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Len Holmes

prepared for Course Tutors' Conference, Institute of Personnel Management at UMIST, 6-8 July 1992


please do not quote without the author's permission


The terms 'competence' and 'competency' have taken central place in the personnel management and training field, over recent years. Boam and Sparrow argue that

"Competency-based approaches are not the 'poor neighbour' that sits alongside other strategic approaches to human resource management. They lie at the heart of all other approaches ..."

They go on to describe how competency-based approaches convert other HRM approaches into a language that can be used for a variety of purposes. It is perhaps inevitable that human resource management specialists, as prescribers of such approaches for promoting organizational health (or even for 'curing' organizational ills), should be subject to the challenge : 'physician heal thyself'! If the competence-based approach is OK for others, it should surely be applicable to specialist practitioners in the human resource management field, in particular in respect of the processes by which membership of the professional body is accorded to individuals, and by which individuals are prepared for entry to the professional body. So already we have seen a growing emphasis on 'competence' in the IPM's Professional Education Scheme, and at some time in the near future we can expect to see the prescription of 'standards' from the Lead Body for personnel management.

Clearly the growing emphasis on 'competence' will affect us as institutions and individuals charged with and accredited to provide programmes of professional education and training, and to assess [the competence of] those aspire to qualification for membership of the Institute. It is therefore essential that we, course tutors, above all others, should be clear what it is we are attempting to do when we develop and assess the competence of our students.

I aim, in this paper, to cover three areas. Firstly, after describing the NVQ system and its accompanying 'Standards Programme', I shall sketch out a way of subjecting the concept of 'competence' to critical analysis, which I believe will illuminate what we mean when we use the term, and overcome some of the confusion which currently exists. I hope to provide a way in which the term can be rescued from such confusion, and become again a useful and practical concept. In doing so, I aim to elucidate some of the limitations which arise from the use of functional analysis as the sole method for attempting to develop competence-based NVQs. I shall examine the nature of professional work and the implication this has for the concept of 'professional competence'. Finally, I shall present a framework of approaches to understanding professional competence, a framework which recognises the multi-facetted nature of such competence, and which brings together a variety of seemingly disparate approaches.


The MSC set about the tasks given to it by the 1986 White Paper (HMSO, 1986) by setting up the 'Standards Programme', and establishing a branch within the MSC to deal with the work involved. The Standards Branch worked in conjunction with the NCVQ. The notion of 'competence' used by the MSC/TA and NCVQ is clearly stated in the first page of each of the guidance notes issued by the Training Agency. Overall competence in a particular occupational area is deemed to be capable of being 'operationalised' by

"... deriving a set of individual elements of competence and their associated performance criteria." (Training Agency, 1988a, p.1)

Elements of competence will be grouped together into units of competence which

"... make sense to, and are valued by employers so that they warrant separate accreditation." (ibid)

A National Vocational Qualification (NVQ) will be made up of a number of related units. Thus overall competence in an occupation will be subject to a process of disaggregation into units and elements of competence (see fig. 1).

In order to derive such units and elements, the Standards Programme has adopted a relatively new technique, functional analysis. This claims to be able to develop standards by reference to functions. Functional analysis involves identifying or defining the key purpose or function of an occupation, then sub-dividing or disaggregating the key purpose/function to establish the purposes or outcomes which must be met for the key purpose to be achieved. So an inverse tree-like structure is obtained, matching the framework of NVQ competence statement, units, and elements of competence applied by NCVQ. Rules for disaggregation have been developed, so that the technique appears to be an objective, systematic method for analysing the work which is required for competent performance.

Mansfield argues that the Standards Programme, based on functional analysis, uses an 'output' model of competence rather than an 'input' model as is usually adopted. Quoting an example ('reproduce copies of documents and information'), he states that

"... the latter description is not an individual attribute. It could equally well apply to a department, an organisation or an occupation." (Mansfield, 1989a, p28)

A Training Agency document states that

"A competence is a description of something which a person who works in a given occupational area should be able to do. It is a description of an action, behaviour or outcome which a person should be able to demonstrate." (Training Agency, 1988b, p5)

Stuart contends that

"While an individual may be deemed 'competent', 'occupational competence' relates to the functions associated with an occupation. Standards of competence are used to describe characteristics of the function(s) and so are independent of the individual." (Stuart, 1989, p.11, emphasis added)

Competence is to be attributed to an individual on the basis of assessment evidence. And assessment is to be concerned primarily with whether an individual can undertake what is required by the element of competence, to the standard specified by the performance criteria. So performance evidence take precedence over any other form of assessment.

