Thursday, February 28, 2008

Competency, proficiency and capability in ambiguity

I am currently teaching at Cardiff University where an interesting conversation was sparked about the difference and similarities between competency, proficiency and capability. Considering the last two blogs about developing ambiguity competency I thought that this might prove to be an interesting discussion for the blog. This might get a little convoluted but it is worth sticking with.

Capability: This is usually linked to the terms capacity and ability. So generally speaking in this context to say someone has the capability to deal positively with ambiguity usually means that the individual has the ability or skill and the capacity to deal well with ambiguity. However it does not mean that the person in question will actually do so. The have the capability, however if they don't have the desire to use their skills or contextual factors suggest that using their capability might not be ideal then the capability is unlikely to be realised.

Competence: This normally suggests that an individual has the required skills and knowledge to do something, in this case handle ambiguity. Now there is a question as to whether a person with a competence in say dealing with ambiguity is actually a competent person! Just because someone has a competence in an area does it necessarily mean that they are what what we would generally recognise as being competent? Whilst they use the same word one (having a competence) might not lead to the other (being seen as being competent). Go figure. You could argue that they should but do they in reality? This suggests that being competent takes more than having a series of competencies. One of the things that differentiates competencies from competence if the factor of context. A person would be described as being competent in dealing with ambiguity or risk, for example, if they appear to deal well with these in a wide range of situations and contexts, especially when the going gets tough.
Another factor in being competent is agility or flexibility; the ability to change and develop the competence in the light of new situations and thinking. Competencies therefore have levels leading up to competence that can be shown in almost any situation regardless of the degree of difficulty encountered.
So what about proficiency? This might well be what we would suggest competence is. To be proficient in something suggests an advanced level of competency, it suggests expertise.

So we can be capable and yet not actually use the capability, we can have competencies and yet not be competent in the area in question. However if we are proficient we mush be competent, have the required competencies and have the capability. Simple really!

So what does this mean for ambiguity and risk?
Many have the capacity to deal with ambiguity well and make great decisions, but don't.
Some may have the capability to find the advantage in ambiguity but don't realise it.
A few may have competencies in the areas of ambiguity, like emotional resilience, critical thinking, creativity etc. and yet may not be competent in ambiguous situations.
Only a few (largely mode 4 individuals) are proficient when it comes to dealing well and finding the advantages in ambiguity and risk.


1 comment:

Christine said...


Your last 3 blogs are real eye openers to me,particularly your comment on Capability/competence/proficiency.

If only a few mode 4 individuals are proficient in ambiguity & taking advantage of it,would that means asking for 90% of all employee to have competency in ambiguity is unrealistic?

What I see in today's corporate world though is that -

HR/ Recruitment process on ambiguity is outdated & filled with bias opinions due to lack of understanding on this topic. This can only be resolved by more research and education.Unfortunately there might not be any change in that mindset for a while yet consider the non-existence of HR resource in organizations.(and of cause,they have minimum impact on a hiring manager's decision!)

Corporates (actually governments as well) are unable to take advantage of ambiguous situation - When organization works on their strategic plans,its often that they follow the same old path(s) because its consider less risky. Trying new methods or taking affordable risk for management is still consider non-safe. It is also particularly difficult for them to see things outside the square to adjust to unavoidable changes in technology and the virtual world.

So yes, both observations above are situations that they are capable but not willing do make an ambiguous decision.

My solutions? Continue to observe the ambiguity development in organizations, influences others by sharing my learning and share your blog with others.