Thursday, February 5, 2015

Professional competencies for superior performance

Competencies are specific personal qualities or behaviours that individuals must have or must acquire to perform effectively at work. Competency consists of knowledge, skills and personal attributes that affect an individual’s ability to perform. Competencies are internal capabilities that people bring to their jobs. A competency is the capability to apply or use a set of related knowledge, skills and abilities required to successfully perform (applied knowledge or the behavioural application of knowledge). According to the Oxford American Dictionary, a person is competent when he or she is properly qualified or skilled. Competence is the quality or state of being functionally adequate or having sufficient knowledge, strength and skill. Every job requires different competencies. Competencies within different contexts may require different bundles of skills, knowledge and attitudes. Competencies are the gauges for job success. Competencies are the behavioural differences between outstanding performers and average performers and thus are the building blocks to the organizational success. Toyota’s organizational core competencies lie in achieving excellence through ‘continuous improvement and waste reduction’. Google has determined that innovation is a critical competency for their success. Pixar, a digital animation movie production studio has created ‘culture of creativity’ is their core competency.

Concept of competency

The word competency is derived from Latin word ‘competere’ which means ‘to be suitable.’ The concept of performance competencies was pioneered by psychologists Robert white and David McClelland. White (1959) identified a human trait that he labelled ‘competence’ which described those personality characteristics associated with superior performance and high motivation. It was McClelland (1973), a professor of psychology at Harvard University who introduced and popularized the term ‘competency.’ Competencies can be grouped as knowledge, skills, self-concepts, motives and traits (Tucker and Cofsky 1994). A competency is more than just knowledge and skills. It involves the ability to meet complex demands by drawing on and mobilizing psychosocial sources (including skills and attitudes) in a particular context. Acquiring a competency is not a one-time event, but rather an ongoing process. Competencies are built over a period of time and are not inborn. It typically takes experiences on the job to build competencies.

Defining competency

1. A competency can be defined as the entirety of knowledge, abilities, skills and attitudes, which are necessary for an individual to work effectively in particular working environment.
2. A person’s ability or capacity to undertake a particular task or job (Sapre 2002).
3. The knowledge, skills and ability required to be successful in the job (Simpson, HRSG).

Competency versus competence

Competency is a person – related concept that refers to the dimensions of behavior lying behind competent performer. Competency is the ability to apply knowledge and skills to produce a required outcome. It is the ability to perform activities within an occupation; to function as expected for employment and the ability to do a job under variety of conditions.  Competence is a work related concept that refers to areas of work at which the person is competent. Competence is the quality or state of being functionally adequate or having sufficient knowledge, strength and skills.
Competencies= competency + competence

Components of competency

Skills: capabilities acquired through practice.
Knowledge: understanding acquired through learning.
Personal attributes: inherent characteristics which brought to the job.
Behavior: the observable demonstration of some competency.
Competence in most professions involves the effective implementation of three main sets of skills:
1.Cognitive skills – refers to the knowledge base of the profession which sets the individual apart from others.
2. Technical skills –refers to the specialized and manipulative techniques essential to the profession.
3. Communication skills –refers to the ability to interact effectively with clients and other professionals.
General competencies will enable individuals, firms and nations to compete successfully in the global economy of the 21st century. The workplace competencies include the abilities to manage resources, use information, work with others, understand systems and use technology. Five competencies most commonly found in international assessments are critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration and flexibility and adaptability.

Value of competencies

Competencies are essential for preparation and success in employment. Competencies may generic to emerging patterns of work and work organizations. Competencies equip individuals to participate effectively in a wide variety of social settings and adult life.  Competencies involve the integration and application of knowledge and skills. Goldsmith and Walt (1999) emphasize the following six  leadership competencies as ‘the desired characteristics of the leader of the future’: thinking globally, appreciating cultural diversity, demonstrating technological savvy, building partnerships and sharing leadership.

