Friday, March 12, 2021

Organizational Quality and Competence - Part 4


Measuring Competence

In this series I have focused on personnel competence starting from the  definition of competence put forward by Gonczi and Hager which includes demonstrating  knowledge and skills to perform a job, and  having the soft skills ability of judgement, (problem solving), ethics and talent to perform the job in context. When knowledge, skills, and context are found together people can  take their work responsibilities to the next level, justifying our confidence they are competent and can and will do the job that needs to be done. 

I have this internal personal pressure that wants to modulate competence with adjectives such as “highly competent” or “totally competent”, and it makes me wonder if competence has a scale of its own, ranging from “barely competent” or “marginally competent”, perhaps followed by “competent” progressing upward to “completely” competent.  But that is a musing for another time.

Since you can define competence, then it must in turn, be possible  to measure it.  There are many documents describing traditional competence assessment. 

But as Gonczi and Hager point out, traditional competency based standards all too often create a check box list of things to tick off (tick ü), but often the check boxes are all based around have certain skills or knowledge, and do not get into the essential contextual parameters of judgement.   As a personal perspective, ISO/IEC 17025:2017 (General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories) is an example of this. 


In the current version of ISO 15189:2012 (Medical laboratories – requirements for quality and competence), is a superior competence standard because actually goes to the effort to describe competence assessment.  That document provides both a definition and informative action plan which frames and  incorporates the concepts raised by Gonczi and Hanger. 

The standard states:

“ Competence of laboratory staff can be assessed by using any combination or all of the following approaches under the same conditions as the general working environment:

a) direct observation of routine work processes and procedures, including all applicable safety practices;

b) direct observation of equipment maintenance and function checks;

c) monitoring the recording and reporting of examination results;

d) review of work records;

e) assessment of problem solving skills;

f) examination of specially provided samples, such as previously examined samples, interlaboratory comparison materials, or split samples.”


Measuring soft skills like judgement and problem solving can be difficult to assess directly because they are highly situational can only be done in context.  Creating simulations and scenarios is too artificial and there are few opportunities to directly witness and address showing judgement.  Laboratory directors actually have scarce opportunities to point to employee competence.  And that is a shame. 


So, I have come up with some suggestions that might help the characterization of people as displaying their competence and completeness as highly qualified workers. 

Consider asking the following:

1.    When co-workers are unsure about what do to in a situation, is there a “go-to” person that they tend to consult (judgement) ?

2.    Are there workers who generally handle their own work smoothly and then  looks around to see if there are people who might benefit from some support and help (ethics)?

3.    Are there people who can look at accreditation standards and read into them alternative interpretations that don’t compromise the quality of work, but save time by reducing steps that upon reflection add little to the benefit of the work (problem solving)?

4.    In crisis situations like we are currently experiencing through the pandemic, are there people who adjust and re-organize with the workflow demands without compromising sample quality (problem solving)?

5.    Is there a person who speaks up at laboratory meetings and brings up fresh ideas based on experiences that did not work out as well as the laboratory would have liked (judgement, innovation)?

6.    Who are the creators, the innovators, the people who make work interesting?

These are the same questions that you would go through to discover who are your positive leaders, innovators, and initiators that you look to when you need to get the job done.


As I think through my personal experience of team building and leadership,  I realize that competence is a talent that may be in part innate, but more importantly is a character pattern that people can learn and grow into through experience and situation and time. 

Not everyone is reaches the level of competence, not because of inability, but because of time and circumstance.    But if you have a team where everyone is strongly capable, you can thank your lucky stars. 





  1. I love this perspective on competence. Minimally competent is the baseline the CSMLS strives for in the national licensing exam, with the expectation that those that pass (minimally competent) will continue to develop until they are experts/masters in the field. May I share to a Facebook group I help moderate? It's international and called Medical Laboratory Science: Hidden Heroes.

  2. Thanks Roxy.
    Yes go ahead and share; just acknowledge the author and source.

  3. Thanks for yet another insightful post, Dr Noble.


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