"As competence is the ability to perform to the standards expected in employment, performance evidence must be the prime candidate for consideration, with assessment in the ongoing course of work the one that is most likely to offer highest validity." (Mitchell, 1989)

"If an element states that a candidate should be able to do something, then the evidence needed is a demonstration." (Training Agency, 1989b, p5)

Performance in the workplace, undertaken on a number of occasions, covering a range of situations, for each element of competence becomes the exemplar for assessment. By focussing on performance, the Standards Programme has attempted to sidestep debates about the role that knowledge and understanding play in competence, and therefore what part assessment of these should play in assessment for vocational qualifications. Knowledge and understanding are regarded as 'underpinning' performance; only where they cannot be inferred from performance should other methods of assessment of such 'underpinning knowledge and understanding' be made.



Let me state at the outset that I do believe that the concept of 'competence' can be useful in professional education and training, and in assessing those who aspire to membership of a professional body such as IPM. Indeed, when working for the Hotel and Catering ITB I was responsible for leading development work on a competence-based approach to trainer training. I am, however, critical of the way in which the term 'competence' has come to be used within the 'reform' of vocational qualifications. Many problems are now arising with regard to the implementation of NVQs, particularly in respect of cost, perceived 'bureaucracy', and limited acceptance so far among employers. To a considerable degree, such problems arise, at least in part, from confusion about the notion of 'competence'.

The confusion is increased by the rather looser way that the term 'competence' is used by others. It now seems to be used as a 'hurrah' term to add to descriptions of training programmes, or even of training materials. On the other hand, some people have criticised the NVQ system for reasons which are invalid. In doing so they have tended to spread a view of competence-based education and training which is different from that which the NCVQ is promoting.

To some extent this is understandable, as the concept of 'competence' is a complex one. Many writers start by giving a definition of 'competence', they ask, and answer, the question 'what is a competence?'. Many point to confusion over the term. There is clearly a need for conceptual clarity over term. However, rather than rephrasing the term into similar ones, such as 'ability to perform all the requirements of a particular job', we need to go back a stage to ask 'what kind of concept is 'competence'?' We do this by examining how we use the term.


At first sight, the term seems to be used in the same way as we would use a description or characteristic of a person. That is we use the present tense of the verb 'to be': 'She is a competent manager', 'He is competent in using Lotus 1-2-3'. However, this is somewhat misleading. It is important to recognise that, to say that A is a competent manager (or trainer, interviewer, or whatever) is a very different type of statement from saying that A is six foot tall. There is no immediately observable quality of 'being a competent manager', unlike the immediately observable, and measurable, quality of being six foot tall. Similarly, when we say that B has the competence of problem analysis, we are making a very different type of statement from saying that B has an impacted wisdom tooth. There is no entity of 'problem-analysis competence' which B possesses, and which can be observed in the same way as an impacted wisdom tooth. Nor is there some tool-like entity called 'problem-analyser' which B uses, as she might use a computer to undertake data analysis.

Secondly, it is important to distinguish between competence and performance. A person may be a competent car driver, but weather and traffic conditions may combine in some way that performance on a particular occasion is not to the standard required by the Highway Code or even the law. Or perhaps a lack of commitment to the ideal of avoiding alcoholic drink when driving may result in poor performance. But poor performance does not equal lack of competence. This point is made by Boyatzis, who states that

"Actions, their results, and the necessary characteristics being expressed do not necessarily have a one-to-one correspondence." (1982, p21)

Thirdly, following Burgoyne's argument in respect of managerial effectiveness (1976) we should recognise that competence cannot be found by research (or by observation). It is not a thing but a concept which states a relationship. However, unlike 'effectiveness', the concept of 'competence' is not a statement of a relationship between actual performance and desired or required performance. The concept is used to indicate a perceived relationship between anticipated or expected performance (at some point in the future), and the performance desired/ required, based on information on previous or current performance.

