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The Application of the Competency Based Methodology

An Open Systems Approach

By Hugo Strydom

The Competency Based Methodology (CBM): Terms and Definitions


In the world of work one will find various occupational groups or job families. This refers to a cluster of closely related occupations or jobs that involve similar Key Performance Areas or Duties, capabilities, knowledge, skills, etc. e.g. the occupational group of Carpenter which includes occupations such as Joiner, Cabinet Maker, Shop fitter, etc.

An Occupation is a job that exists in the world of work, for which people are recruited, employed and trained for. Each job has a purpose, referred to as the key objective of the position. The purpose justifies why the job exists. A specific title, referred to as a Job Title, is assigned to each Occupation or job which emphasizes the role the incumbent has to play in achieving the overall success of a team, work group, division, department and eventually the organisation as a whole.

A Company as a whole has specific strategic goals and objectives it would like to attain to ensure its existence and economic growth within an extremely national and international competitive environment. Within most companies one would find various occupational groups and jobs (E.g. Finances Administration, Sales, etc.) depending on the nature of the company's business. To enable the company to attain its strategic goals and objectives, it has to clearly define specific outputs that has to be delivered which could be used as a measure of the success in achieving the strategic goals and objectives. These outputs must be linked to a specific occupation or job and finally the incumbent of the job to ensure that it will be delivered according to the standards and requirements of the company and/or its clients.

Each Occupation or job has certain pre-determined deliverables or outputs that must be delivered by the incumbent of the job. These outputs must be delivered at a specific time according to specific company standards, specific requirements of the client and certain internal company procedures. To be able to deliver these outputs, the incumbent of the occupation or job needs certain enabling factors or capabilities that he would apply in the process of creating and delivering the required outputs. These capabilities consist of a combination of specific knowledge, skills and attributes that he must apply in a specific way to ensure that the end-result or outputs are delivered according to the standards and requirements of the company and the client.

Terms and definitions:

To fully understand the CBM, it is necessary to know and understand the various terms and definitions used in the CBM. The following is a description of each of the major terms and definitions on which the methodology is based:

(click on a topic to view  the description)

Topic List

Purpose of the Job

The purpose of the job is a broad statement reflecting the reason why the job exists. It provides focus to managers, incumbents and clients of the occupational group and / or the specific job. It expresses the unique value the job adds to the organisation. The purpose of the job contains the following:

1.  A Verb:   What must be done?
2.  A Subject:   What does the verb focus on?
3.  Context or Condition:  "for what reason / in what condition?"

It must contain the core focus of the job, but the statement must be broad enough to cover the job as a whole.


Job Title: Lecturer
Job Purpose:  



To evaluate, customize and present... ...pre-designed...
....Microsoft training packages.... the employees of Checkers (PTY) LTD

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There are various ways that could be used to describe work. It could be described in terms of:

1.  Behaviour and activities (what people must do in the process of delivering work)
2.  Capabilities (the skills, knowledge, attitudes / values people need to do their work)
3.  Results (the impact of the work they do)
4.  Outputs (what people must deliver or produce as a result of the work they do)

The CBM describes work in terms of a combination of the above with the core focus on the outputs and capabilities required to deliver these outputs. This approach rather focuses on outputs than on results, as outputs are more controllable and measurable.

The approach focuses on outputs rather than behaviour, as there are always a component of evaluation involved in work. Work, with a few exceptions, cannot be described in step-by-step prescriptions of a specific behaviour. Quality outputs are usually attained by  the application of a combination of behaviour and/or sub-outputs. These behaviours and / or sub-outputs are smaller elements of the final output to be delivered.

Outputs are those things people produce and deliver to their clients and what they are paid for.

Outputs can be Products, Services, Change in Conditions, Information and Decisions which is created by individuals. An output has a client to which the output must be delivered. (If the output has no client, why do you produce and deliver it and to whom?) This client is any individual that requires this output from the incumbent of the job (The incumbent's manager, colleagues, subordinates, clients of the section / department / company. etc.) If the incumbent of the job is the recipient of the output, the output is just a sub-output of the process to deliver the final output that has a client other than the incumbent and must not be stated as an output of the job. 