Competency categories

Core competencies are those characteristics that apply to every member of the organization regardless of position, function or level of responsibility within the organization The core competency  is based on the value systems, vision and mission of the organization e.g., motivation, trust, problem solving, interpersonal skills and communication. Core competencies need to be identified, acquired and cultivated to form the strategic architecture of a firm. The organization has been compared to a tree with branches and roots. Then core competencies have been compared to roots that provide nourishment.
Functional competencies are characteristics shared by different positions within an organization that belong to a common job group or occupational family or employees performing a common function. The functional competency is built around key business functions like finance, production and marketing.
Job-specific competencies are characteristics that apply only to specific positions within the organization. They built upon the foundation of the organization’s core competencies.  For example a pilot needs a wide range of skills to fly a plane. Job-specific competencies include functional and technical competencies.
Core, functional and job –specific competencies comprise the architecture of a company’s competency model. Organizations may use competency models as a springboard for organizational change. Competency models have also been uses as a guide for employee development.

Dimensions of competency framework

1. Cognitive competence – knowledge (know-that) and understanding (know-why);
2. Functional competences –skills or know-how;
3. Personal competency – behavioural competencies or ‘know how to behave’;
4. Ethical competency – personal and professional values; moral maturity;
5. Meta-competencies – ability to cope with uncertainty; learning and reflection.
Three –dimensional competency framework (KSA=knowledge, skills and abilities)
1. Cognitive competence –knowledge and understanding
2. Functional competence – skills
3. Social competence – behavioural and attitudinal

Mapping competencies

Competency mapping is the process of identifying key competencies (technical, managerial, conceptual knowledge and attitudes and skills etc.) for an organization and the jobs and functions within it.  Competency mapping involves the process by which we determine: the nature  and scope of a specific job role, the skills required, the level of knowledge required and the behavioural capacities required to apply those skills and knowledge in that role. Competency mapping plays a vital role in selecting, recruiting and retaining the right people.  Individual’s level of competency in each skill is measured against a performance standard. When the competency required for a particular position is mapped, an accurate job profile is created.
Competency profiling is a technique used to determine the unique set of competencies associated with effective job performance in a particular organization. Competency profiles summarize the knowledge, skills and abilities required for an open position. The choice of the best candidate is made easier by detailed matching of educational background, experience and training to the requirements of the position.
A competency dictionary lists all of the competencies that are required by an organization to its mandate. It includes the core and all functional and job- specific competencies identified throughout the organization. A competency dictionary also includes information on the proficiency level needed to successfully perform each competency for each position in the organization.  Identifying job-specific competencies prior to recruitment enables one to determine gauges for success.

Competency modeling

Competency modeling is a job analysis method that identifies the worker competencies characteristic of high performance. There are three fundamental components to identifying competencies (Weiss and Kolberg 2003).
1. Select some of the job’s most effective performers.
2. Study what these people do that distinguishes them from their less-effective counterparts.
3. Identify the competencies that account for this difference.

Benefits of competencies

  • Competencies contribute to valued outcomes for societies and individuals;
  • Help individuals meet important demands in a wide variety of contexts;
  • Be important not just for specialists but for all individuals;
  • Identify selection criteria for interviewing potential job candidates;
  • Structure meaningful performance evaluation.

In summary, competencies are specific personal qualities that are casually related to effective and/or superior performance (Boyatzis 1982). Rothwell (2002) explains that core competencies that are required of all workers. This would include knowledge, skills and abilities (commonly referred to as KSAs) as well as soft skills or behaviours (Lucia and Lepsinger 1999). A competency model is a descriptive tool that identifies the competencies needed to operate in a specific role within a(n) job, occupation, organization or industry. Depending on the work and organizational environment, a group of 7 to 9 total competencies are usually required of a particular job (Shippman et al 2000). Competencies are context – specific (Boyatzis 1982). Some competencies are more important or essential than others for a position. Competence bridges the gap between education and job requirements. High performance is often the result of right people, right place and right time.
                         Competence is an individual's know how or skill. 


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