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Exploring the landscape of competency management and outcomes: a state of the art of the rhetorics compared to available evidence

Mieke Audenaert UGent, Alex Vanderstraeten UGent and Dirk Buyens UGent (2009)
abstract
Our research interest emerges from the increasing rise of competency models in HRM over the last decade. This rise is characterized by a practice-science gap in which a mass of claimed beneficial outcomes and criticism by academics stand in sharp contrast with a lack of research. This leads us to think that more has being ‘said’ about the outcomes of competency management than actually been empirically ‘proven’. The rise of the concept ‘competency’ in HRM systems In the ’80s and the ‘90s two separate approaches in competency on employee-level grew around the globe. Throughout the years the ‘competency’ tradition that emerged in the United States through the efforts of McLelland (1973), Boyatzis (1982) and Spencer and Spencer (1993), fused with the ‘competence’ tradition that emerged alongside the system of National Vocational Qualifications in the UK (Boam & Sparrow, 1992). A more multidimensional concept prevails nowadays. This multidimensional concept blends the approach of the UK, i.e. knowledge and skills, with the approach of the US, i.e. behavioural or underlying personal characteristics (Le Deist & Winterton, 2005). Furthermore in the ‘90s, although being a distinct approach on the organisation-level, the popularity of core competencies (Prahalad & Hamel, 1990) raised the interest in competency management in practice (Shippmann et al., 2000). Competency management evolved from an early focus on the employee-level to become a link between organisational strategy and organisational and individual performance (Rothwell & Lindholm, 1999). Essentially competency management is about “using the concept of competency and the results of competency analysis to inform and improve the processes of performance management, recruitment and selection, employee development and employee reward” (Armstrong, 2006: 159). Thus, the emphasis is on a system approach of HRM, which deals with the challenge to increase the effective use of competency in organisations. Research figures show that competency management has become widespread in the US (Athey & Orth, 1999), as well as in Europe (Mulder & Collins, 2007). An unanswered rhetorical debate surrounding competency management Rhetorical promised outcomes for organisations in pursuing their strategy (Capaldo, Iandoli, & Zollo, 2006; Cardy & Selvarajan, 2006), constitute the rationale of competency management. In other words, employee-level competencies and organisational-level core competencies should be the starting point in diverse HR practises, because the individual competencies of the employees would be important strategic aids in the realization of the organisational goals (Bergenhenegouwen, Ten Horn, & Mooijman, 1997). In a sharp contrast with the supposed strategic aid, rhetorical sceptical voices regarding the sophistication of the system surround the competency management field. For instance, some authors question whether competency management is anything more than merely a matter of old wine in new bottles, since it does not bring something substantially new to personnel management in the substance (Page, Hood, & Lodge, 2005). Other authors even state that the competency models, which serve as a theme throughout the diverse HR practises, are reduced to tools for creating passive inventories of formalized competencies, instead of being seen as vehicles for making competence active (Kuchinke & Han, 2005; Sandberg, 2000). The above mentioned rhetorics on competency management tends to be overshadowed by a lack of empirical evidence on the outcomes according to several authors (Hondeghem, 2002; Horton, 2002; Lievens, Sanchez, & De Corte, 2004) despite earlier calls. Whether competency management generates competitive advantage was subject of recent call (Hondeghem, 2002) and even made part of a well-established call for future research by Lawler more than a decade ago (Lawler, 1994). We mark this lack of empirically rooted research as a surprising finding. Following from this, the proposition grows that the attention in academic literature is predominantly distorted to rhetorical beliefs on the theme and is insufficiently countered by a profound base of empirical research evidence. By delving deeper into the comparison of the rhetorics with the research evidence we will evaluate the extent of the practice-science gap. As a consequence we will be able to weigh the rhetorics in comparison with the actual evidence. This will result in a future research agenda in order to fill this gap. In essence, in order to verify this practise-science gap, we establish two key objectives of this research: (1) First, it is our aim to get a clear view on the elements of competency management according to the rhetorics on the one hand and the research evidence on the other hand; (2) Second, we will generate an overview of the outcomes of competency management within organisations according to the rhetorics on the one hand and the research evidence on the other hand. Considering outcomes we regard the relationship between competency management and ultimately organisational performance in multiple boxes, as derived from HRM-Performance research by den Hartog, Boselie and Paauwe (2004) Methodology Recognizing that traditional 'narrative' reviews frequently lack thoroughness, we will follow a process of systematic review for the management field, as derived from medical science (Tranfield, Denyer, & Smart, 2003), to locate all relevant articles. This method allows us to address our research questions in a transparent manner by being open and explicit about the scope and boundaries, as well as the processes and methods involved in the review. Before the review commences, we will make the review methods explicit. Throughout the review the steps undertaken will be specified, documented upon, iterated and monitored (Denyer & Tranfield, 2008). However when synthesising we will fall back on narrative methods, which is more relevant for comprehensive and diffuse subjects (Collins & Fauser, 2005). Note: references included in this abstract can be provided on demand.
Please use this url to cite or link to this publication:
author
organization
year
type
conference
publication status
unpublished
subject
conference name
EIASM; 24nd Workshop on Strategic Human Resource Management
conference location
Brussels
conference start
2009-04-06
conference end
2009-04-07
language
English
UGent publication?
yes
classification
C3
id
682415
handle
http://hdl.handle.net/1854/LU-682415
date created
2009-06-08 11:49:20
date last changed
2015-01-22 10:18:12
@inproceedings{682415,
  abstract     = {Our research interest emerges from the increasing rise of competency models in HRM over the last decade. This rise is characterized by a practice-science gap in which a mass of claimed beneficial outcomes and criticism by academics stand in sharp contrast with a lack of research. This leads us to think that more has being {\textquoteleft}said{\textquoteright} about the outcomes of competency management than actually been empirically {\textquoteleft}proven{\textquoteright}. 


