etency under the magnifying
Comp
glass: Applications from the principle
of problematization and multi-level theory
Vincent Cassar
PhD(Lond)., CPsychol., CSci
“Coping in this organization means that I need to be competent at my work.
Unfortunately, too many constraints exist to impede my progress and I am
seriously considering of leaving!”
“I honestly believe that a high level of competency is needed to drive me forward
and to ensure that I perform as effectively as possible. I often ask how clear my
company is about this though”
“I consider myself very qualified in my job. However, part of the merit goes also
to my department who realise that we need to complement what we are good at
and this leaves an impact round here”
“I’m competent in my work but cannot understand how it will make a difference to
the company’s profits”
“I hope that our style of managing will remain adequate even after the change”
Argument line
•
•
•
•
What is competency??
What is the principle of problematization??
What is multi-level theory?
What have problematization and multilevel theory applications to do with
competency?
• What are the applied implications??
What is competency??
• Boyatzis (1982): an underlying characteristic of a person
which results in effective and / or superior performance”
• Jacobs (1989): “an observable skills or ability to
complete a managerial task successfully”
• Woodruffe (1992): “a competency is the set of behaviour
patterns that the incumbent needs to bring to a position
in order to perform its tasks and functions”
• Bartram (2002): “sets of behaviours that are instrumental
in the delivery of desired results”
• Bartram, Robertsons, Callinan (2002): “sets of
behaviours that are instrumental in the delivery of
desired results or outcomes”
Job Competency Models
• Several exist
• Typical competency models will contain
– Competency factors
– Competency dimension
– Competency indicator
Example from OPQ 32
• Leading & Deciding
– Deciding and initiating action
• Place a very high emphasis on achieving difficult
targets
• Has a slight tendency to go along with the group
consensus
– Leading and supervising
• Is unlikely to trust, and thus empower, others
A note on “Theory”
• Scientists versus practitioners
– Myth: Theory is for academics; applications are for practitioners
• A theory is nothing else but a rational explanation of a
phenomenon and which is derived from systematic
observations and tests in different conditions
• Bacharach (1989): a statement of relations among
concepts within a boundary set of assumptions and
constraints. It is no more than a linguistic devise used to
organize a complex empirical world…the purpose of a
theoretical statement is twofold: to organize
(parsimoniously) and to communicate (clearly)
• Theory = good and evidence-based practice
Problematization
• Alvesson & Sandberg (2011): an attempt
to identify assumptions, evaluate them,
develop alternative assumptions and test
them.
• A way to progress in the organizational
sciences and hence to advance in best
practice
• A whole lot of assumptions have been
recently challenged and re-tested
Problematization
• E.g. stability versus change
• The normal way of reasoning is that both
qualities must “balance”: a company needs
enough stability to maintain its position but
enough change to enable its growth
• Too much stability and the organization will
loose out on new opportunities; too much
change and the company will loose out on
learning from past experiences.
Problematization
• However, Farjoun (2010) writing in the
Academy of Management Review does
not think it this way!
• He views stability and change, while
conceptually distinct, as no longer
separate but rather interdependent and
potentially compatible.
