Unit-III: Competency

Rajul Bhardwaj
Asst. H.R. Manager
Abbscissa H.R. Services
New Delhi

In studying the competency area, one is immediately struck by the lack of Uniform definitions, very fine lines of definition distinction with terms such as competence, competency, competence as the " power, ability, capacity to do, for a, task", where Merriam Webster defines that competency and competence are synonymous as are competences and competencies then common parlance can't be far behind.

Employee's capacity to meet (or Exceed) a job's requirements by producing the job environment." He goes on adapt Boyatzis (1982) definition of competency and states that "a of one's self-image, social role, or a body of knowledge- which results in effective and/or competency-based Human resource management on the other hand takes the broad term of competencies that make up an individual's overall competence and matches them with required which competencies are available to an organization can help, inform and direct HRM culture."

Zemke (1982) interviewed several experts in the field to determine "precisely what makes a competency" and he captured his findings thusly:-

"Competency, competencies, competency models, and competency-based training are all Humpty Dumpty words meaning only what the definer wants them to mean. The problem comes not from malice, stupidity or marketing avarice, but instead from some basic procedural and philosophical differences among those racing to define the concept and to set the model for the way the rest of us will use competencies."

The American Compensation Associations competencies as "….. individual performance behaviors that are observable, measurable and critical to successful individual or corporate performance"

Hence, the term competency has been defined in the literature from several different points of view. It was originally used in the field of education to describe trainee teacher behaviors (Bowden and masters, 1993). It became widely known in the management field through the work of Boyatzis (1982). However, the term competency was not "Owned" by any particular group. Infact a variety of stakeholders were involved in using the term, each with their own agendas (Burgoyne, 1993):-

* Psychologist were concerned with the concept as a measure of ability (Sternberg and Kolligian, 1990) and whether the observable performance of a person represented their underlying traits or capacity.

* Management theorists applied a functional analysis to define how organizational goals were to be best achieved through improved individual performance (Burgoyne, 1993)

* Human Resource Managers viewed the concept as a technical tool to implement strategic direction through the tactics of recruitment, placement, training, assessment, promotion, reward systems and personnel planning (Burgoyne,1993)

* Educationists attempted to relate the idea of work preparation and professional recognition with that of a broad education. (Bowden and Masters, 1993)

* Politicians including those involved in the political process such as Trade Unions, employer groups and political parties, particularly in the U.K. and Australia, have used the concept as means of improving the efficiency of the labor market. (Burgoyne, 1993)

In Australia, as in the U.K., the concept is evolving with experience (Bowden and Masters, 1993), yet there is no consensus on what is a good definition. This lack of clarity of the term may have produced a level of confusion among those presently trying to develop competency based standards for their work-places , or using the approach to achieve improved performance.

It is not surprising then to find that there seems to be little agreement in the literature, on the definition of competency. Jubb and Robotham (1997) write that," It still remains the case that a precise and widely accepted definition of competences continues to elude both those researching the field and trainers themselves."

The term competency has no widely accepted single definition. Those researching the field as well as practitioners, have evolved several meaning that serve as a focus for their efforts to implement the competency approach to their workforce.


Below we touch on a number of concepts to do with work competency that have been published recently, with the aim of extracting from them those characteristics of the concept that are useful for the subsequent development of this chapter. They are as follows:

A capacity to mobilize diverse cognitive resources to meet a certain type of situation (Perrenoud, 2000).

LeBoterf (1997) says that competencies are not themselves resources in the sense of knowing how to act, knowing how to do, or attitudes, but they mobilize, integrate and orchestrate such resources. This mobilization is only pertinent in one situation, and each situation is unique, although it could be approached as an analogy to other situations that are already known.

The exercise of competency involves complex mental situations, schemes of thought which allow determination (more or less consciously and rapidly) and performance (in a more or less efficient way) of action which is relatively adapted to a situation.

Vocational competencies are constructed in training, but also in the course of the everyday experiences of a teacher as he moves through different work situations.

Richard Boyatzis:

The time which people spend doing courses is not totally relevant for the development of their competencies; sometimes what people do outside school or in the company is more important for the development of their competencies.

All attempts to establish standards of performance and to detail the characteristics of successful work are not precise. Research into the content of work is a good idea, but the attempt to create a common denominator, and then to set this up as a national standard, is an exaggeration.

The healthiest way is to motivate people to make their own precise self-evaluations.

