Internal and External Relationships Explored on the PHR/SPHR Exams

By Sandra M. Reed

Relationships are how business gets done, simply because people are at the core of work and how people work together affects outcomes. Internal relationships exist between departments and co-workers as well as between supervisors and employees. Several PHR/SPHR exam components deal with these relationships, including the following:

  • Managing change: Because change is a natural outcome of strategic planning, the SPHR exam more than likely will have more questions related to this activity. When studying change management, you can easily identify solutions by looking at the functional areas of HR. For example, paying more for higher-level skill sets is a consideration of compensation and benefits. Another example is shoring up your knowledge about union avoidance strategies when introducing change to a skeptical workforce, a function of employee relations.

  • Motivating workers: Among the core knowledge requirements of both exams is the need to motivate people to do the work that needs to be done. Behavior management has several theories that are grounded in scientific research. B.F. Skinner’s operant conditioning and Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs are two examples of such theories.

  • Managing development: Both exams have the objective of helping supervisors and managers model and communicate expected standards of behavior. Some supervisors will need help, and it’s up to HR to identify opportunities for management development in this area.

External relationships reflect other stakeholders, such as customers, investors, and communities. On the exams, you should anticipate questions related to the employer brand, which is just a fancy name for the company reputation. There will also be questions related to financial oversight, such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act and whistleblower protection. Finally, in the area of communities, the exams cover elements of corporate governance and sustainability, both of which are values-based business practices.

Managing these relationships is often classified as the need to be both the employer and employee advocate. This role serves to remove obstacles, communicate shared responsibilities, and move the proverbial ball of business forward toward goals.

A few notes about the PHR-only or SPHR-only exam objectives in the BOK:

  • If you’re taking the PHR exam, note that not all exam objectives in the area of BMS are labeled SPHR only, which means that you still need to be able to understand and apply strategic concepts. Start by studying the objectives in this chapter that are universal.

  • Similarly, if you’re taking the SPHR exam, you need to know all of the BMS concepts. However, you should plan to invest additional study time to the material labeled SPHR only — especially in the BOK with a total of 11 out of 21, or about half of the exam — labeled as such. This is as close as you can get to having a map to the content of your exam.

  • The BOK only has two PHR-only areas, and they’re found in the functional areas of Compensation and Benefits and Risk Management. If you’re an SPHR candidate, you need adequate time to prepare for 99 percent of the exam BOK, regardless of the label.