Q1: Stability
Q2:
Change
enables
stability
Oppositional
Complementary
Q3: Stability enables
change
Q4:
Change
Problematization
Q 1: “Control reduces variation”
Q 4: “Doubt stimulates discovery and
change”
Q2: “Doubt and mindfulness foster security
and continuity”
Q3: “Control enables design and invention”
Problematization
“By stressing stability and change as interrelated,
mutually enabling and overlapping in space and
time, such solutions enable organizations to
retain some of the benefits of bureaucracy and
anarchy without committing to all their liabilities
and they foster renewal while limiting the pains
of comprehensive change” (p. 219)
Multi-level theory
• Klein & Kozlowski (2000)
• Micro (psychological perspective) versus macro
approaches (sociological perspectives)
• “The macro perspective neglects the means by
which individual behaviours, perceptions, affect
and interactions give rise to higher-level
phenomena; In contrast, the micro perspective
has been guilty of neglecting contextual factors
that can significantly constrain the effects of
individual differences that lead to collective
responses” (p. 7)
• Organizations as socio-technical systems
Xo
Yo
Xg
Yg
Xi
Yi
Multi-level phenomena
• E.g. Turnover
• Allen, Bryant, & Vardaman (2010) in the
Academy of Management Perspectives
• Misconceptions:
– People quit because of pay
– People quit because they are dissatisfied with their
jobs
– There is little managers can do to directly influence
turnover decisions
– A simple one-size-fits-all retention strategy is most
effective
Multi-level phenomena
• Meta-analytical relationships with turnover
– ON-Boarding
• Weighted application blanks
• Socialization tactics
• Realistic job previews
.31
-.14
-.06
– Job characteristics
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
Role clarity
Role conflict
Promotion opportunities
Job scope
Role overload
Routinization
Pay
Pay satisfaction
-.24
.22
-.16
-.14
.12
.11
-.11
-.08
– Leadership and relationships
• Leader-member exchanges
• Work-group cohesion
-.25
-.13
Multi-level phenomena
• Stress is often studied and assumed to be
a micro-level phenomenon and most
studies investigate it at the individual level.
• However, increasing number of
researchers are appreciating its multi-level
realities
• E.g. van VELDHOVEN et al (2002) studied
the relationship between psychosocial job
conditions and job-related stress
This cross-sectional questionnaire study presents a multi-level analysis on 2565 workers in
188 departments in 36 organizations in the Netherlands. A three-level model is used in which
individual workers are nested within departments, which in turn are nested within
organizations. Research questions concern (1) the amount and distribution of variance in jobrelated stress explained for the three levels in the study (individuals, departments,
organizations), and (2) the specificity of relationships between psychosocial job demands and
job-related stress in the three-level model. Well-being showed slightly more raw variance
to be explained at supra-individual levels than strain. The full regression model explained
about 35% of the total variance in both work-related strain and well-being. Psychosocial job
conditions did not exceed the expected amount of 10 to 15% contribution to this explained
variance. These results do not differ from comparable studies that do not use multi-level
analysis. The variance distribution in the full model, however, showed unexplained
variance to be located at the individual level for both strain and well-being, and at the
departmental level only for well-being. This last finding shows a direction for possible
improvement of work stress models. Specificity of relationships was also shown:
psychological job demands were more strongly related to strain, whereas job content
variables (i.e. job variety, job control ) were more strongly related to well-being. Results also
suggested that social support was more strongly associated with well-being than with strain.
Well-being appeared to have a more widely varying range of predictors than strain.
Back to Competency-Revisiting
definitions
• Boyatzis (1982): an underlying characteristic of a person
which results in effective and / or superior performance”
• Jacobs (1989): “an observable skills or ability to
complete a managerial task successfully”
• Woodruffe (1992): “a competency is the set of behaviour
patterns that the incumbent needs to bring to a position
in order to perform its tasks and functions”
• Bartram (2002): “sets of behaviours that are instrumental
in the delivery of desired results”
• Bartram, Robertsons, Callinan (2002): “sets of
behaviours that are instrumental in the delivery of
desired results or outcomes”
Prediction…
• People who lack competencies relevant to
the job are unfit in their employment (job)
• People who are unfit in their job, are likely
to be less fit within the larger organization
but the “misfit” is likely to be much less as
a consequence of the indirect impact
• Applying problematization principles and
multi-level explanations, is this the case??
Kristoff-Brown, A.L.Zimmerman, R.D.& Johnson, E. C. (2005). Consequences of
individual’s fit at work: A meta-analysis of PJ, PO, PG and PS fit. Personnel
Psychology, 58, 281-342.
JS
Comm TO
Perf
P-J
.56
.47
-.46
.20
P-G
.31
.19
-.22
.19
P-S(L) .44
.09
.07
P-O
.51
.09
(Ten)
-.35
.44
.07
Competency – A micro level
construct?