The rise of the concept {\textquoteleft}competency{\textquoteright} in HRM systems

In the {\textquoteright}80s and the {\textquoteleft}90s two separate approaches in competency on employee-level grew around the globe. Throughout the years the {\textquoteleft}competency{\textquoteright} tradition that emerged in the United States through the efforts of McLelland (1973), Boyatzis (1982) and Spencer and Spencer (1993), fused with the {\textquoteleft}competence{\textquoteright} tradition that emerged alongside the system of National Vocational Qualifications in the UK (Boam \& Sparrow, 1992). A more multidimensional concept prevails nowadays. This multidimensional concept blends the approach of the UK, i.e. knowledge and skills, with the approach of the US, i.e. behavioural or underlying personal characteristics (Le Deist \& Winterton, 2005). Furthermore in the {\textquoteleft}90s, although being a distinct approach on the organisation-level, the popularity of core competencies (Prahalad \& Hamel, 1990) raised the interest in competency management in practice (Shippmann et al., 2000). Competency management evolved from an early focus on the employee-level to become a link between organisational strategy and organisational and individual performance (Rothwell \& Lindholm, 1999). 

Essentially competency management is about {\textquotedblleft}using the concept of competency and the results of competency analysis to inform and improve the processes of performance management, recruitment and selection, employee development and employee reward{\textquotedblright} (Armstrong, 2006: 159). Thus, the emphasis is on a system approach of HRM, which deals with the challenge to increase the effective use of competency in organisations. Research figures show that competency management has become widespread in the US (Athey \& Orth, 1999), as well as in Europe (Mulder \& Collins, 2007). 


