The purpose of this article is to explore the subject of management competencies and provide a framework for contextualizing competency modeling within organizations. First, a background discussion will ensue with an examination of the origins of competency modeling, along with a definition of the term "competencies." From there, we'll highlight the types of competencies typically employed in the construction of competency models. We'll then transition to the various approaches for developing competency dimensions, typical organizational uses for competency models, types of competency models, and management competencies as predictors of performance. The article concludes with an example of an actual competency model and an outline of some perceived drawbacks of competency modeling.
Global interest in the utilization of management competencies as a management tool parallels the recognition of human resources as the most valuable asset within any organization. Directly in line with this recognition, management competencies are gaining widespread usage in organizations. Competencies clarify work expectations, generating a common language which catalyzes and reinforces changes in individual behavior. In short, competency models develop a set of expectations within organizations that serve as benchmarks for superior performance. However, as shall be seen, there are several beneficial aspects associated with competency models.
Origins of competency-based methodology are grounded largely in the research of Harvard behavioral psychologist David McClelland in the 1970s, and management theorist Richard Boyatzis' research in the 1980s. McClelland (1973), in his article "Testing for competence rather than for intelligence," made the case for competency modeling as opposed to intelligence testing, proposing that intelligence test scores are not reliable predictors of job success. Essentially, McClelland's competency methodology focused on the identification of key behaviors in high performers versus lesser performers.
Management competency pioneer, Richard Boyatzis (1982), is noted for his work in competency modeling as a predictor of effective manager performance. Boyatzis defines competencies as "an underlying characteristic of an employee (i.e., motive, trait, skill, aspects of one's self image, social role, or a body of knowledge) which results in effective, and/or superior performance in a job" (Boyatzis,1982, p.20). Likewise, Seal, Boyatzis and Bailey (2006, p. 193) state:
"In the purest sense, a competency is defined as a capability or ability that leads to a successful outcome. It is a set of related but distinct sets of behaviors organized around an underlying purpose or goal, called the "intent." Competencies, therefore, are the result of appropriate behaviors used effectively in the situation or time to further the underlying goal or purpose that emerges from the intent."
Additionally, LeBleu and Sobkowiak (1995), summarize competency modeling by stating: "In its crudest form, it is a yardstick for measuring how someone is performing, comparing current performance to an ideal, and suggesting actions that can be taken to improve that performance."
Types of Competencies
Competencies span three broad categories (Byham & Moyer, 1996).
1. Organizational Competencies -- those unique competitive attributes that form the basis upon which organizations compete -- sometimes referred to as core competencies. It is an organizational strength that gives an organization a competitive advantage over competitors. For example, Dell Computer's core competence lies in superior supply chain management -- namely their superior efficiency in the procurement of production parts/supplies, manufacturing processes, and their distribution system.
- 2. Personal Competencies -- characteristics representing general standards for acceptable performance (level of achievement or output) in a given role. Consider the job of a sales manager. A sales manager is said to have personal competency if they can adequately perform at a level typically expected of a sales manager. Thus, personal competence is the ability to adequately perform in a given job -- as opposed to superior performance.
- 3. Job/Role competencies -- skills and behaviors necessary to achieve superior performance in a specific job, role, function, task, duty, organizational level, or entire organization. Job/role competencies are the focus of this article. These job/role competencies exist on a number of job levels (Byham & Moyer, 1996):
- A role (leader of a meeting).
- A job or position (a manufacturing team leader).
- A job level (first-line leaders).
- Several job levels (middle management).
- A broad band of jobs (professional/ technical jobs).
- An entire organization.
It is these job/role competencies which provide the footing for our discussion. Job/role competencies measure knowledge, skills, and abilities shown to predict superior performance. As applied to managers in organizations, job/role competencies define effective management performance and are thought of as management competencies. Throughout the remainder of this article, the terms competency and management competencies shall be used interchangeably.
Job/role competencies make be broken down into a number of observable items, i.e. behavior, knowledge, and motivation (Bynam & Moyer,1996).
Behavioral Competency: Behaviors a person exhibits that result in good performance -- that which a person says or does that determines performance.
Example: Consider the HR competency dimension of performance management. A manager would be expected to exhibit certain behaviors such as communicating clear performance standards, monitoring employees' performance, providing performance feedback and recommending corrective action when necessary.
The most widely used behavioral competencies are:
- Team orientation;
- Communication skills;
- People management;
- Customer focus;
- Results orientation;
- Problem-solving; and
- Planning and organizing (Rankin, 2005).
Knowledge Competency: A person's knowledge of facts, technologies, processes, or procedures related to their job. Diplomas, licenses, certificates, as well as a person's ability to apply their knowledge, are signs of such knowledge competency.
Motivational Competency: An individual's feeling about their job, organization, or geographic location which may impact upon performance. Motivational competencies focus on the motivational aspects of proper job fit, organizational fit, or location fit. Generally motivational competencies cannot be developed.
Example: The position of sales manager requires an entrepreneurial orientation as manifested by a predisposition to seeking out opportunities, and a willingness to take calculated risks....
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