‫ي‬Competences: measuring the unmeasurable Robotham, David, Jubb, Richard. Management Development Review. Bradford: 1996.Vol.

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Studies, Core competencies, Mana development, Training, Performance appraisal, Management 9130 Experimental/theoretical, 2500 Organizational behavior, Robotham, David, Jubb, Richard Feature Management Development Review. Bradford: 1996. Vol. 9, Iss. Periodical 09622519 82395591 2851 http://proquest.umi.com/pqdweb?did=82395591&sid=4&Fmt=3 D

Abstract (Document Summary)

The concept of competencies is being used widely in the sphere of management development as a means for measuring the performance of individuals. This growth in use has taken place without

establishing exactly what organizations are referring to when using the term competence. There has also been an assumption that competence can be measured. Given the wide range of activities which the term management can be said to encompass it may be inappropriate to define management in terms of a limited range of activities.
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Copyright MCB UP Limited (MCB) 1996 David Robotham: Doctoral Researcher and Visiting Lecturer in HRM, Wolverhampton Business School, University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, UK Richard Jubb: Doctoral Researcher, both at Wolverhampton Business School, University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, UK The competence approach is being used increasingly widely to measure the performance of managers, but is it the most appropriate method for management? David Robotham and Richard Jubb investigate. Since the mid-1980s, many organizations have developed and redesigned their management development strategies around competence-based systems. The primary reason for this was, and indeed still is, a belief in the potential benefits for organizational performance that such a focus on individuals' performance can achieve. Using such systems to concentrate on the key management positions within companies, and also to concentrate on what people need to do in order to be successful in those positions, it has become possible, in theory, to optimize more effectively an organization's performance in a number of ways: choose the right people for the right roles, assess individuals' ability for new roles, and identify where an individual needs particular training[1]. In the general management literature, and the training and development literature, the concept of competences, and their application, has also moved to the fore as a topic for discussion. Much of this published material has sought to convey experience(s) of the use of such an approach to management development and performance measurement, without adequately defining the exact nature of the concept to which they are referring, i.e. competences. There has also been an implicit assumption within such material that competences can actually be measured. Given the lack of a clear and universally agreed definition of to what competence refers to, are such measures valid? For while it may be true that these approaches are indeed measuring something, it is not clear whether the something being measured in each case is competence. Managerial effectiveness or effective management? The decisions and consequent actions of managers will, ultimately, have an impact on the efficient usage of an organization's resources[2]. It is therefore not surprising that the evaluation and development of effective managerial performance are considered by many as being fundamental to the strategic management practice of an organization[3]. But, the evaluation and development of managers is always going to be a difficult task. This is the case because, historically, there has been little agreement concerning exactly what it is that constitutes managerial excellence or effectiveness[4]. While it is possible to identify elements of "effective performance" from observing practising managers, it is not possible to identify a complete blueprint for effective management performance that will cover all managers. Or is it? Is there perhaps an elusive "g" factor that can explain why some managers operate in a more efficient and effective way, while others are merely adequate, or, in the worst case scenario, ineffective performers. '...Recently, the concept of generic management competences has come under increased scrutiny because of the emergence of the Management Charter Initiative (MCI) in 1988...' Recently, the concept of generic management competences has come under increased scrutiny because of the emergence of the Management Charter Initiative (MCI) in 1988. The lists that have developed out of the MCI initiative, deal with more general areas of competence in management performance, and not specifically individual competences. The lists have been constructed following the principle that, while the analysis of competence is normally only concerned with the role and performance of the individual manager, such an analysis can, in theory, also be used to obtain the information required for the production of generic management role definitions. Each definition of this type describes the common elements of a management role in output terms. That is the necessary abilities that are required to do the job. These definitions can then be applied to job roles within all organizations. But, while it may be comparatively simple to observe and record various management behaviours, it is difficult to identify generic successful or effective management behaviours, given that the very nature of the concept of management is itself somewhat elusive. The precise nature of management is, to a degree, contingent on the context or environment within which it is practised. Therefore, behaviours that are regarded as being effective within one sector, such as financial services, may be less appropriate within a different sector. In addition, in the course of their work, managers exhibit a wide variety of behaviours and, because of the nature of their work, and the organizations within which they work, the outcomes of those behaviours cannot necessarily be readily determined, and so measured, immediately[5]. A particular industry or company may also place a greater emphasis on the achievement of shortterm goals, and so require managers to adopt short-term oriented behaviours. These behaviours may only be effective or applicable within such a scenario. Where strategic direction focuses on the

