ASTD’s New Competency Model - Part 1
Competency Approaches Through History
ASTD’s New Competency Model - Part 1. Three main schools of competency research and practice have been popular in the workplace since the Second World War: the differential psychology approach, the educational and behavioral psychology approach, and the management sciences approach. Each grew out of its own philosophical framework and has its own language and application focus. Here are brief descriptions of each and what distinguishes them:
The Differential Psychology Approach
This approach focuses on human differences, especially capabilities that are harder to develop. People who practice this approach tend to have psychology training. They emphasize intelligence, cognitive capabilities, hard-to-develop physical abilities, values, personality traits, motives, interests, and emotional qualities.
That is, they focus on process capabilities and drives versus subject matter or knowledge. They also tend to single out those qualities that distinguish superior performers from average or typical performers.
The bell-shaped curve is an important concept here, because the underlying belief is that human talents are distributed in a bell curve, with very few people at the top and bottom ends of the curve.
The Educational and Behavioral Psychology Approach
Although the differential approach emphasizes the unique and more innate abilities that people bring to work, the educational-behavioral approach is driven by the desire to shape and develop people so that they can be successful.
The differential proponents also have this concern, but it is not their main focus. People who practice the educational-behavioral approach tend to have an education and training background.
Their models and menus include subject matter and knowledge areas as well as some of the process and affective areas of the differential approach. Also, their models usually include all the competencies that are important to quality performance, whether they distinguish superior performance or not.
Often, proponents of this approach also focus on the performance environment. They believe that the environment (including education) is often a more powerful determinant of behavior than genetics. For the differential practitioners, the emphasis would be reversed.
The Management Sciences Approach
This approach produces job descriptions and job evaluations. So, it mainly defines the work to be done, often spending a lot of time on work and task analysis and documentation. The models that emerge from this process include task and activity lists, and descriptions of tools and processes needed for effective performance.
Knowledge, skills, and other personal characteristics needed to do the work may be added to the description, but are usually a secondary emphasis. Job evaluation consultants, personnel administrators and compensation specialists, re-engineering and total quality experts, and task analysts are the major purveyors of this approach.