Competence Building For High Performance Essay, Research Paper
Competence Building for High Performance
Shailendra Singh, Ph.D.
Indian institute of Management Lucknow
Global competitive pressures, liberalized economic policies, ever-changing customer expectations and technological advancement have put excessive demands on business organizations. In order to survive and thrive business organizations need to prepare themselves in such a way that they can anticipate future changes and pro-act to deal with them. In the endeavour of forecasting change in the environment, human capital of organizations will play very critical role. A central component of human capital is competence. Competence is one of the key elements of performance. People must have knowledge and abilities to perform their tasks. People or organizations should not commit to accomplish something if they have neither the skills nor the resources to do the same. Individual competence interacting with organizational, technological and process facets generates organizational performance. Realizing the importance of the construct of competence in individual and organizational performance, we have tried to examine the conceptualization of competence. We have also provided critical review of various classification schemes of competencies. Finally we have suggested strategies for fostering and nurturing competence.
What is Competence?
The term originates from the latin verb ‘competere’ which means ‘to be suitable’. The concept was originally developed in psychology characterizing individuals ability to respond to demands placed on them by their environment (White,1959). More recently, work related competence has been defined as underlying characteristics of a person that results in efficient work performance. (Woodruffe, 1992).
In literature, work related competence and skills are often used synonymously. Thus the definition of two terms analyzed here. Nelson and Winter (1982) define skills as capabilities for smooth sequence of coordinated behaviour that is ordinarily effective relative to its objective, given the context in which it normally occurs. Skills are described as programmatic involving a sequence of steps with each successive steps triggered by and following closely on the completion of proceeding one. Skillful performance is largely tacit knowledge. Here performer is not aware the details of performance. If he/she is asked to give full account of performance process, the performer finds it difficult if not impossible to articulate the account of performance. Thus differentiate between knowledge and skill and propose that knowledge is pre-requisite of skills.
Woolliams (1999) defines competence as what is needed to be effective in a particular job.
Skandia (1998) conceptualized competence as knowledge, will, and skill. Views it as a ‘capacity’ an activity in interaction rather than as an object.
Losey (1999) defined competency as a function of intelligence, education, experience, ethics, and interest. He has given his conceptualization in term of a equation:
Competency = Intelligence + Education + Experience
+ Ethics + Interest.
According to Losey, to be competent in any trade or profession a person needs brain, study, and real world training. To be effective in the long run one must be ethical in practice and passion for the job.
Ulrich (1998) defined competence as knowledge, skill or ability of employees relevant for organizational performance.
Fletcher (1997) talks about organizational led framework of competencies. This framework defines competence on the basis of ‘what does organization need for future success? It is business led, measurable and fiat for purpose. His model of competence includes skills, knowledge, behaviour, task management, environment, and customers.
If we analyze various conceptualizations of competence, we find that one category infers existence of competence from level of efficient performance (i.e., Woodruffe 1992; Wooliams, 1999). The other category assesses competence from input indicators such as intelligence, education, ability experience etc. (Nelson & Winter, 1982; Skandia, 1998; Losey, 1999; Ulrich, 1998; Fletcher, 1997). If we analyze unit of analysis used in conceptualizing competence, Fletcher has included more contextual variables while defining competence but even he has used competence of person, i.e. individual level of analysis. Rest of conceptualizations has taken more generic view of competence relevant to work performance of the individual.
In this paper we want take the view that ‘competence’ as an independent variable in individual and organizational performance. Keeping this objective mind we find Nordhaug’s (1993) and Losey’s (1999) conceptualization quite handy. In Losey’s (1999) formulation of competence, ethics and interest are also included. We prefer to retain ethics in competence formula because any ability, skill, experience that is not based on social responsibility may not be very useful for organizations in the long run. We want to exclude interest from competency formula as we feel that interest and passion for a particular job, profession, or organization should be taken as a component of affective motivational process. Thus, we define that work related competence as composite of human knowledge, skills, aptitude, directed towards attaining specified goal following the ethical norms of organization and society as a whole. This model suggests that aptitude is very important variable in determining competence. Persons with right aptitude will pickup knowledge and skill faster. This model also suggest, if persons with right aptitude are not available internally, it is better to look from outside. Some amount of knowledge is essential to pickup necessary skills. Knowledge and skill directly contribute to competence. Ethics in using aptitude, knowledge, and skills is essential for socially responsible competence and organizational citizenship.