long term, a portfolio of different behaviours may be more appropriate. Unless there are truly generic management skills, to identify a manager as being competent per se, may be incorrect, as that individual may actually only be effective within a particular corporate environment, i.e. competences could be regarded as being situation-specific. Traditionally, views surrounding the issue of managerial effectiveness have also tended to be largely based on assumptions about what managers do, and what they should do to be successful. However, it is only relatively recently that such assumptions have been challenged. Rather than relying on an evaluation of managers' performance that is based on the activities traditionally prescribed for managerial success, a focus on the activities managers actually perform has emerged[6]. This revised approach attempts to address the weakness identified above to gauging effective managerial behaviour, i.e. basing assessment on assumptions about what they think managers do. This approach revolves around the notion of competences. Competence: behaviours or skills? The concept of competence has different meanings, and it remains one of the most diffuse terms in the organizational and occupational literature[7]. It is still, however, a term that is heavily used, and because of the numerous plurals that can be created from using the root term competence, it is not always immediately clear which of the many forms of competence is being used or discussed. This is one of the key weaknesses in the use of such a concept to measure management performance, i.e. to what exactly are you referring? Although different meanings can be attached to the concept of competence, this has not prevented different terms from being used almost interchangeably. Does competence refer to identifiable skills, or is it related to patterns of behaviour? The result is that one measure of performance used within a particular organization that is based on competence, could relate to an entirely different concept from that being used for performance measurement within another organization. From one perspective, competence can be taken as referring to the behaviour of particular individuals - that is, how they act and respond in the organizational environment in the course of doing their job. If one accepts this viewpoint, then by observing the behaviour(s) of individual managers, it should be possible to derive a list of effective and less effective management behaviours. This form of the competence-based system essentially characterizes the nature of management in terms of a list of key activities that are performed, and the competences associated with that activity[8]. '...Such competence-based systems are therefore job-based, and can be applied in any type of business...' Such competence-based systems are therefore job-based, and can be applied in any type of business. They are particularly useful however in organizations where the emphasis is on people occupying flexible and developing roles, rather than on rigidly defined job hierarchies[9]. However, it is important to take into consideration that competence remains a hypothetical construct, i.e. one can only infer that someone is operating in a competent manner from their behaviour. A second perspective considers competences not as aspects of a given job, but as identifiable characteristics of the people who do the job effectively. This is an extremely broad definition in that it may incorporate motives, traits, skills, aspects of self-image and social roles, or indeed a body of knowledge. This perspective on competence is generally taken as referring to skills or competences, and there is a clear associated implication that these skills can be trained. Although given the wide range of concepts which this perspective embraces, it is questionable whether it constitutes an improvement on the behavioural or job-based approach to competence outlined previously. It is also doubtful that more deep seated personal qualities, such as motivation, would be trainable and therefore transferable to individuals[10]. The competences that an individual possesses may be gained through either formal education, or experience. Competences that are obtained through education tend to be seen as more general, in that they are skill repertoires which are applicable to more than one organization, and also throughout a variety of jobs. Competences that are gained through experience, however, are more specialized in that they are often linked to the particular idiosyncrasies of the organization in which they have been acquired. Competences obtained in this manner may therefore only be valuable in the context of the organization in which they have been developed[11]. It is therefore apparent that competence, as the term is currently used, can be taken as relating to any factor that directly, or indirectly, affects the job performance of an individual. But, in attempting to reach an adequate and useful definitions of competence, there is a danger that any attempt at deriving an operational definition of competence may unacceptably narrow down the complex realities of managerial behaviour. It could quite easily then become the case that competences become limited to what competence evaluation measures are able to assess. Such a definition would also assume that competences are absolute measurables, and that current evaluation techniques are the best methods of defining them, a situation which is by no means proven. Rather than attempt to propose a single, universal definition of competence, it may then be more appropriate to consider types of competences: - Hard and soft competences. It is possible to distinguish between "hard" and "soft" competences[12]. Soft competences refer to items such as creativity and 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 organized. It is unclear, however, whether this distinction is artificial, as in real terms, both soft and hard competences are no different from each other, as they are both descriptions of regularities in individual behaviour. - Threshold and high performance competences. A further contrast between levels of competence is the idea of "threshold" and "high performance" competences. Threshold competences are units of behaviour which are used by job holders, but which are not considered to be associated with superior performance[13]. Threshold competences do not generally include elements that could be considered to be important aspects of any given job, and can be thought of as defining minimum performance requirements for any particular post. For example, basic literacy and numeracy skills, while undeniably important to many jobs, would not be included in such lists. In contrast, high performance competences are behaviours that are associated with individuals who perform their duties at a superior level[13]. However, attempting to categorize the competences of a particular post in the above manner, while perhaps being viewed as desirable, may risk excluding elements of even minimal performance, that are still critical to satisfying organizational requirements. This situation actually occurs in practice, as organizations have tended to concentrate exclusively on the competences that have what are seen as important labels, and disregard those that are described as less important. To be of any significant value to an organization, and so also to reflect the true nature of managerial posts, competence lists should be considered as a whole unit, with no significant delineation in terms of level of ability, i.e. such lists should reflect the total range of behaviours or skills that are required for effective performance, not selected highlights. Problems with the competence approach While remaining a popular way of reducing and classifying people into discrete categories, the concept of competence, as applied to management development, remains largely undefined and untested. There is also some doubt as to the logic and practicability of breaking down the entity of management into its constituent behaviours[14]. The suggestion is that the practice of management is, by definition, almost an activity that should be considered only from a holistic viewpoint. If management is sub-divided and classified to permit measurement, in the manner suggested by proponents of the competence approach, is it still management or the ability to manage that is being measured? Given that many of the management behaviours typically to be found in competence lists are interdependent, can those behaviours be measured or assessed in isolation? If the competence approach is also used in management development programmes, there seems to be no recognition of the impact that enhancing performance in one area of management practice may have on other management behaviours. Conclusion In attempting to maximize the effectiveness of management development strategies, the competence approach would appear to offer a framework for organizations to focus their resources. There still, however, remains a significant lack of clarity over what the term competence refers to. The existence of two identified perspectives on competence, behavioural and skills-based, would suggest that this situation remains at best confused. For example, if an individual successfully adopts and practises a particular management behaviour, can that person not also be said to be skilled in that behaviour? One benefit of the competence approach to management development is that it has seen a concentration on what managers actually do, rather than on assumptions about what managers do. However, even this approach is flawed, in that it still requires at some point a subjective assessment of an individual's performance. '...It also remains unclear as to whether management as an activity can be broken down into its constituent elements...' It also remains unclear as to whether management as an activity can be broken down into its constituent elements. Even if it is valid to deconstruct the practice of management in this way, it is by no means evident that there is then a single measure capable by itself of assessing the performance of managers. This is particularly so, given the view expressed earlier that management itself is not a generic activity, being dependent to an extent on the environment within which it is practised. Effective measurement would therefore also seem to require a range of measures that are applicable to performance within different contexts. At a more fundamental level of analysis, it also remains open to debate as to how one can really tell if one manager is performing in an effective manner, while another is performing in an ineffective manner. The relative effectiveness between operators on a machine, for example, can be measured in terms of X number of units produced in Y units of time, but the practice of management cannot be so easily labelled. Even when a set of competences has been produced, which, if any, of these subsequent competences are common to all managerial positions, and which are specific to the role and level of management, the organization, and the cultural context? Until these questions are adequately addressed, then the usefulness of the competence approach to management development must remain in doubt. References 1. Boam, R. and Sparrow, P., Designing and Achieving Competency: A Competency-based Approach to Developing People and Organisations, McGraw-Hill, London, 1992. 2. Boyatzis, R.E., The Competent Manager, Wiley, London, 1982.