When determining what outputs are to be delivered by a specific job, the following questions can / may be asked to ensure that the outputs identified adheres to the above:

1.  What outputs do the client require (not what does the incumbent want)

2.  Am I willing to pay someone for this output?

3.  Can I hold the incumbent responsible for the processing of this output? (If the output is not delivered, can I take some action against the incumbent, or must I address another individual for the failure of delivery? If the answer is no, it is not the incumbents responsibility to deliver this output!)

4.  Does the output reflect a specific value the incumbent adds to the job?

5.  Is this the output of an activity or is it part of the process to deliver another output of the job?


Job Title: Lecturer

1.  Training manuals and documentation
2.  Training programs and schedules
3.  Program evaluation reports

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 Major Task:

A Major Task is a broad description of the activity that has to be performed to deliver a specific output. A Major Task may consist of smaller tasks (Micro tasks) or sub-outputs that have to be performed in a specific way / order to finally produce the output required by the client. This activity is performed by the application of a certain combination of the incumbent's capabilities (knowledge, skills and attributes). A specific job will contain various Major Tasks that will support and ensure that the incumbent attains the purpose of the job.

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Key Performance Area:

Key Performance Area (or Duty) describes specific areas of responsibility of a particular occupation or job in the world of work. They are generally referred to as KPA’s. The term KPA is also a convenient label given to homogeneous groups of Outputs or Major Tasks that enable the achievement of a common purpose.

KPA’s are therefore nothing else but broad definitions of purpose. They define continuous end-results that must be achieved through the performance of certain Major Tasks and application of certain combinations of capabilities.

KPA’s can be identified by the logical grouping of Major Tasks or Outputs. Most occupations or jobs have between 3 and 6 KPA’s. Some occupations may only have two and certain specialized occupations or jobs, such as the job of a Typist, will only have a single KPA, since it actually forms part of a broader occupational definition, i.e. the occupation of a secretary.

When defining a KPA it must be kept in mind that it defines continuous end-results, therefore the verb always ends with "-ing" i.e. managing, monitoring, etc.

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Performance Standards:

Performance Standards provides clear specifications that the output must adhere to. It is based on the requirements of the client as well as the company. These standards will determine and control the quality of the output to be delivered. Performance Standards include a combination of the following:

1.  Specific descriptions of what the output should look like.
2.  Specific instructions that must be adhered to.
3.  Specific processes that must be followed.
4.  Specific time constraints.
5.  Specific quantity constraints.
6.  Specific date constraints.
7.  Specific policies and procedures to be followed.

Beware of fuzzy statements as these standards will determine the quality of the output that must be delivered and if vague statements are made it will be difficult to convince the incumbent of the job and other parties that the output does not adhere to the standards when they are used for measuring the performance of the incumbent of the job.

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Performance Indicators:

Performance Indicators are those items that will provide the necessary proof that the output has been delivered and that the Performance Standards have been adhered to. In other words these indicators will be used to measure the quality and delivery of the output.

Performance Indicators include one or more of the following:

1.  The most Important indicator is the output itself. (The fact that it exists already indicates that it is available and the
     activity or Major Task has been completed, but not that it has been delivered according to the standards specified)
2.  Observation (By observing the employee, one can see if the standards are adhered to. This is usually done when       evaluating behaviour standards)
3.  Spot Checks (This is usually done to determine whether certain procedures and policies are adhered to or when
output itself does not provide the necessary proof that the standards are adhered to or when the adherence to      the standards are not clearly visible i.e. incorrect filing of documents.)
4.  Reports from the incumbent or clients
5.  Complaints or recommendations from clients
6.  Quantity of output delivered
7.  Time and date of delivery
8.  Sub-outputs of the major task

These are just a few examples of Performance Indicators. The Indicators will be determined by the type of output to be delivered as well as the standards specified for the output. Keep in mind that these indicators must provide visible proof that the output has been delivered according to the standards. Fuzzy statements will make it very difficult to convince the employee and other parties that the output has not been delivered according to the statements.

