Academic journal article Asian Social Science

What Is Wrong with Competency Research? Two Propositions

Academic journal article Asian Social Science

What Is Wrong with Competency Research? Two Propositions

Article excerpt

1. Introduction

The theory and practice of competency approach has remained significant decades after its conception. A simple search using the term in the EBSCOhost database yields over 4,000 academic articles. The approach is being used across the globe for instance in Europe (Horton, 2000a; Hondeghem & Vandermeulen, 2000), Australia (Gonczi, 1994), China (Liu et al., 2007), South Africa (Parker & Walters, 2008), Middle East (Ismail et al., 2009) including Malaysia (Azmi, 2010; Azmanirah et al., 2014). Competency is an important tool in organizational human resource management efforts. It is not only being applied in private organizations, but also in public sector (Horton, 2000a; Hondeghem & Vandermeulen, 2000) and non-governmental organizations (Besler & Sezerel, 2011). This collection of evidence suggests that competency is progressive in both theoretical and practical terms.

However despite its omnipresence, validity of the approach has been repeatedly questioned. For it to be a truly useful tool, these criticisms and their roots must be critically analyzed to identify measures for improvement. Moving along this thesis, this paper aims to revisit the prevailing competency theories and backgrounds, with the intention to identify gaps and propose measures with regard to the approach taken in researching the subject. The article is organized as follows. It starts with a discussion on the theoretical underpinnings of the competency approach with a special focus on the American and British competency movements, two countries where the concept received most of its early developments. These two countries were also chosen given their standing as the classic cases in explaining the competency(e) terminology debates. The article then progresses to an analysis on several key competency definitions, its properties, samples of competency frameworks and its ideological foundations. To proceed further, its main criticisms together with an analysis of their root causes are discussed. The author then concludes the article by proposing some measures on how these criticisms could be addressed in future research in the subject.

2. Theoretical backgrounds

2.1 Origins

The origin of competency dates back to the medieval time during apprenticeship trainings (Horton, 2000b).

Industrial revolution, scientific management, and post World War II economic booming in the United States (US) gave rise to the concept whereby interests and initiatives were taken to organize occupations with their required skills and knowledge (ibid.). Afterwards, much development in the competency approach has been reported taking place in the US and the United Kingdom (UK), both who have had significant contributions in the conceptualization and practice of the competency approach.

In the US, the development of competency can be traced to individuals in the McBer consulting firm. The concept was first proposed by Harvard psychological professor, David McClelland, who established the firm in 1963. Backed by many empirical research data, McClelland famously debunked the validity of traditional aptitude and intelligence tests like exams in predicting individuals' success in career and life (McClelland, 1973). Instead he argued that individuals are successful because of their underlying characteristics that explain their superior performance. To determine these characteristics, McCelland developed two instruments: 1) Criterion Sampling - which studies the behavioural differences between high and average performers; and 2) Behavioral Event Interviews (BEI) - highly structured interviews on successful people to extract their hidden characteristics, thought process, and feelings which explain their successful behaviors. The competency approach was then popularized, by Richard Boyatzis in his book 'The Competent Manager' (1982). In 1981 Boyatzis, then a McBer's consultant, was commissioned by the American Management Association to develop a generic model of managerial competency based on McBer's existing projects. …

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