So what is 'competence'. I believe that the concept of 'competence' is best understood as what Ryle refers to as an 'inference-ticket' (Ryle, 1949, p.135). A season ticket enables someone to travel from one place to another a number of times without having to go buy a ticket for each journey. When A says that B is a competent manager, A is making an inference from information s/he has about B's performance, currently or in the past, to an expectation of future performance. That inference relates to a range of possible future situations. Thus, when A says that B is competent, A is stating a judgement s/he had made. The judgement is future oriented: that, under certain conditions, B will perform in particular ways. The judgement is based on past circumstances: that B has performed in particular ways. The statement involves an inference: that there are good grounds for expecting future performance to be of a particular type.

The statement implicitly (or sometimes explicitly) places a boundary on such an interpretation: expectation about future performance is limited to a specific sphere of activity, usually a specific job, role or occupation, or sometimes a specific type of activity or task. Thus, if a stranger says to us 'C is competent', we would probably ask 'what is C competent at?' (or 'competent in?'). Of course, under normal circumstances, such information would be implicit and understood by the parties involved.

Now, behind all the hype, the quasi-technical prescriptions, and the dully-repetitive documentation emerging from NCVQ and TEED, this is what the NVQ approach is based on. The occupational standards are descriptions of required performance, although they are referred to, confusingly, as 'standards of competence'. Assessment involves comparison of current or past evidence (relating to performance) with the standards of performance set. Functional analysis is the method chosen to specify (verbally) the performance required. However, in addition to the self-inflicted confusion, the NVQ approach still has problems.

Evidence and Inference Rules

The recognition that the use of the term 'competence' involves an inference leads to the question of what inference rules are being used. On what grounds can we move from observation of past performance to the expectation that future performance will be of a particular kind?

This is where the NVQ approach, as officially promulgated up to now, is at its conceptual weakest. NVQs are to be awarded on the basis of presentation and assessment of 'evidence of competence'. The primary type of evidence is actual performance, ideally in the real work setting (Training Agency, 1989b). The simple question to be posed was : has this candidate shown that s/he has undertaken the required performance, to the standards specified in the performance criteria. If the answer is 'yes', then further questions arise. Has the performance been undertaken to standard on a sufficient number of occasions? Has it been undertaken in an appropriate range of situations (as specified by range statements)?

But why should the frequency and variety of instances of past performance lead us to infer that future performance will be of the required kind? Clearly there must be some implicit rules of inference that are being used. In general terms, these would be that when required performance has been demonstrated on a specifiable (but not necessarily specified) number of occasions, and in a specifiable range of situations, then it is reasonable to infer (subject to conditions eg about timescale, context, etc) that future performance will be of the required type. Where problems arise (especially in terms of the costs involved in assessing performance on a number of different occasions) supplementary evidence might be used, usually some assessment of 'underpinning knowledge and understanding.

However, without some underlying theory or model of competence, any specification of frequency and range will be purely conventional. Such specifications will be determined by external factors, such as administrative cost. This would be a relatively minor issue if the objective was merely to increase the number of people with qualifications. But that would be to change the original rationale for and goals of the reform of vocational qualifications, ie to increase the competence of the British workforce. It would be, that is, to change the rules of inference which are actually used, or which could rationally be shown to be appropriate.

Learning processes as inference rules

Vocational education and training institutions and practitioners claim legitimacy from society by virtue of their claimed ability to bring about desired performance through processes of learning and development which result from programmes of education and training. In effect, these processes act as inference rules. That is, when an individual has undergone a programme of vocational education, and has demonstrated performance of a particular type, an awarding authority infers that future performance will be of the desired type, because both the observed performance and the expected performance are deemed to result from the learning process. So, contrary to the view of NCVQ and TEED that the particular learning process is irrelevant to assessment of competence, it can be seen to be an essential element in making the inference which is central to the attribution of competence.

