Monday, December 21, 2020

Organizational Quality and Competence (Part 1)


Organizational Quality and Competence (Part 1)

There is an international standard in my area of interest (Quality Assessment) that is undergoing its review and revision.  One “minor” revision proposed is the addition of the word “competence” into the title (requirements for the competence of proficiency testing providers).  This is NOT a minor revision. because it changes the use and intent of the standards document from defining what a provider is required to do as a provider, to providing a blueprint for the providers and the accreditation bodies on how the provider will demonstrate competence. 

Turns out, competent competency assessment standards are difficult to develop and use.  (More on this in Part 2)

There are many definitions that can define competence.   From its early roots, competence is linked to the notion of competition and sufficiency.  Common parlance would describes competence as the ability to do a task successfully and  efficiently.   The International Organization for Standardization goes further, defining competence as “ability to apply knowledge and skills to achieve intended results making the point there are some expected elements (knowledge and skills) that are relevant to do the job as intended, which fits with the Juran phraseology – “fit for purpose”. 

 Merriam-Webster goes further … having sufficient knowledge, judgement, skill, (or strength) for a particular duty.  By adding the element  “judgement” takes competence to yet another level.   Requiring judgement requires having sufficient grasp of the job expected, the person can consider situation and nuance and make decisions about when or how to perform the process or adjust as circumstances require. This is the true hallmark of modern thinking of competence. 

So how do people reach that level of ability? Hard to say, but not everyone in every organization reaches that point.  It comes in part from staff interest and understanding and part from management developing opportunities to delegate authorities for decision making.  This puts the onus on management to allow their staff to learn through continuing education and contributing to continual improvement. Developing staff competence means creating a work environment that supports learning and rewards success.

This definition puts a additional context on identify staff as competent.  Competent does is a derisive meaning adequate for the job.  Competence  goes beyond adequate.   It means that that management knows them to be knowledgeable, skilled, and understand their job well enough to show good judgement while making decisions and performing intended tasks in order to reach the expected results. 


So here is a question: If we have redefined competent to mean something like “the complete package”, how can we describe staff who are not there yet?

I found an interesting blog written by a Tom Graves, a self-described “Enterprise architect, business-anarchist, confusionist (?)” ( ).  He defines 3 competence categories, which can form sort of a framework.

Competence: is where someone knows what they’re doing, and does it.
[These are staff members we call valued and competent].

Non-competence: is where someone doesn’t know what they’re doing (completely), and will either not do it, or will do it, but only after clearly make the point that they not exactly skilled, but will go ahead if it is understood they are learning to improve. 
[ Non-competent may be an acceptable category but is too negatively charged  as a character description.  A more useful term might be a valued staff member well along the path to being fully aware and able].

Incompetence: is where someone doesn’t know what they’re doing but will do it anyways, concealing their gaps, perhaps to both the organization and themselves, creating the potential for all sorts of risks, damages and liabilities.   
[I think that incompetence is one correct word for these staff workers.  Perhaps another more transactional term might be “former staff workers”].

So in this definition of Quality and Competence, to get a position, you need to show you have the appropriate knowledge and skills to perform at a satisfactory, capable level.  But to hold and grow the position you need the impetus and initiative and encouragement to develop the judgement and nuance that distinguishes excellence.  You can call this competent or proficient or skilled.



PS1: There is another interesting synonym for competent, from the Latin (“proficere": to accomplish, make progress; have success) – proficiency.  A discussion for another time.

PS2: I have purposely left out describing an individual’s competence in terms of meeting a checklist of defined competencies.  There will be more on that topic in Part 2.





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