Figure 1. A Conceptual Model of Individual Competence
Following Nordhaug (1993), work related competence have been conceptualized at sub-individual unit of analysis, as each individual possesses a number of this. Such conceptualization has several advantages. We can aggregate single competence across individuals and can elaborate concepts such as competence stocks, competence profits, competence configurations, team competence, organizational competence and strategic competence pool. It also helps to suggest the types of competencies that an organization needs for its operations than to talk about the amount of human resources required. This approach clarifies the advanced and specialized competencies required instead of the mere number of employees to be recruited or hired when an organization wants to get its work accomplished.
Types of Competence:
Numerous classification schemes are available in the competence related literature. Distinction has been made between general and organizational specific knowledge and skill. Competence has also been categorized on the basis of various level of analysis such as organizational competence, occupational competence, management competence, personal competence, general competence, functional competence and any combination of the preceding. (Fletcher, 1997).
Katz (1974) provided 3-fold classification by analysing managerial jobs for effective performance. These were:
Technical Skills: Knowledge about methods, processes, procedures, techniques for conducting a specialized activity. These include ability to use equipment related to that activity.
Interpersonal Skills: These skills incorporate knowledge about human behaviour, interpersonal processes, sensitivity to others, empathy, trust, ability to communicate clearly and effectively, and ability to elicit cooperative relationship with others.
Conceptual Skills: These embrace analytical capacity, creativity, and knack for identifying potential opportunities and problems.
Pavett and Lau (1983) provided another categorization with 4 skills: technical, human, conceptual and political. The three skills are similar to that of Katz. Political skills included ability to build power base and establishing favourable network of contacts.
U.S. Department of labour based on SCANS Report (1991) proposed a 3-part foundation scheme of 5 competencies. The three-part foundation scheme included the categories of (a) basic skills, (b) thinking skills, (c) personal qualities. Basic skills subsume reading, writing, arithmetic / mathematics, listening and speaking. Thinking skills include creative thinking, problem solving, decision making and analysis. Personal qualities consist of responsibility, self-esteem, sociability, self management and honesty. The five competencies that develop on the foundation are as follows:
Resources: Identifies, organises, plans, and allocates resources
Interpersonal: Works with others
Information: Acquires and utilizes information
Systems: Understands complex interrelationships
Technology: Uses a variety of technologies
In another effort of identifying important competencies of top managers Thorton and Byham(1982) ended up listing 30 single items (see Appendix –A). , including a mix of work,tasks, personal skills and traits. Similarly, Dulewicz (1989) provided a four-fold classification of ‘supra competencies’ for middle managers, namely, intellectual, interpersonal, adaptability, and result orientation. What are included in each competency can be seen in Table 1. Even here tasks, skills and personal qualities have been mixed while listing various competencies.
Table1. Elements of Supra Competencies
S.No. Supra Competencies Elements
1 Intellectual Strategic perspective, analysis and judgement, planning and organizing
2 Interpersonal Managing staff, persuasiveness, assertiveness and decisiveness, Interpersonal sensitivety, oral communication
3 Adaptability Adaptability and resilience
4 Result orientation Energy and initiative, achievement motivation, business sense
A critical review of competence/skill classifications reveals that we have listing of only generic skills applicable to any industry. Human capital theory research on managerial work too does not provide a comprehensive classification of skills needed in specific task, industry, and firm level. A more meaningful classification of competence has been proposed by combining the dimensions of task specificity, firm specificity and industry specificity ( Nordhaug, 1993).