Of course there are difficulties here. Despite much research, our understanding of the processes of learning and development are still fairly limited. On the other hand, there is much of practical value in such research, and the most important issue to be faced is that of application of the research. Certainly the growing emphasis on experience-based approaches has an important role to play. This involves more than a simplistic application of the so-called 'Kolb learning cycle', where 'experience' is deemed to be categorical, individuals are expected to reflect as if this were an activity like jumping or kicking, 'conceptualisation' takes place naturally and unproblematically, and relevant 'experimentation' flows easily from conceptualisation. Rather, there is a need to recognise that learning is a complex process by which individuals actively make sense of their experience, under conditions of previous learning, in a social context (Jarvis, 1987; Nespor, 1988).

Inference rules might also include the requirement for information other than demonstrated performance. The NVQ approach puts the primary emphasis on performance as specified in the elements of competence. Knowledge and understanding are regarded as 'underpinning' performance, which need to be assessed separately only when they cannot be inferred from performance.

However, there may be situations in which assessment which concentrates on such knowledge and understanding may be deemed to provide better grounds for inferring competence than actual performance. Performance is often not easily observed, unequivocal activity, clearly distinguishable from the context in which it takes place (Ashworth and Saxton, 1990). Take, for example, the conduct of a negotiation. Observation may not provide much information of any value, as conventional, almost ritualised interaction takes place between the two parties, and through various stages a final agreement is reached. Rather, we would probably gain much more relevant information about the performance on one of the individuals, on which to infer competence or not, by a discussion with that person on such issues as the understanding s/he had of the situation as it unfolded, how the strategy adopted was chosen, and how this was translated into actions and behaviour. We would probably wish to know how the individual assessed their own performance, in order to decide whether we would attribute competence.

So inference rules may specify what type of information might be required. They might also indicate what to do with particular types of information, particularly when further information is not obtainable. The obvious example here is when an individual seeks accreditation for what s/he claims is existing competence. NCVQ and MCI place great emphasis on accreditation of prior learning. However, the approach recommended places an enormous burden on candidates to accumulate evidence from performance. This would be needed to ensure that there is evidence of performance to the required standard of relevant elements of competence, of sufficient frequency, and over the required range. Further problems of authenticity arise: how can we be sure that the person did as they claim? Perhaps we need the evidence to be authenticated by a third party, for example an 'affidavit' from the line manager at the time of the performance?

These problems are only such where there is a fundamentalistic insistence on performance evidence. Where this is dropped to allow some form of reflective 'self-report', the issue of inference becomes less problematic. For we generally regard discursive critical accounts of a person's performance as requiring a higher level of ability than mere performance, where the performance is mainly cognitive in nature. Even in the case of interpersonal performance, such accounts provide information about the degree of empathy and sensitivity, and the range of the behavioural repertoire, about which the individual is aware. These would normally be taken as valuable information to indicate expected future interpersonal performance, perhaps more so that visible bodily behaviour and audible speech in actual performance.

Social construction of competence

Two further problems arise. Firstly, since the concept of competence involves some reference to desired or required performance, the question may now be put of who desires or requires that performance. Where there is an identifiable individual or set of individuals, for example an individual's line manager, then they can be called upon to specify the desired performance. However, in the case of vocational and professional qualifications there is no specific identifiable individual(s), but rather an anonymous, generalised 'client'. Here the specification of required performance is necessarily generalised. So-called 'national standards' for occupations are of this kind, but there is then the problem of ensuring that there are national standards for inferring competence.

Secondly, when A states that B is 'competent', A is making a judgement. So what gives A the right to make such a judgement? Normally, we would not expect someone to pass comment on another's competence unless that first person has some interest in the matter, some purpose in making such an utterance. So, a manager might make such a statement when conducting an appraisal, or deciding on the deployment of staff. An interviewer, or member of an assessment centre panel, might do so when discussing a candidate for recruitment or promotion. An assessor in an educational or training setting might do so when passing judgement on an individual being assessed. Equally, in each of these settings, the individual whose competence is being discussed might make a claim to be competent.

