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Competence and Competency

Competence and Competency

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Published by John Kenworthy
A white paper on the distinction of competence and competency and how they are considered to affect performance.
A white paper on the distinction of competence and competency and how they are considered to affect performance.

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Published by: John Kenworthy on Dec 19, 2008
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02/14/2013

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Competence andCompetency
What are they and how do they affect performance?
The terms competence and competency are diffuse terms used liberally inorganizations and in academic literature. Although the concept is well-developed, it seems that there is little agreement on what is meant by theterms and even less agreement on how they affect performce.
Dr. John Kenworthy6/3/2008
 
John Kenworthy 20082
COMPETENCE AND COMPETENCY
The concept of competence remains one of the most diffuse terms in the organisational and occupational literature (Nordhaugand Gronhaug, 1994). Exactly what does an author mean when using any of the terms of competence?The concept of individual competence is widely used in human resource management (Boyatzis, 1982, Schroder, 1989,Burgoyne, 1993). This refers to a set of skills that an individual must possess in order to be capable of satisfactorily performing aspecified job. Although the concept is well developed, there is continuing debate about its precise meaning.Others take a job-based competence view that according to Robotham and Jubb (1996) can be applied to any type of businesswhere the competence-based system is based on identifying a list of key activities (McAuley, 1994) and behaviours identifiedthrough observing managers in the course of doing their job.A useful view is to look at competenc
e
to mean a skill and the standard of performance, whilst competenc
y
refers to behaviourby which it is achieved (Rowe, 1995). That is, competenc
e
describes what people do and competenc
y
describes how people doit.Rowe (1995, p16)
further distinguishes the attributes an individual exhibits as “morally based” behaviours –
these are importantdrivers of behaviours but especially difficult to measure
 –
 
and “intellectually based” behaviours as capabilities or competencies.
Capabilities are distinguished as these refer to development behaviours
 –
i.e. are graded to note development areas to improvebehaviours in how people undertake particular tasks.Young (2002)
develops on a similar theme and builds on Sarawano’s
(1993) model, linking competency and competence toperformance and identifies competency as a personal characteristic (motives, traits, image/role and knowledge) and how theindividual behaves (skill). Competence is what a manager is required to do
 –
the job activities (functions, tasks). These in turnlead to performance of the individual [manager].Jacobs (1989) considers a distinction between hard and soft competences. Soft competences refer to such items as creativityand sensitivity, and comprise more of the personal qualities that lie behind behaviour. These items are viewed as being
conceptually different from hard competences, such as the ability to be well organised. Jacob’s distinction
fits neatly into
Young’s model with hard competences referring to identifiable behaviours, and soft competences as the personal characteristic
sof the individual.Further distinctions relate to the usefulness of measuring competenc[i]es. Cockerill et al. (1995) define threshold and high-performance competences. Threshold competences are units of behaviour which are used by job holders, but which are notconsidered to be associated with superior performance. They can be thought of as defining the minimum requirements of a job.High performance competences, in contrast, are behaviours that are associated with individuals who perform their jobs at asuperior level.In the UK, the Constable and McCormick Report (1987) suggested that the skill base within UK organisations could no longerkeep pace with the then developing business climate. In response, the Management Charter Initiative sought to create astandard model where competence is recognised in the form of job-specific outcomes. Thus, competence is judged onperformance of an individual in a specific job role. The competences required in each job role are defined through means of afunctional analysis
 –
a top-down process resulting in four levels of description:Key purposeKey roleUnits of competenceElements of competenceElements are broken down into performance criteria, which describe the characteristics of competent performance, and rangestatements, which specify the range of situations or contexts in which the competence should be displayed.The MCI model now includes personal competence, missing in the original, addressing some of the criticisms levelled at the MCIstandards. Though the model tends to ignore personal behaviours which may underpin some performance characteristics,
 