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A competent worker is a person that applies a certain combination of knowledge, skills and attributes successfully in the execution of a Major Task and delivers an output that conforms to the standards and requirements of his client with the minimum cost and time involved.

Due to the various different definitions of the term competence or competencies available, it is quite confusing for line managers and HR practitioners to understand what the term means. For the purpose of this discussion the term Capability will be used. Capability refers to the knowledge, skills and attributes a person needs to perform a specific major task to produce a specific output. Capabilities are enabling factors that enable a person to perform a specific task. These capabilities are gained by either attending training and development programs or by practical experience. The following are descriptions of the various capabilities a person may need to perform major tasks:


Behaviours, Skills and the ability to perform the Major Tasks of a job are developed through the learning, application and practice of specific Scientific, Technical and Job related Knowledge. The specific knowledge required is derived from available scientific, technical and occupational information.

Scientific Knowledge: Scientific Knowledge refers to the general methods, rules and principles of the physical natural, economical and behavioural sciences. Scientific Knowledge is generic and applicable in all situations relating to the particular scientific discipline being practised.

Technical Knowledge: Technical Knowledge refers to specific techniques, rules and principles relating to a particular technological application of the general sciences, e.g. food technology, banking technology, electronic technology, etc. Technical Knowledge is more specific and only applicable to specific fields and practices of a particular technology.

Job Knowledge: Job Knowledge relates to both Scientific and Technical Knowledge. It, however, refers to the very specific way it is applied within the company and to the very specific safety knowledge, knowledge of specific tools, procedures, methods and policies that apply to the performance of a particular Job in a very specific job situation. This means that the Job Knowledge required to perform this specific task will differ in another job environment or organisation. (I.e. the way financial transactions are handled in various companies is quite different from one company to the other.)
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A Skill refers to a number of Micro Tasks that have to be performed in a fixed way to enable the performance of a Major Task. These Micro tasks could be complex. They are usually performed subconsciously and are typically completed in several seconds or minutes. They are tasks that typically call for:

# Operations involving complex, subtle hand, finger, and/or eye co-ordination.

# Unusual movements, postures, or rhythms not found in everyday life, e.g. movements concerned with the hand-operated safety guards on power presses.

# Abnormal use of the senses, e.g. inspection of hand-sewing needles requires highly developed discrimination in the senses of touch.

# Complex information-processing activities relating to problem solving and decision-making.

Skills are usually tested by means of observation, practical application tests, role-play, etc.
It usually consist of the application of knowledge.

Skills could either be cognitive, psychomotor or affective, depending on the dominance of their enabling behaviours.

Cognitive Behaviours ("thinking" behaviours): Cognitive behaviours involve the recall and classification of specific information, the application of information and the analysis, evaluation and use of information in the process of problem-solving and decision making.

Psychomotor Behaviours ("acting" behaviours): Psychomotor Behaviours are those requiring precise muscular movements in a particular way to achieve a particular result.

Affective Behaviours ("feeling" behaviours): See attributes below.

The following are examples of Skills:

# Problem solving skills
# Communication skills
# Writing skills
# Budgeting skills
# Programming skills
# Typing skills

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Attributes are the most difficult capabilities to measure or determine. Attributes are usually tested by psychological tests and are usually noticeable in the overall behaviour of an individual.

They are usually referred to as Affective Behaviours ("Feeling Behaviours"). Affective Behaviours, frequently hidden from observation, are the values that a person places upon what they think or do. They are usually observed as a person's attitude or feelings towards performance. All Cognitive or Psychomotor behaviours are accompanied by Affective Behaviours. These Affective Behaviours usually develop as the direct result of learning processes related to the learning and mastering of Cognitive and Psychomotor Skills. When a trainee perceives the learning of a Cognitive or Psychomotor skill as being successful, the affective feelings and behaviours will automatically be positive. The opposite is also applicable.