All such judgements are thus based on some interest in the outcome: a pay increase, a job, a qualification. Because of this, there is always a possibility of difference of interest, and so in difference of judgement. Evidence of the relationship between actual and desired performance is subject to interpretation. Agreement on rules of inference cannot be fully prescribed. So, by its very nature, competence is socially constructed. Any attempt to present competence as objective is misguided (assuming it is well-intentioned).

Making sense of 'competence'

So, to summarise this part, we can make sense of our use of the term 'competence' as follows. We attribute competence to someone in a particular area or occupation when we infer from information we have, usually but not exclusively based on past or current performance, that future performance will accord with desired or required performance. We make such an inference on the basis of the evidence we have using implicit or explicit rules of inference. Such rules may indicate how the information from the evidence may be used; they may also indicate what type of information should be obtained. However, there are no objective statements of what constitutes desired or required performance, only statements of those who claim the right to prescribe performance and to make appropriate inferences of competence.


The Hayes Committee definition

"Work done by the professional is usually distinguished by its reference to a framework of fundamental concepts linked with experience rather than by impromptu reaction to events or the application of laid down procedures. Such a high level of distinctive competence, reflecting the skilful application of specialised education, training and experience. This should be accompanied by a sense of responsibility and an acceptance of recognised standards." (HMSO 1972)

This quotation is from the report of the Hayes Committee, set up to make recommendations on 'Training for the Management of Human Resources'. It clearly presents professional work as more than technical in nature. The professional practitioner acts in a way which has coherence because it relates to a 'framework of fundamental concepts', but cannot be restricted to specific procedures. There is thus a creative and personal aspect to such work, which has a moral dimension (Etzioni, 1988) often expressed in some form of code of professional conduct.

Such work is not amenable to specification in the way that functional analysis attempts to do. Functional analysis attempts to specify the overall purpose of an occupation, then to disaggregate from that the sub-purposes which must be achieved if the overall purpose is to be achieved. But this would be to prescribe what is essentially a creative activity undertaken in the context of an acceptance of demands and constraints which arise from outside the immediate arena of employment. If this were not so, a professional membership body such as IPM would have no legitimacy.

Reflective Practitioner

Moreover, Schön (1983) has shown that professionals do not in fact act according to the technical-rational paradigm which to a large extent underpins the traditional education of professionals. Technical -rationality emphasises the application of specific and known techniques to clearly understood problems, in order to solve them. The techniques are based on theories and research, which comprise the corpus of professional knowledge. But, says Schön, increasingly such an approach is becoming inappropriate, particularly as the contexts of professional activity change from predictability and stability, to unpredictable and turbulent. Although the professional practitioner continues to face situations which are familiar, and in which proven approaches can be used to solve problems, more and more they will face situations which are unfamiliar, or where previously proven approaches fail to yield their anticipated results.

In reality, problems can only be solved when they are framed in ways which are understood. The body of professional knowledge (including practitioner know-how) provides recognised ways of framing or setting problems. But this is at best incomplete, because many problems are unique and so cannot be subject to patterning. Worse, increasing complexity gives rise to uncertainty, instability and value conflicts (op cit p.49). So Schön seeks an 'epistemology of practice' which is implicit in the artistic, intuitive processes which (competent) practitioners bring to such situations. He uses the term 'knowledge-in-action' to refer to the tacit knowledge which people clearly display in there actions, but which they normally cannot articulate.

"There are actions, recognitions, and judgements which we know how to carry out spontaneously; we do not have to think about them prior to or during their performance.

We are often unaware of having learned to do these things; we simply find ourselves doing them.

In some cases, we were once aware of the understandings which were subsequently internalized in our feeling for the stuff of action. In other cases, we may never have been aware of them. In both cases, however, we are usually unable to describe the knowing which our action reveals." (op cit, p54)

Furthermore, Schön points to the way that people often do think as they act. In the context of professional practice, he calls this 'reflecting-in-practice', whereby the professional

"can surface and criticize the tacit understandings that have grown up around the repetitive experiences of a specialized practice, and can make new sense of the situations of uncertainty or uniqueness which he may allow himself to experience." (p61)

In doing so, the 'reflective practitioner' becomes a 'researcher in the practice context', able to go beyond existing categories of established theory to produce a new theory for the unique case. Ends and means are not separated but are defined interactively, enabling the practitioner to work on value conflicts and find, at least temporarily, a way of resolving these.