3. Venkatraman, N. and Ramanujam, V., "Measurement of business economic performance: an examination of method convergence", Journal of Management, Vol. 13 No. 1, 1987, pp. 109-22. 4. Koch, J.V. and Cebula, R.J., "In search of excellent management", Journal of Management Studies, Vol. 31 No. 5, 1994, pp. 681-99. 5. Brown, R.B., "Reframing the competence debate: management knowledge and meta-competence in graduate education", Management Learning, Vol. 25 No. 2, 1994, pp. 289-99. 6. Luthans, F., Rosenkrantz, S.A. and Hennessey, H.W., "What do successful managers really do? An observation study of managerial activities", The Journal of Applied Behavioural Science, Vol. 21 No. 3, 1985, pp. 255-70. 7. Nordhaug, O. and Gronhaug, K., "Competencies as resources in firms", The International Journal of Human Resource Management, Vol. 5 No. 1, 1994, pp. 89-106. 8. McAuley, J., "Exploring issues in culture and competence", Human Relations, Vol. 47 No. 4, 1994, pp. 417-30. 9. Armstrong, M. and Baron, A., The Job Evaluation Handbook, Institute of Personnel and Development, London, 1995. 10. Elkin, G., "Competency based HRD", Training and Development, Vol. 9 No. 3, 1991, pp. 14-8. 11. Becker, G.S., Human Capital, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL, 1983. 12. Jacobs, R., "Getting the measure of managerial competence", Personnel Management, Vol. 21 No. 6, 1989, pp. 32-7. 13. Cockerill, T., Hunt, J. and Schroder, H., "Managerial competencies: fact or fiction?", Business Strategy Review, Vol. 6 No. 3, 1995, pp. 1-12. 14. Burgoyne, J., "Creating the managerial portfolio: building on competency approaches to management development", Management Education and Development, Vol. 20 No. 1, 1989, pp. 5661.

UNIVERSIDAD DE VALENCIA Facultad de Economía.

Competencies self-evaluation exercise
+2 +1 0 +1 +2 Competencies I´m not very open minded I try to change and do new things I´m not very communicative Normally I do not participate and stimulate others to do it I feel well living things to spontaneity I´m not very creative I try to follow others better than act by myself

Competencies I´m very open minded I´m more traditional I´m very communicative Normally I do participate and stimulate others to do it I need to control all I´m very creative I´m an entrepreneur

EXPLAIN AN EXAMPLE TO JUSIFY YOUR EVALUATION IN EACH COMPETENCY  Open Minded  Traditional  Communicative Signature 2  Participative  Need of Control  Creative  Entrepreneur Signature 1

Signature 3