Sunday, February 14, 2010


There is a growing interest in focusing on the competencies that individuals need in order to perform jobs, rather than on the tasks, duties, and responsibilities composing a job. This shift emphasizes that it is the capabilities that people have that truly influence organizational performance. As E.E. Lawler suggests, instead of thinking of individuals having jobs that are relatively stable and can be written up into typical job descriptions, it may be more relevant to focus on the competencies used. Competencies are basic characteristics that can be linked to enhanced performance by individuals or teams of individuals.

Knowledge, being more visible, is recognized by many employers in matching individuals to jobs. With skills, although some are evident such as skill in constructing financial spreadsheets, others such as negotiating skills, may be less identifiable. But it is the “hidden” competencies of abilities, which may be more valuable, that can enhance performance. For example, the abilities to conceptualize strategic relationships and to resolve interpersonal conflicts are more difficult to identify and assess.
A growing number of organizations are using some facets of competency analysis. A survey of over 200 organizations sponsored by the American Compensation Association (ACA) asked about the major reasons that firms have used the competency approach. The three primary reasons given were (1) communicating valued behaviors throughout the organization; (2) raising the competency levels of the organization; and (3) emphasizing the capabilities of people to enhance organizational competitive advantage.
Many earlier efforts to use competencies have been job-based, meaning that
competencies are identified in the context of specific jobs. In this way the competency approach is a logical extension of traditional job analysis activities. However, some organizations are taking the competency approach to another level by focusing on role-based competencies. This shift has been accentuated by the growing use of work teams, whereby individuals move among tasks and jobs. Some of the roles might be leader, supporter, tactician, technical expert, administrator, or others. Through competency analysis, the competencies needed for individuals playing different roles in work teams can be identified. Then selection criteria, development activities, and other HR efforts must be revised to focus on the different sets of competencies needed for the various roles.
Unlike the traditional approach to analyzing jobs, which identifies the tasks, duties, knowledge, and skills associated with a job, the competency approach considers how the knowledge and skills are used. The competency approach also attempts to identify the hidden factors that are often critical to superior performance. For instance, many supervisors talk about employees’ attitudes, but they have difficulty identifying what they mean by attitude. The competency approach uses some methodologies to help supervisors identify examples of what they mean by attitude and how those factors affect performance.
Several methodologies are available and being used to determine competencies, with behavioral event interviews being commonly found. This process involves the following steps:
1. A team of senior managers identifies future performance results areas critical to the business and strategic plans of the organization. These concepts may be broader than those used in the past.
2. Panel groups are assembled, composed of individuals knowledgeable about the jobs in the company. This group can include both high- and low-performing
employees, supervisors, managers, trainers, and others.
3. A facilitator from HR or an outside consultant interviews the panel members
to get specific examples of job behaviors and actual occurrences on the jobs.
During the interview the individuals are also asked about their thoughts and feelings during each of the described events.
4. Using the behavioral events, the facilitator develops detailed descriptions of
each of the competencies. This descriptive phase provides clarity and specifics
so that employees, supervisors, managers, and others in the organization have
a clearer understanding of the competencies associated with jobs.
5. The competencies are rated and levels needed to meet them are identified.
Then the competencies are specified for each of the jobs.
6. Finally, standards of performance are identified and tied to the jobs. Appropriate selection screening, training, and compensation processes focusing on competencies must be developed and implemented.
Examples of the competencies used in organizations vary widely. In one survey of 10 companies, the following were most common:
-Customer focus
-Team orientation
-Technical expertise
-Results orientation

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