Clearly, such a view of professional practice is at variance with the technical-rational view implicit in functional analysis. But, I would contend, it fits well with the nature of personnel management practice as many practitioners experience it. Certainly, in many (most?) organizations, the demands on personnel management have changed dramatically during the past decade or so. The concept of 'human resource management' goes some way to indicating how personnel managers have been required (and/or have sought) to play a more active role in relating its specific areas of expertise to the requirements of corporate strategy devised to cope with and succeed within a turbulent and competitive environment.

We might see some tacit recognition of Schön's approach in the IPM's policy to introduce the requirement for continuous professional development. Of course, for some professional bodies this merely means 'updating', ie further accumulation of technical-rational knowledge. But to be truly continuous and development, this would require the professional practitioner at least to engage in reflection on action, if not reflection in action. Whether the formality of the requirement for CPD, and the 'policing' necessary if the policy is to be effective, have the desired effect remains to be seen.

So professional work is more than technical work of a very complex type. There is a considerable amount of creative activity involved, not only in applying specialised knowledge and techniques to resolve problems, but also in framing or setting the problems in the first place. The professional has to work in contexts where values conflicts are unavoidable, and where constraints and demands arise from outside the immediate 'job'. Because the nature of the arena of practice is one of uncertainty, complexity, and turbulence, the competent professional reflects-in-action, so in large measure creating the body of knowledge and technique which informs practice.


Functional analysis is a recent arrival on the scene. There are of course many other approaches for understanding work performance in ways that enable relevant learning and development to be designed. There are similarities and differences among these. However, it seems to me that we can group these together in three broad approaches. That is, we can regard work performance in three sorts of ways, three facets of the same phenomenon.

Firstly we can concentrate on the observable activities which are performed, treating the job as existing independently of the jobholder (the 'job' or 'technical' approach). Secondly we can focus on the performance of the individual within a social context, examining work performance as the enactment of role which emerges through the interaction between the roleholder and others with their varying perceptions, expectation, etc (the 'role' or 'social' approach). Thirdly, we can examine an individual's work performance in terms of its relationship to the real person with broader 'life' issues (the 'personal' or 'biographical' approach).

'Job' Approach

The 'job' or 'technical' approach has clearly dominated much of the training literature, and possibly much of the practice. Based on Scientific Management principles, it was incorporated into training practice in the early days of the ITBs, and so promulgated through guidance given by the ITBs, training given to trainers, and the sanctions and rewards of the levy-grant and levy-exemption systems. Specific techniques of task breakdown, task analysis, and skills analysis came to be identified as the key techniques for analysing training needs. The individual job holder is not important in such an approach; the job or occupation is important, can be analysed in and by itself, in order to establish what someone must learn and be able to do to perform the job effectively/ competently.

Now, clearly functional analysis is a technique within this 'job' approach. The explanation given in the Training Agency Guidance Note 'Developing Standards by Reference to Functions' demonstrates this.

"Within any organisation ... each individual contributes to the organisation performing effectively. They do so by carrying out those functions which lead to the organisation satisfying its mission or purpose. Functional analysis is the process of identifying those functions and breaking them down until they are described in sufficient detail to be used as standards." (Training Agency, 1989c)

And as Mansfield, one of the originators of functional analysis, states, it is a 'top down' method (1989b).

'Role' Approach

While the 'job' approach has dominated training literature, it is by no means the only approach. The 'role' approach can be seen in the work of Pettigrew et al (1982), examining training specialist roles. They particularly focussed on the training and development issues arising for those who were attempting to move from 'provider' roles to 'change agent' roles. The important issues were those of 'fit' between personal style, role, and organisational culture, and of 'survival and influence', arising from strategies adopted for maintaining legitimacy, for managing role boundaries, and for accessing sources of power and influence. The research enabled the Chemical and Allied Products Industry Training Board, sponsoring the research, to develop workshops to help real trainers to develop their competence in the real organisational contexts in which they operated.

Similarly, the work undertaken by Walters (1979) on supervisory development in the hotel and catering industry focussed on a 'role' approach.

