Measuring competencies in order to predict performance has a long and rich history, dating back to the 1940’s with the selection of war officers. With the world of work becoming increasingly dependent on the quality of their human resources to remain competitive, so did the need to measure and develop competence over the years. The rapid growth in competency measures did however produce a gap between practice and science which has been the source of heated debates in recent years. Fundamentally, competencies are knowledge, skills and abilities which are essential for doing a particular job. Personality traits and attributes are intrinsic and are believed to remain relatively stable throughout the duration of our lives. Thus, competency-based assessments are more concerned with whether an individual can do a specific job, rather than the psychological make-up of the individual. In order to bridge conceptual and methodological gaps in competency-based practice, scholars and practitioners alike have recently started advancing integrated frameworks to measure competencies in the workplace. These practices are becoming increasingly popular, even more so than the traditional job analysis process. Reasons for this occurrence may include:

  • The organisation’s ability to distinguish between top performers and average performers
  • The direct link to the overall organisational strategy and specific competencies
  • Future job requirements may also be included
  • The ease of use within organisations (context specific language etc.)

Competencies are mainly measured by means of simulation exercises. A simulation exercise is an activity resembling a situation in which participants are presented complex stimuli and expected to display complex overt behaviour. There are many different types of simulation exercises, such as work samples and interviews  although behavioural simulation exercises are more widely used in industry. Examples of behavioural simulation exercises include, group discussions, fact finding exercises, in-basket exercises, role-play’s and oral presentation exercises to name a few. These behavioural simulations are extremely popular in organisational settings, mainly because they have high face validity, are designed to be context specific, and they use easy to understand organisational language. Unfortunately these simulation exercises are only as good as the process they are used in. Behavioural simulation exercises are designed to be used within an assessment centre process. There are many governing bodies (e.g. ACSG, Professional Guidelines for Global Assessment Centres) and best practice guidelines attempting to close the gap between empirical science and practices.  They typically  advise and educate people regarding the importance of using simulation exercises in a proper assessment centre. JvR (2006) defines an assessment centre as: “an event, comprising the objective assessment of usually more than one individual for a particular position or organisational function, making use of various simulation and paper-and-pencil assessments together with multiple ratters scoring the various simulations ”. It is important for us (JvR) that our clients are aware that our Competency Assessment Series (CAS) range is developed to be used within an assessment centre. We (JvR) have embarked on a major project to not only improve the quality of our simulation exercises but also to make it easier for our clients to use them within the correct context and processes. Please contact us if you have any concerns or questions with respect to this article or related topics. We would love to assist you in this regard. Call us on +27 11 781 3705 or email jani@jvrafrica.co.za / jurgen@jvrafrica.co.za