Committing to a Code: A Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct can Raise the Bar for HR

This article first published at The HR Agenda Magazine [April-June 2013 issue].


The Japan HR Society (JHRS) and its alliance partner, HR Certification Institute (HRCI), conducted a number of pre–ShinNenKai 新年会 activities in order to better understand the state of HR in Japan, its challenges as well as its opportunities. (See JHRS Community News for write up on ShinNenKai 新年会 event)

These activities included private and by–invitation–only roundtable discussions with senior HR leaders as well as visits to HR key opinion leaders (KOLs) in Japan from different industries such as industrial, legal, academe, consulting, life sciences, consumer, telecom, etc.

To my surprise, one of the most salient things we learned from these activities is that human resource management (HRM) in Japan still faces the dilemma of whether to recognize itself as a profession like accountants, engineers, lawyers, etc., or as just another job that people do to put food on the table.

Again, the question is: Is HRM in Japan a profession or a job? (Click here to participate in a quick poll.) If it is just a job, that would probably explain why the practice of HRM in this country is considered by many to be 10 to 20 years behind its non-Japanese counterparts (both Western and Asian) and is mainly learned through job–rotations or on–the–job–training. Come to think of it, as far as I know, HRM is not even offered as an academic course in Japan’s colleges and universities (e.g., bachelor’s of science in human resources management) compared to say in the U.S., where master’s degrees or even Ph.D.s in HRM are offered.

However, as a die–hard believer in HR, I have always seen HR as a profession comparable to other fields like engineering, finance, legal, medical, etc. Call it bias, blind-faith, or serving my own self–interest, but I do believe that HR has more to offer than just a means to earn a living. For me, HR, being the steward or custodian of an organization’s most important asset, can make or break an organization and as such, professionalizing the HR field and making sure that it adds value to the business are no longer matters of choice but imperatives to succeed in the global market place. I would further propose that HRM–done right–can become a competitive advantage for an organization, or a country for that matter…and we know that Japan sorely needs to have this competitive advantage if ever she wants to see her economic sun rising again.

Adopting the mindset that HR is a profession is no easy task. One has to make the commitment to higher standards and have a passion for continuous improvement and learning to constantly sharpen one’s HR skills, knowledge and experience and make sure that they are on a par with their global counterparts. I believe that HR certification or credentialing is one way to do this (watch these two short videos on the value of HR certification by HRCI and BIJ.tv) as it demonstrates your commitment to yourself as an HR professional and to the HR profession as a whole.

"This code will serve as a North Star that an HR professional can always refer to when faced with ethical or moral questions."

Code of Ethics & Professional Conduct

Another way to do this is to commit to and uphold a body or code of ethics and conduct as an HR professional similar to the Hippocratic Oath that compels all medical professionals to make the promise that they will practice medicine ethically and honestly; or by legal professionals that they will abide by and even defend the rule of law. That is, this code will serve as a North Star that an HR professional can always refer to when faced with ethical or moral questions.

Unfortunately, I am not aware that such a code exists in Japan and it will truly be a shame for HR professionals in Japan if we allow this state to continue in this country. Something needs to be done.

A Call to Action: Get Involved

Hence, JHRS will again take upon its shoulders the responsibility of leadership by developing a Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct that will commit its members to higher standards of ethical and professional conduct. We do hope that this code will later be adopted by other HR groups or associations in Japan and the entire HR profession itself.

In doing this, we plan to form an ethics committee or board that will be composed of Japan’s foremost HR KOLs and practitioners. Their task is to review existing codes of ethics by other HR organizations such as SHRM, CIPD, AHRI, etc., to learn from them and initially draft a code applicable to the Japanese context that will later be discussed through various public hearings and consultations. I imagine that developing this code will be a long and tedious undertaking but I believe it’s worth the effort as we are laying the foundation that will help professionalize the practice of HR.

Don’t be a bystander and wait by the sidelines. If you truly care about your own HR career and the HR profession in this country, act now. Get in touch with us at ethics@jhrs.org and explore ways you can contribute to the development of this code. This is an opportunity to make a difference and to leave a legacy. Wouldn’t it be nice if, in the future, you can tell your grandchildren (who might decide to become HR professionals themselves) that you became part of something that contributed to the advancement of the HR profession in Japan?

“Be the change that you want to see in the world.”–Mahatma Gandhi

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