"The supervisor's relationships with other people at work are another important aspect of his job which cannot easily be determined from job descriptions and specification. Each of these people, whether they be managers, colleagues, specialists or customers, will have expectations of the supervisor -expectations of the way in which he conducts his work, of the way in which he interacts with them, and of his level of authority and power." (Walters, 1979, p.5)

A comprehensive approach to supervisory development was developed which started with a role analysis and role renegotiation between supervisor and her/his line manager.

'Person' Approach

What I have called the 'person' or 'biographical' approach can be seen in a number of initiatives. Cranfield Management School undertook research for the HCITB on the problems experienced by managers who were promoted, typically from managing a single unit to managing managers. They adapted the Kubler-Ross model of the process of psychological transition experienced by terminally-ill patients, to develop a model of managerial transition, particularly in terms of promotion. This described how the initial euphoria turns to feelings of confusion and incompetence, as the skills and behaviour patterns which had previously been successful now seem to be ineffective. Only by 'letting go' of past understandings and behaviour can the promoted manager begin to adopt new ways of understanding what is involved in being a manager in the new situation and what strategies are appropriate. This period of transition typically lasted eighteen months - if the manager lasted that long! The 'Manager in Transition' development programme based on this research employed a range of approaches for developing greater self-insight, for career review, and for devising strategies for gaining competence in the new role.

So 'competence' is not related solely to the work activities deemed to be required to meet unequivocal 'organisational goals', but is emergent in the complex of personal, social and technical factors in a dynamic context in which differences and disagreement are liable to arise. Of course, for those who occupy positions of limited power in an organisation, typically those which are designated as 'low skill' and so are low paid, the opportunities for influence are severely restricted. For them, definitions of what constitutes required performance will tend to be technical in nature. The job will be specified; there will be limited scope for negotiating roles, and personal style will be 'structured out'.

However, for those in more powerful positions, there will be greater scope for influencing the definition of desired performance. The job of the manager or professional specialist will be, to a large extent, what the manager or specialist wishes it to be. There will be constraints and core demands, but the area of choice will be of significant size. Both the requirements for what is done, and the criteria for judging how it is done will be open to negotiation. Sometimes this will be explicit but very often it will be tacit, particularly as these provide levers of influence.

Moreover, professional competence is intimately related to 'personal style'. That is, the particular person will always bring to their professional practice their own personal characteristics, which arise from and relate to their biography, past, current, and hoped-for-future, in a unique way.


If the concept of 'competence' is to be a practical use in promoting the development of professional personnel management practitioners, and in undertaking assessment for professional qualification, then it must be broken free from the limitations which functional analysis imposes. Functional analysis fails to provide appropriate inference rules which are essential for attributing competence to individuals. Functional analysis cannot cope with the multi-facetted nature of professional work, and is incapable of expressing the critical aspects of professional competence. There are alternative approaches, and an appropriate combination of these is needed. Together with other pressures on the NVQ system, the forced bond between NVQs and 'standards' derived by functional analysis may yet be broken. REFERENCES

ASHWORTH, P. and SAXTON, J. (1990) On 'Competence', in Journal of Further and Higher Education, vol 14, no. 2, summer

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ETZIONI, A. (1988) The Moral Dimension, New York, Wiley

HMSO (1972) Training for the Management of Human Resources, London, HMSO

HMSO (1986) Working Together - Education and Training, London, HMSO

JARVIS, P. (1987) Adult Learning in the Social Context, London, Croom Helm

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TRAINING AGENCY (1988a) Development of Assessable Standards for National Certification: Guidance Note 1- A Code of Practice and a Development Model, Sheffield, Training Agency

TRAINING AGENCY (1988b) Development of Assessable Standards for National Certification: Guidance Note 3 - The Definition of Competence and Performance Criteria, Sheffield, Training Agency

TRAINING AGENCY (1988b) Development of Assessable Standards for National Certification: Guidance Note 2 - Deriving Standards by Reference to Functions, Sheffield, Training Agency

WALTERS, M. (1979) A Guide to Supervisory Training, London, Hotel and Catering Industry Training Board

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