An unanswered rhetorical debate surrounding competency management 
Rhetorical promised outcomes for organisations in pursuing their strategy (Capaldo, Iandoli, \& Zollo, 2006; Cardy \& Selvarajan, 2006), constitute the rationale of competency management. In other words, employee-level competencies and organisational-level core competencies should be the starting point in diverse HR practises, because the individual competencies of the employees would be important strategic aids in the realization of the organisational goals (Bergenhenegouwen, Ten Horn, \& Mooijman, 1997). In a sharp contrast with the supposed strategic aid, rhetorical sceptical voices regarding the sophistication of the system surround the competency management field. For instance, some authors question whether competency management is anything more than merely a matter of old wine in new bottles, since it does not bring something substantially new to personnel management in the substance (Page, Hood, \& Lodge, 2005). Other authors even state that the competency models, which serve as a theme throughout the diverse HR practises, are reduced to tools for creating passive inventories of formalized competencies, instead of being seen as vehicles for making competence active (Kuchinke \& Han, 2005; Sandberg, 2000).

The above mentioned rhetorics on competency management  tends to be overshadowed by a lack of empirical evidence on the outcomes according to several authors (Hondeghem, 2002; Horton, 2002; Lievens, Sanchez, \& De Corte, 2004) despite earlier calls. Whether competency management generates competitive advantage was subject of recent call (Hondeghem, 2002) and even made part of a well-established call for future research by Lawler more than a decade ago (Lawler, 1994). We mark this lack of empirically rooted research as a surprising finding. 

Following from this, the proposition grows that the attention in academic literature is predominantly distorted to rhetorical beliefs on the theme and is insufficiently countered by a profound base of empirical research evidence. By delving deeper into the comparison of the rhetorics with the research evidence we will evaluate the extent of the practice-science gap. As a consequence we will be able to weigh the rhetorics in comparison with the actual evidence. This will result in a future research agenda in order to fill this gap. 

In essence, in order to verify this practise-science gap, we establish two key objectives of this research:
(1)\unmatched{0009}First, it is our aim to get a clear view on the elements of competency management according to the rhetorics on the one hand and the research evidence on the other hand;
(2)\unmatched{0009}Second, we will generate an overview of the outcomes of competency management   within organisations according to the rhetorics on the one hand and the research evidence on the other hand.  

Considering outcomes we regard the relationship between competency management and ultimately organisational performance in multiple boxes, as derived from HRM-Performance research by den Hartog, Boselie and Paauwe (2004)


Methodology

Recognizing that traditional 'narrative' reviews frequently lack thoroughness, we will follow a process of systematic review for the management field, as derived from medical science (Tranfield, Denyer, \& Smart, 2003), to locate all relevant articles. This method allows us to address our research questions in a transparent manner by being open and explicit about the scope and boundaries, as well as the processes and methods involved in the review. Before the review commences, we will make the review methods explicit. Throughout the review the steps undertaken will be specified, documented upon, iterated and monitored (Denyer \& Tranfield, 2008). However when synthesising we will fall back on narrative methods, which is more relevant for comprehensive and diffuse subjects (Collins \& Fauser, 2005). 

Note: references included in this abstract can be provided on demand.},
  author       = {Audenaert, Mieke and Vanderstraeten, Alex and Buyens, Dirk},
  language     = {eng},
  location     = {Brussels},
  title        = {Exploring the landscape of competency management and outcomes: a state of the art of the rhetorics compared to available evidence},
  year         = {2009},
}

Chicago
Audenaert, Mieke, Alex Vanderstraeten, and Dirk Buyens. 2009. “Exploring the Landscape of Competency Management and Outcomes: a State of the Art of the Rhetorics Compared to Available Evidence.” In .
APA
Audenaert, M., Vanderstraeten, A., & Buyens, D. (2009). Exploring the landscape of competency management and outcomes: a state of the art of the rhetorics compared to available evidence. Presented at the EIASM; 24nd Workshop on Strategic Human Resource Management.
Vancouver
1.
Audenaert M, Vanderstraeten A, Buyens D. Exploring the landscape of competency management and outcomes: a state of the art of the rhetorics compared to available evidence. 2009.
MLA
Audenaert, Mieke, Alex Vanderstraeten, and Dirk Buyens. “Exploring the Landscape of Competency Management and Outcomes: a State of the Art of the Rhetorics Compared to Available Evidence.” 2009. Print.