Why its wrong to assume competence

Erroneous assumptions about competence

Employing the right people is critical to business success. Without doubt many employers will have, (as part of the recruitment and selection process), assessed each candidates suitability against selection criteria which gives precedence to a set of competencies. Consequently, they feel confident that they have made the right choice and appointed a candidate who has demonstrated they have the right skills and appears capable of doing the job. Here-in lies two erroneous assumptions:

  1. That previously acquired skills and competencies will continue to be appropriately applied
  2. The possession of certain competencies equates to competence.

Such assumptions can lead employers to reduce the amount of time and resources they devote to inducting employees, and monitoring their progress, along with the level of support and training they provide. This can have detrimental consequences, giving rise to errors and diminishes the capacity of employees to perform to expected standards. This ultimately brings the need to deal with the after-effects and potentially affects the reputation of a business and its subsequent growth.

What is professional competence?  

To understand why it’s wrong to assume competence, it’s important to appreciate just what competence is. There is no agreed definition of competence or common understanding of its meaning, but it is predominantly viewed as an observable integration of essential knowledge, skills and attributes that are applied in a way that enables effective performance within a specific role.

The possession of these essential knowledge, skills and attributes represent competencies; each employee having a distinctive combination of capabilities acquired through education and work experience. The mere possession of a set of competencies is not an indication of competence. Competence relates to an individual’s ability to draw from their range of competencies and make appropriate judgments in order to handle situations and tasks. Competence is thus grounded in the ability to integrate and directly apply these competencies within the context of a professional role.

Competence is variable and context dependent, which is why it cannot be assumed

Across professions and industries many models of competence exist and indeed many organisations develop their own competency frameworks, which are linked to induction, appraisals and other personal development and performance review processes. Typically, competency frameworks map out the relevant knowledge and skill sets required alongside the requisite standards necessary to fulfil roles and responsibilities. Such frameworks represent a continuum of advancement from ‘novice’ to ‘expert’. Competency is therefore a variable concept with distinctive requirements at various stages of employment, and often associated with professional grade, level of seniority etc.  Consequently ‘achievement’ of competence defines progress and personal development.

Achieving competence is complex, it is reliant upon people having experience, becoming familiar with practice standards to the point at which they can perform effortlessly. This requires individuals to bring several aspects together and make it part of habitual practice. Individuals themselves often overestimate their competence, particularly when they have yet to experience the true realities of the work they are employed to undertake. We live in a world of constant change and this is an important consideration when it comes to making judgments about competence, because it is often assumed skills learnt and applied effectively in one context can be readily used and applied in another, generating the same outcomes. The fact is, that in order to meet the requirements of their job, new employees will need to unlearn, learn, relearn, adapt and refine their skills in order to successfully function and carry out their roles and responsibilities.

Establishing levels of competence

It would be remiss of employers having made the investment in the recruitment and selection process to make assumptions that new employees are altogether competent and capable of fulfilling the requirements of the job they have been employed to do. There is a need to see development and achievement of competence as a dynamic process that requires regular review in order to safeguard quality of work, safety, collegial relationships, and level of service provided to clients.

Developing, assessing and monitoring competence can be attributed to good induction, systems of appraisal, ongoing training and supportive work-based supervision, that builds in appropriate ways to enhance as well as establish levels of competence. Assessing competence is complex, and not without its own problems and assumptions that overlook the complexity of practice. Not least because it reduces competence to a measure of visible behaviour inattentive to reasoning, ethics and the values that drive actions.

If well thought through, it is possible to establish a competency-based approach to assessing and monitoring competence that accounts for values and focuses on gathering evidence which demonstrates overall competence rather than particular competencies i.e. how judgements are made and how each specific competency, personal wisdom and creativity are integrated and applied within professional roles.

Assuming competence is risky business

Every employer needs a competent workforce in order to develop and deliver high-quality products and services. Competence is influenced by education and training and investment in this pays dividends in terms of enhancing efficiency, job satisfaction and employee retention. By making early and immediate assumptions about competence, employers inadvertently fail to effectively support transition into the workplace. Empowering new employees to acquire new skills, to strengthen existing skills and enhance their capacity to consolidate and exemplify their competencies to others makes sense in terms of establishing good standards of practice and ensuring quality outcomes.

For a business to succeed, the people within it need to succeed, competence and performance are inextricably linked. Assuming new employees are competent is risky; over reliance on the recruitment process can leave an organisation vulnerable. In the interest of success, competence needs to be continually cultivated.

How we help you feel confident about the competence of your employees

Veda Education and Training helps businesses structure and implement successful orientation plans; supporting and transition into the workplace, helping your new starters settle into their role, assume responsibility and integrate with the team.

We offer a range of services and levels of support to accommodate your needs, these include:

  • Designing induction programmes, orientation materials and training guides, and evaluation of their impact.
  • Developing value-based competency frameworks aligned with role requirements, industry standards and appraisal processes.
  • Delivery of workshops that help new starters gain familiarity with your organisation enabling them to learn more about its practices and culture.
  • Training existing staff, equipping them with the right skills, tools and techniques to induct, mentor and assess competency and make effective judgments about the performance of others.

For more information about how we can support you and your organisation to enhance professional orientation or train your staff please contact us: info@vedaconsultancy.co.uk

Comments in relation to the content and debates presented within the blog are welcome too via the contact page


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