John Kenworthy 20083particularly in the area of management, where recent work has indicated the importance of behavioural characteristics such asself-confidence, sensitivity, proactivity and stamina.The US approach to management competence, on the other hand, has focused heavily on behaviours. Boyatzis (1982) identifiesa number of behaviours useful for specifying behavioural competence. Schroder (1989) also offers insights into the personalcompetencies which contribute to effective professional performance.Personal competencies and their identifying behaviours form the backbone of many company-specific competency frameworksand are used extensively in assessment centres for selection purposes. This is because behavioural (or personal) competencemay be a better predictor of capability
 –
i.e. the potential to perform in future posts
 –
than functional competence
 –
whichattests to competence in current post. The main weakness of the personal competence approach, according to Cheetham andChivers (1996)
, is that it doesn’t define or assure effective performance within the job role in terms of the outcomes achieved.
 
In his seminal work “The Reflective Practitioner”, Schon
(1983) attempts to define the nature of professional practice. Hechallenges the orthodoxy of technical rationality
 –
the belief that professionals solve problems by simply applying specialist or
scientific knowledge. Instead, Schon offers a new epistemology of professional practice of ‘knowin
g-in-
action’ –
a form of acquired tacit knowledge
 –
 
and ‘reflection’ –
the ability to learn through and within practice. Schon argues that reflection (bothreflection in action and reflection about action) is vital to the process professionals go through in reframing and resolving day-to-day problems that are not answered by the simple application of scientific or technical principles.Schon (1983) does not offer a comprehensive model of professional competence, rather he argues that the primary competenceof any professional is the ability to reflect
 –
this being key to acquiring all other competencies in the cycle of continuousimprovement.There are criticisms of competency-based approaches to management and these tend to argue that managerial tasks are veryspecial in nature, making it impossible to capture and define the required competences or competencies (Wille, 1989). Otherwriters argue that management skills and competences are too complex and varied to define (Hirsh, 1989, Canning, 1990) and itis an exercise in futility to try and capture them in a mechanistic, reductionist way (Collin, 1989). Burgoyne (1988) suggests thatthe competence-based approach places too much emphasis on the individual and neglects the importance of organisationaldevelopment in making management development effective. It has also been argued that generic lists of managerialcompetences cannot be applied across the diversity of organisations (Burgoyne, 1989b, Canning, 1990).
LINKING COMPETENCY MODELS TO ORGANISATION OUTCOMES
Some writers have identified competencies that are considered to be generic and overarching across all occupations. Reynoldsand Snell (1988)
identify ‘meta
-
qualities’ –
creativity, mental agility and balanced learning skill
 –
that they believe reinforcesother qualities. Hall (1986)
uses the term ‘meta
-
skills’ –
as skills in acquiring other skills. Linstead (1991) and Nordhaug andGronhaug (1994)
use the term ‘meta
-compet
encies’ to describe similar characteristics. The concept of meta
-competence fallsshort of providing a holistic, workable model, but it does suggest that there are certain key competencies that overarch a wholerange of others.There is however, some doubt about the practicability of breaking down the entity of management into its constituentbehaviours (Burgoyne, 1989a). This suggests that the practice of management is almost an activity that should be consideredonly from a holistic viewpoint.Baker et al. (1997) link the various types of competence by first establishing a hierarchy of congruence as a backbone to themodel. In broad terms, they describe the congruence of an entity to be the degree of match or fit between some external driverto the entity and the response of that entity to the driver. This method enables them to take into consideration the idea thatmanagement, as an entity, and the individuals who perform the function do so within a particular environment. Measurementof congruence or goodness of fit, has been attempted in studies of operations (Cleveland et al., 1989, Vickery, 1991). Baker et
al.’s hierarchy is shown in
Figure below, with four levels of congruence: 1) Organisation level, 2) Core business process level, 3)Sub-process within core process level, and 4) Individuals level.At the organisation level, there is congruence when a firm adopts a strategy that is consistent with the competitive priorities
derived from the firm’s business environment. The strategy, in turn, determines the operational priorities of the firm, follo
wingPlatts and Gregory (1990), Baker et al. (1997) using their own terminology, consider these operational priorities to drive the core

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