Richard Boyatzis (1982) defines work competency as an underlying characteristic of a person which can be a motive, a trait, a skill, an aspect of his personal image or of his social role, or a body of knowledge which he or she uses.

This definition shows competency to be a mix of a number of things (motivation, personal traits, skills, knowledge, etc.), but we only see the evidence of these things in the way in which the person behaves. In other words, we have to see the person in action, performing, doing and relating to others, and thus we can perceive his competency.

In another concept competency is a construct, it is the result of a pertinent combination of a number of resources (knowledge, information networks, relation networks, knowing how to do) (Le Boterf, 2000).

The insistence on a "mobilizing" component in competency can be perceived in the article by Fernández (1998) when he asserts, "competencies can only be defined in action", they cannot be reduced to knowing or to knowing-doing, so they cannot be restricted to what is acquired by training alone. We can see that in these processes there is a mobilization from knowing to action, during which value is added in the form of reactions, decisions and conduct exhibited during performance. Therefore, the capacity to carry out instructions does not by itself define competency, what is also required can be called "actuation", that is to say the added value which the competent individual contributes and which allows him to "know how to connect up some instructions and not just apply them in an isolated way". In a dynamic conception, competencies are continually acquired (education, experience, daily life), mobilized and developed, and they cannot be explained or demonstrated independently of a context. This conception locates competency in the individual's head, it is part of his patrimony and his intellectual and human capital.

In a recent INTECAP1 publication, we also find a reference to the concept of work competency after the etymological meanings of the word have been noted. By this definition, competency is conceived as the "group of attitudes, dexterities, skills and knowledge required to carry out to a good standard determinate productive functions in a work ambient". INTECAP adds the description of knowledge, knowledge to be, and knowledge to do as component parts of the concept. After that, we are shown a table of 10 fields of competency used in Guatemala:

- Planning of activities
- Quality at work
- Administration of activities
- Administration of information
- Work in a team
- Service to the client
- Productivity at work
- Innovation at work
- Use of technology
- Conservation of the environment and job security

Locating the concept in the sphere of human resources management, the definition given by the Public Function Commission of Canada says, "Competencies represent the knowledge, capacities, skills and behavior which an employee exhibits in doing his job, and which are key factors in achieving the results pertinent to the organization's strategies."

The definition of competency has evolved from a standardized concept towards a comprehensive concept

Definitions of competencies as collections made up of knowledge and/or qualities are giving way to an understanding of the concept based more on mobilized capacities. This suggests that competent work brings in its wake a complex mixture of those attributes, tasks and capacities developed by the person to put all these assets into action in his work life.

This concept leads us to think that competency is not to be found in work activity, we do not extract the competencies of the activities carried out in a certain job. It is the worker who possesses and mobilizes his resources of competency to successfully carry out this activity, task or operation.

In our view, there are two poles in the conceptualization of work competency. One is in the breaking down or codification of the tasks and activities carried out, which concentrates on preparing descriptive index cards of these tasks. The other is the generalist extreme, which tends to define competency in one single word, usually associated with conduct or behavior. Some examples of this extreme are competency defined as "interpersonal relations", "attention to the client", or "effective communication", etc.

Lastly, the most recent research on this subject recognizes the configuration of collective competency, that which explains the results which work teams achieve, and ambients that foster motivation and productivity. The focus of human resources management dwells precisely on the need to develop this collective competency in the course of making as explicit as possible the extraordinary potential of tacit2 knowledge which is created and which circulates and applies in work groups. One of the aspects which distinguishes this focus on competency from the traditional focus of management based on qualities and qualifications, is that it links competency with the strategic objectives of the organization.

Our conception leads to the idea that competency on the individual, collective or organizational plane allows the information that is handled by the organization to be transformed into knowledge which can be taken advantage of to improve competitiveness. Organizations generate, store and administer large amounts of information, and in their day to day work they develop routines, some of which are planned and others thought up by the workers in their daily interaction. The best efforts towards competitiveness try to convert this information into knowledge which is applicable to generating innovations. Individual, group and organizational competency become a powerful motor for learning, and so a fundamental aspect of human resources management.

1. Technical Institute of Training and Productivity. The National Institution of Vocational Training in Guatemala.
2. Acc. To Merriam Webster's dictionary: Implied but not expressed.

Rajul Bhardwaj
Asst. H.R. Manager
Abbscissa H.R. Services
New Delhi

Source : E-mail January 25, 2006



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