Whether a set of competencies can be used to achieve a single task or range of tasks. High task specificity means that these competencies can be utilised for limited number of tasks and may be irrelevant for a majority of tasks. Low task specificity will suggest that the competence may not be relevant to a particular task, but may be useful for a variety of tasks. Similarly, if a competence is firm specific, then it may not be very useful for other firms, thus has no value in external labour market. Competencies that are non-firm specific can be sold in external market. Hence the higher the firm specificity of competencies, the lower will be the competence mobility. The third dimension of competencies is industry specificity. Competencies useful to a single industry, will be considered as high industry specific competence than competencies usage of which may not be particularly limited to specific industry (Becker,1983). This classification scheme is quite comprehensive, and includes competencies of not only managerial and professional employees but that of non-managerial employees also.
I II III
Low Meta- Industry Intra-organization
Competencies competencies competencies
High IV V VI
Standard Technical Unique
Technical Trade Competencies
Figure 2. A Competence Typology (Nordhaug, 1993)
I. Meta-Competencies: This type is firm non-specific, industry nonspecific and can be utilized in performing a variety of tasks. This is called meta- competencies and includes general competencies such as, literacy, learning capability, analytical ability, creativity, ability to tolerate and master ambiguity, ability to communicate, ability to cooperate with others, ability to deal with change etc. These are basically conceptual and human relation skills. These competencies incorporate skills to deal with people, ideas and symbols, and complex problems.
II. Industry Competencies: This category represents low task specificity, low firm specificity and high industry specificity. This may be broadly referred to industry familiarity. This set of competence can be used in specific industry across tasks and firms. Industry competencies may include:
- familiarity with the history of business
- knowledge about industry structure
- knowledge about current development of the industry
- ability to analyze the operations and strategies of competitions
- knowledge about key persons, networks and alliances in the industry
- capability to form cooperative ventures and alliances with other companies in the industry
III. Intra-organizational competencies: This set depicts low task and high firm specificity. They constitute firm specified meta-competencies or internal meta-competencies in an organization, it has been named as intra-organizational competence. It may include: knowledge about organizational culture such as history, norms, ethical standards; communication channels, informal networks and alliances, familiarity with political dynamics of the organization, knowledge about firms strategy and goals.
IV. Standard Technical Competencies: This set of competencies called standard technical and includes high task specificity, low firm specificity and low industry specificity. They are quite similar to technical skills of Katz’s (1974) classification. The only improvement over Katz is that technical competences have been classified here into 3 distinct categories: standard technical competencies, technical trade skills, and unique competencies.
Standard technical skills include: typing and stenographic skills, knowledge of generic budgeting and accounting principles and methods, computer skills, craft and other technical skills that can be applied across industries.
V. Technical Trade Competencies: These types of competencies are task specific, industry specific and firm non-specific. These competencies are useful within the industry on few selected tasks. The examples of these include skills in building automotive vehicles, skills in assembling computer hardware etc.
VI. Unique competencies : This set includes highly firm specific, task specific and hence is called unique competencies. These competencies apply to one task within one firm only and include knowledge and skills related to operation of unique technology, for example, skills related to use of specialized tools. Knowledge of devices specially developed within firm; skills in repairing tailored technology; skills of maintaining organizationally ideosyncratic routines and procedure.
Competence – Performance Linkage:
On the basis of available literature Campbell and Pritchard (1976) proposed following expression for predicting performance.
Performance = f (aptitude X skill X understanding of the task
X choice to extend effort X choice of degree
of effort X choice to persist X facilities and
inhibiting conditions not under the control
of the individual)
Here aptitude, skill, and understanding of the task are cognitive factors and can be considered the components of ability or competence; choice to expand effort, choice of degree effort, and choice to persist are the components of motivation. What used to be overlooked is the contextual factor beyond the control of person?
