so I can understand people’s anger when I suggest using that qualification to bar entry to our profession.

But could it? Yes, it could. But it needs rebooting perhaps.

Plenty of people become CIPD members via different routes and that’s fine by me as long as their professionalism is assessed somehow, and that professionalism is regularly (?) revisited to ensure their practice remains professional.

But what about those people who choose, for lots of valid reasons, not to take the CIPD qualification and become CIPD members? Should they be allowed to call themselves HR professionals.


They shouldn’t.

That’s not to say they shouldn’t work in HR, or that the HR community is not enriched by their presence and ideas. It is, and we should embrace all ideas and people. But the notion of professional status should be restricted, in my view, to those who have been assessed as reaching a certain set of standards.

I don’t think the current CIPD qualification is completely fit for purpose. But it could be, and right now it’s as good a starting point as any. And the new CIPD Principles are an excellent step forward too.

I’d like to work in a future profession that encompasses all aspects of good people work, not just traditional HR, and where telling people you’re an HR professional garners the same glance of recognition that telling someone you’re a solicitor or a doctor does.  I’m keen for HR and the CIPD to champion the future of work and to create amazing workplaces, driven by talented professionals.

Am I wrong?

I’m still thinking about it. I’m prepared to accept that I am wrong, and I’m particularly keen to hear from you if you have views on this.

How does HR move forward as a profession?

Do the CIPD Principles help and do they mean anything to you?

Should professional status be both assessed and regulated, and thus controlled completely, by our professional body?

Let me know what you think, your views are very welcome.

Till next time…


PS in other news, I passed my Level 2 Fitness Instructing qualification and found out a couple of weeks ago. I’m now moving onto the Level 3 Personal Trainer qualification and hope to complete this by summer. It looks hard but I’m looking forward to it and may need people to help with case studies!

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