The following are examples of Attributes:

# Honesty
# Respect
# Accuracy
# Tidiness

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Knowledge and Skill Levels:

An Occupational Group (Job Family)  consists of various Occupations (Jobs). These jobs can be categorised  into various Job Levels reflecting the weight of the incumbent's responsibility (i.e. Junior Programmer, Programmer, Senior Programmer, etc.). There will be instances where the type of knowledge and skills required by these jobs are exactly the same on the lower and higher levels. The difference lies in the level of knowledge and skill required. E.g. the Secretary and her Executive Manager's jobs both require communication skills. It is quite obvious that the level of communication skills required from the secretary is quite different from the level required from the Executive Manager due to the difference in the nature, content and responsibilities of their jobs.

On the other hand one will find that when a person is newly appointed in a job, the level of skills and knowledge required from the entrant is quite lower than what is required from a person who has been the incumbent of that job for 10 years. (There may be instances where both these levels are the same i.e. Chief Executive Managers) Therefore it is necessary to determine the various levels for each capability required by the job. The information gained can be used for Recruitment and Selection, Placement, Job Evaluation, Training and Development, Career Management, Broad Banding, Performance management, etc.

There are 4 different levels of Knowledge and Skills that can be identified. The following diagram explains the various levels:

Level 1: refers to the lowest level, which is the awareness level. At this level the person has some knowledge of the subject or has some skill in applying the knowledge. To be effective the person needs further training or practical application of his skill to be able to apply it effectively in his job. During the application thereof the person needs close supervision or assistance to ensure that the output to be delivered adheres to the standards as specified. (I.e. word-processing skills - the person has attended a course in Microsoft Word. He knows what the package can do and can start the program and type a simple letter. To do fancy typing, formatting of the document and use the graphics of the package he needs assistance or guidance.

Level 2: refers to the functional application level. At this level the person has a good knowledge of the subject and can apply his knowledge effectively. Outputs delivered conform to the standards and minimum supervision or assistance is required to deliver the outputs. New knowledge gained can be applied in the workplace but needs guidance and assistance in the application thereof. Still needs training on the subject and must be send on training courses to learn new skills. (I.e. word-processing skills. The person can use Microsoft Word to create documents with graphics and colour, but must still be assisted  when any complicated documents must be created using other packages in combination with Microsoft Word. He is able to customize the package he is using to enable him to do his work more effectively. His work must still be monitored and rectified by others.)

Level 3: refers to the expert level. At this level the person has an extremely good knowledge of the subject and can work completely on his own. He learns any new items regarding the subject out of own will and can easily find new ways of applying the knowledge and skills. The person's knowledge and skills is of such standard that he can train, guide or assist others in gaining the knowledge and skills that he has. (This does not reflect that the person must have training skills or knowledge to operate at this level.) (I.e. word-processing skills. The person has a sound knowledge regarding the programs he is using and can easily create complicated documents using that program. This includes the use of other packages to enhance the document he is creating. He is able to customize the software he is using and are able to solve some of the software problems experienced during the use of the program. At this level the use and creation of macros in Microsoft Word is beginning to surface in the application of his knowledge. At this level the person usually needs no supervision or assistance in the design and creation of complicated documents.) Only the end-result or the output is checked when delivered to others and it usually conforms to the standards specified.

Level 4: this reflects the highest level of competence (specialist). At this level the person has gained all the knowledge available regarding a subject and keeps himself up to date with any changes regarding the subject on a continuous basis. It is a person that can apply his knowledge effectively without any supervision or assistance. At this level the person can train, guide and assist others in the application of the knowledge in creating the outputs according to standards specified. At this level the person creates new things regarding the subject that is not included in the knowledge he has gained so far or training courses presented on the subject. (I.e. word-processing - At this level the person will find or create new ways to create complicated documents. The use of macro's to create new ways for creating documents is normal procedure in the application of his knowledge. He is seen as the master on the subject at hand. It is quite possible that some level of programming is done regarding the use of the Word-processing software.)

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In this section the core focus of the discussion was to explain some definitions applicable to the Competency Based Methodology. To effectively apply the CBM it is extremely important to ensure that these definitions are clearly understood and internalized by all the parties involved in the process of implementation thereof.

Many failures to implement the methodology are due to the difference in understanding between the parties involved regarding the terms and definitions. Make sure that there is a mutual understanding and perception of each and every definition explained above.

If you have any comments to add to the above, please feel free to mail them to me using the link on the menu on the left of the screen