These facilitating and inhibiting conditions of work are also very important in actual accomplishment of performance. The formula also suggests that other things being constant competence would be positively related with performance. The formula also makes it clear that competence is necessary but not the sufficient condition for performance. Individual may be highly competent and motivated but (s) he is not provided with the opportunity to perform; working conditions are crippling and resources are insufficient, the performance may be very low or disappointing.
Core to the competence building is learning. Learning can be planned and formal, and it can be unplanned and informal. Organizations use a variety of methods to enhance learning of their members with the expectations of enhancing competence. These include job training, management development programmes, apprenticeship programmes, mentoring and coaching programmes, seminars, conferences, internal consultations etc. We have tried to link various types of competence with methods of competence building (Table 2).
Mentoring is a process where one wiser and more experienced person assists another person to grow and learn. The term ‘mentor’ is derived from Greek mythology. While Odysseus was fighting the Trojan wars, he appointed ‘Mentor’ to train his son, Telemachees into a future king and warrior. The mentor was actually Athena, Goddess of Wisdom. A mentor guides the mentee through examples and provides opportunity to practice new found behavior, so that the mentee can learn from them. It has been recognised that mentoring process is the most effective way to teach desired way to do the things and pass on a culture. Mentors work as challenger, role model, encourager, trusted advisor, teacher, counselor and father figure.
Mentoring benefits all the parties involved including the organisations, the mentored individual and the mentor. Mentored individuals report having more career mobility and opportunities as a result of mentoring relationship. They receive more recognition, promotion, positive reinforcement and greater visibility by top management, than non-mentored individuals. Mentored individuals also get access to mentor’s network and opportunity to acquire new skills and knowledge. Mentored individual also experience faster career growth.
How does Mentoring help in Developing Competencies?
Mentoring process will be helpful in developing all the six types of competences. Meta-competences are generic competence, which includes interpersonal and conceptual skills. The mentor can serve role model and mentored individual can learn vicariously from mentors. Mentors also provide opportunity to metored individuals to use newly learned behaviour.
Mentoring will also positively influence industry knowledge as the mentor can transfer industry competences quite fast, for which non-mentored employees may take very long time. Supportive climate provided by the mentor while mentee is in familiarisation phase enhances the pace of learning. Mentoring will positively impact intra-organisational competencies. Since intra-organisational competences are linked with organisational culture of firm, this competence is acquired through observation of day-to-day behaviour of colleague and through interaction with people working within organizations. Mentors serve very powerful source in socializing the mentees, hence, transferring the intra-organisational competencies. Similarly technical trade, standard technical competence and unique competencies can be developed through mentoring process where mentors demonstrate skillful performance and then ask mentees to perform using newly acquired competence. Mentors provide feedback and support on performance, thus these competencies are developed through iterative process. Apprentice scheme, coaching schemes, job instruction training etc of various organisations will also have elements of guidance in performance, hence, subsumed in mentoring process.
Job Instruction Training (JIT) has been found effective in building competence. JIT include following steps(Bryan,Jr.,1990)
1. Preparing the trainees by telling them about the job and overcoming their uncertainties.
2. Presenting the instructions, giving essential information in clear manner.
3. Asking the trainees to trying out the jobs to demonstrate their understanding.
4. Placing the employee in the job, with a designed resource person.
Table2. Types of Competencies with Relevant Methods of Competence Building
1. Meta Competence – Traditional college training- Socialisation- Apprenticeship – Work Experience- Management Development Programmes
2. Industry Competence – Mentoring- Experience with industry- Attending Seminars and Conferences- Interacting with colleagues in other firms- Aligning with external consultants
3. Intra Organisational competence – Mentoring- Socialization, Initiation Scheme- Interaction with colleagues- Job rotation- In-house training programmes
4. Standard Technical Technical – Mentoring- Vocational training- General training programmes- Supplier of the technology
5. Technical Trade Competence – Vocational education limited industry only- Mentoring
6. Unique Competence – Mentoring apprentices, informal learning, in-house training programmes
Studies suggest that JIT had positively influenced employee morale and reduced accident rate and turnover.