• Kozlowski & Klein use the term
“emergence” and describe it as: “a
phenomenon is emergent when it
originates in the cognition, affect,
behaviours, or other characteristics of
individuals, is amplified by their
interactions, and manifests as a higherlevel collective phenomenon” (p. 55)
A multi-level Model of Human
Capital Resource Emergence
• Ployhart & Moliterno (2011) in the Academy of
Management Review:
– “Yet despite the prominence of the human capital
construct in both micro level and macro level
scholarship, and despite great theoretical and
methodological sophistication within both disciplines
and levels, there is little understanding about how
human capital manifests across organizational levels.
If one defines “multilevel” as theory that speaks to the
connection that integrates two or more levels, then
there is no fully articulated multilevel theory
describing how the human capital resource is created
and transformed across organizational levels” (p.
127).
Potential multi-level fallacies
• Cross-level fallacy: assuming individual
level findings generalize to the firm level
• Contextual fallacy: ignoring macro findings
showing that the value of human
phenomena is context specific
• Misspecification fallacy: neglecting to
consider how individual level variables
emerge to form a new unit-level
phenomenon
Unit-level human capital
resource
Unit-level
outcomes
Context generic  Context specific
Sustainable
competitive
advantage
Emergence enabling process
Emergence enabling states
Simple
Complexity of task
environment
Complex
Behavioral, cognitive,
affective
Individual difference KSAO
characteristics
Cognitive vs non-cognitive
Context generic vs context specific
Propositions
• Prop 1: The origins of human capital resources exist in the full range
of KSAOs of employees within the unit
• Prop 2: The content of human capital resources may be cognitive or
non-cognitive and context generic or non-context generic
• Prop 3: Human capital resources and individual KSAOs are partially
isomorphic because they have different antecedents
• Prop 4: Unit task complexity influences the types of behavioral
emergence enabling states manifested in the unit. As task
complexity increases, human capital resources are more likely to
emerge if the unit manifests appropriate behavioral states
• Prop 5: Unit task complexity influences the types of cognitive
emergence enabling states manifested in the unit. As task
complexity increase, human capital resources are more likely to
emerge if the unit manifests a shared climate and learning and
memory structures appropriate for the task (either shared or
distributed)
Propositions
• Prop 6: Unit task complexity influences the types of affective
emergence enabling states manifested in the unit. As task
complexity increases, human capital resources are more likely to
emerge if the unit manifests greater cohesion, trust, and more
positive mood.
• Prop 7: As task complexity increases, the interrelationships among
behavioral, cognitive, and affective emergence enabling states
become stronger.
• Prop 8: Behavioral emergence enabling states influence the
manifestation of cognitive and affective emergence enabling states.
• Prop 9: Context-generic KSAOs become context specific human
capital resources as a function of a unit-specific emergence enabling
process.
• Prop 10: Context-generic human capital resources lead to the
development of context-specific human capital resources
Implications using problematization
and multi-level reasoning
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
•
Are current ways of selecting and measuring people at work adequate enough?
Should we assume that individual level competencies will impact directly firm
performance?
How does this impact factor translate into unit-performance and firm performance?
What impact factor does every individual in the organization have on his/her unit task
performance?
Should we assume to measure fit more than misfit? If no, what measures do we have
to measure misfit?
How do competencies complement each other / interrelate in a group?
When are specific competencies desirable and when are they a liability?
Should we construct competency models or understand how competency models
emerge from the unit/ firm structure, climate and strategy?
How is recruitment, selection and performance management systems impacted by a
multi-level perspective of competency models
In view that competency sets evolve, emerge a a function of the context etc, how
should we structure HR policies and employment law regulation? Should we keep
assuming that these are separate worlds?
How often should we re-assess corporate competency sets?
The bottom-line
• Practitioners should avoid making assumptions but
should approach organizational phenomena with a
critical eye and with an open mind
– Jonah Lehrer (The New Yorker Magazine December 2010)
stated: “Many results that are rigorously proved and accepted
start shrinking in later studies” (in the article The Truth Wears
Off)
• Practitioners should consider organizational phenomena
as part of a wider system and that components can have
ripple effects on other macro level dynamics.
• Hence, competency development, training and
evaluation should be embraced within the wider
organizational realties!
Thank you
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Competency under the magnifying glass