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How Competency and Proficiency are Related to Performance?

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When it comes to training design and delivery, I have seen that professionals tend to use several terms interchangeably: Competence, Competency, Proficiency, Expertise and Performance. Even though these terms have different definition and scope, these are used quite interchangeably in the literature. Murphy et al. (2009) highlighted the problem of a lack of consistency in defining competence and performance.

I thought in this post I add my perspective on clarifying based on some research and provide a simple relationship between these terms.

a) Performance

Performance is a widely used term in human resource world. The Oxford English Dictionary defines performance as ‘the action or process of performing a task or a function’. Gilbert (1996) states that there are two elements in performance: the behavior or activity and the outcome or accomplishment (as cited in National Volunteer Skill Centre, 2003, p. 6).

Performance may be result of several cognitive, psychomotor tasks or abilities working together. Several environment factors affect the performance. As the environment varies so would the performance.

Literature shows several linkages between performance and terms like competence, proficiency and expertise. Most authentic linkage is put forward by Dreyfus and Dreyfus & Dreyfus model (1980, 1986, 1986a, 2008) supplemented by Dreyfus (1992, 2004, 2007 & 2008).Dreyfus used performance as the criteria to differentiate the levels from novice to expert. They assert that competence, proficiency and expertise are the points in the continuum while a learner start acquiring skills as novice on one end to achieve expertise on the other end.

b) Competence and Competency

Burg, Lloyd and Templeton (1982) establishes the relationship between performance and competence by stating that, ‘. . . it is performance that must be measured to assess the attribute competence in a performer’. Same statement is valid for assessing proficiency. Dreyfus (1986) definition of competence is a point on the spectrum of improving the performance.

There is difference between competency and competence. Competency refers to the skill itself while the competence refers to the ability to perform the skill (Khan and Ramachandran, 2012). A competency is a set of defined behaviors that provide a structured guide enabling the identification, evaluation and development of the behaviors in individual employees. Competence includes metacognitive and reflective skills (Westera, 2001).

c) Proficient and Proficiency

Dreyfus and Dreyfus (1980) define proficiency as next higher level of expertise after competence on a continuum of competence, proficiency and expertise. The business dictionary defines proficiency as “Mastery of a specific behavior or skill demonstrated by consistently superior performance, measured against established or popular standards”.Eraut (1994) summarizes Dreyfus’s model and states that a proficient person is one who “Sees situations holistically rather than in terms of aspects. Sees what is most important in a situation. Perceives deviations from the normal pattern. Decision-making less labored. Uses maxims for guidance, whose meanings vary according to the situation”.

The business dictionary defines proficiency as “Mastery of a specific behavior or skill demonstrated by consistently superior performance, measured against established or popular standards”.

The concept of proficiency has a component of reproducibility of same or similar results in different situations and different environments. From that sense, the level of performance may vary based on where an individual is on this continuum. Several environment factors affect the performance. As the environment varies, so does the performance.

In the example of airplane pilot, Gerathewohl (1978) made the distinction between performance and proficiency. Performance referred to the execution of an action of more or less specific function, such as pulling a lever or throwing a switch, Proficiency, in contrast, was related to the integration of a multiple actions. This integration itself is thought to be a desirable quality of a safe pilot (as cited by Stein, 1984).

Steve Rosenbaum made some beautiful comments regarding differences between competency vs. proficiency. With a competency model, you can master all the competencies and not produce the desired results on the job. In other words, all the pieces don’t add up to the whole. With a proficiency definition, the end result is completely spelled out and training doesn’t end until the employee becomes proficient. The result is important rather than all the pieces and parts”. (Taken from Learning Paths International Blog at http://www.learningpathsinternational.com/blog/?p=5)

In summary, competency and proficiency are characteristics of stages of performance and are interrelated to each other. Hope this will clarify the terms competence, competency, proficiency and performance.

What it means to you as training designer and training strategist? Stay tuned for some practical tips on designing and structuring training to each of these levels.

REFERENCES

Gerathewohl, S. J. (1978). Psychophysical Effects of Aging – Developing a Functional Age Index for Pilots: II, Federal Aviation Administration Technical Report (FAA-AM-78-16) (NTIS AD A059-356)
Eraut, M. (1994). Developing Professional Knowledge and Competence. London: Routledge Falmer
Dreyfus, H. L. and Dreyfus, S. E. (1986). Why skills cannot be represented by Rules. In. Sharley, Elis, Hardwood, and Chichester, Advances in cognitive science. pp.315-335.
Burg, F.D., Lloyd, J.S., Templeton, B. (1982). Competence in medicine. Medical Teaching, 4,  60–64.
Khan, K., & Ramachandran, S. (2012). Conceptual framework for performance  assessment: Competency, competence and performance in the context of assessments in healthcare – Deciphering the terminology, Medical Teacher, 1 (9) Early Online, DOI: 10.3109/0142159X.2012.722707
National Volunteer Skills Centre (2003) A guide to writing competency based training materials. Melbourne Australia: Dobson, G., http://www.volunteeringaustralia.org/files/R3Q9Y0OQY0/Revised%20Writers%20Guide%202.pdf
Steve Rosenbaum, S (2011) Competency vs. Proficiency Model, earning Paths International Blog at http://www.learningpathsinternational.com/blog/?p=5)

About Raman K. Attri

Raman K. Attri is a complex learning strategist, a transformational training consultant and a researcher with over 20 years of experience in engineering, management and technical training. His primary area of focus is to provide strategic directions to organizations in implementing next-generation competitive training strategies. His research interests include complex learning, accelerated expertise and advanced instructional design. He is also the founder of Personal Resonance©, a research forum with a charter to transform proven research studies on accelerated expertise into organizational training practices. His training and learning solutions are strongly founded in system engineering techniques applied to large-scale training programs. Equipped with scientific training methods, he innovated two research-backed complex learning frameworks namely SEAT© (Systems Engineering Approach to Training) and ProBT© (Proficiency Based Training) methodology primarily meant for organizations to accelerate development of complex cognitive skills of their employees systematically at faster rate. He is highly passionate about learning. He holds Professional Doctorate in Corporate Training, MBA in Operations Management and Executive MBA in Customer Relationship Management. Currently he is pursuing another Doctorate degree from Southern Cross University. His personal interests involve writing and painting.
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