(b) Seminar and Conferences
Seminar and conferences bring people from the industry closer. Seminar and conferences are helpful in broadening the knowledge base of attendees by sharing of information / and transfer of learning from one expert to another. This kind of process will be very helpful in developing industry competence. Seminar and conferences may also be useful in developing meta-competencies as while discussing about one’s own experience about various issues the presenters develop communicative competence.
( c ) Job Rotation
Job rotation involves moving employees to various positions in the organisation with a view to expand their skill, knowledge, and abilities. Job rotation can be vertical or horizontal. Vertical job rotation means putting employees in a new job through promotion. Lateral movement of employee may be in the form of transfer to a new position. Job rotation provides opportunity to develop new skills / competences required to perform well in the new position, thus making the employees versatile. Job rotation may be used to enhance intra-organisational competence, technical trade competence and unique competence. Job rotation provides hands on on-the-job training, thus all the varieties of technical competence can be developed through this methodology.
(d) In-house Training Programmes
In house training programmes normally organized to generate fit between the individual and the organisational needs. In house training programmes for newcomers address issues of organizational culture and norms, thus can be considered socialization programmes and are important for developing intra-organizational competence.
In house training programmes are also useful for strengthening unique competence and technical trade competence, since these issues are specific to firm and trade; only internal people will in better position to impart competence. Sometimes, external specialists are involved in transferring technical trade and standard technical competence.
(e) Management Development Programme
Management development programmes conducted by outside agency normally address generic issues pertaining to industries or non-specific to industry. If they relate to specific industry, they help in developing industry competencies. If these development programmes address generic issues in administration and management, they are helpful in developing generic or meta-competencies. Management development programmes that not are tailor made to the needs of enterprise or particular trade and job may not be very helpful in developing standard technical, technical trade or unique competences.
(f) Vocational Training Programmes
Vocational training programmes can be used to develop standard technical competencies and industry level competencies. Engineering colleges and technical institutions provide such kind of training. These institutions train people for particular profession, and many times for specific industries. Vocational training would also include independent learning projects. This may be very useful to certain vocations such as teachers, nurses, computer experts , lawyers where members must update their competence through courses of independent studies, and learning from others experiences.
(g) Informal Interaction
People learn a lot unconsciously. Example of unconscious learning is socialization processes that all employees experience within an organization. Cognitive maps, models of reality that are commonly shared by the members of the organizations, are predominantly picked up unconsciously. People also learn consciously during informal interactions. Much of on- the job training happens without any formal design thus can be subsumed under this category. Here people observe display of competent performance and pickup the competence. Many times learning happens through informal chatting.
Competence is a very critical variable in individual, team and organisational performance. Competence conceptualised at sub-individual level in this paper helps us to visualise competence pool with in a department, group or team, and organiszation. This conceptualisation also helps human resource managers to specify what competencies will be required in future for effective performance rather than the number of heads required .
It is further argued that ability to learn is central to the concept competence building. Organizations need to provide conducive climate for learning. Current thinking of bringing out fit between job requirements and competencies is only creating static fit, which will not be sufficient for high performance, as the environment is constantly changing. Instead of giving high emphasis on intra-organizational competencies, industry competencies, more emphasis may be given on developing meta-competencies. The presumption is that persons with high degree of meta-competencies will be able to respond to the changed requirements more confidently and skillfully as compared to persons low in these competencies. Methods for building competence may vary according to competence to developed, persons’ readiness, and the context of learning. Methods may be planned and formal, they can be unplanned and informal. Experience suggests that most of the learning in organisations happen in informal and unplanned manner during informal interactions on- the- job. It happens through peer interaction. It happens vicariously by observing others performance. Informal mentoring relationships is a great source of competence building in indian organizations. Organizations also utilise conscious effort to develop competence through job rotation. Formal learning opportunities are provided for developing competence in the form of seminar and conferences, in-house training programmes, and management development programmes conducted by internal or external resource agencies.