Sandberg’s “Understanding Human Competence at Work”

Purpose and Objectives of the Study

The article identifies its purpose as to explore how the interpretative approach is effective and reliable in elucidating and comprehending human competence at work. As the rationalistic approach is prevalent and limited in scope because it focuses on knowledge and skills, the study holds that the interpretative examines human competence from the perspective of the meaning of work and experience of workers. In this view, the article aimed to demonstrate how the interpretative approach is the alternative approach to rationalistic approaches in elucidating and understanding human competence at work. Although the study has no clear set of objectives, the apparent objective is to undertake engine optimizers’ competence analysis using the interpretative approach. The engine optimizers are engineers who worked at Volvo Car Corporation, which is a motor vehicle manufacturing and assembly company in Sweden. Overall, the article identifies and describes the purpose and the objective of the study.

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The analysis of the article shows that it contributes immensely to the body of knowledge in the realm of management. Literature review shows that the rationalistic approach is the most prevalent approach to competence analysis. However, this approach has an inherent limitation because it focuses on knowledge and skills, which are specific attributes, but it ignores other pertinent aspects of human competence. In contrast, the interpretative approach offers an alternative and comprehensive method of competitive analysis because it examines the meaning of work and the unique experience of workers. According to Sandberg (2000), the study contributes to the body of knowledge because it offers a new method of competitive analysis and provides a comprehensive description and elucidation of competence. The study achieved these major contributions by describing and elucidating the competence of automobile engineers. Therefore, the overall contribution is that the interpretative approach is better than the rationalistic approach since it examines concepts rather than attributes that describe and assess jobs and professions compressively.

Theoretical Framework

The study identifies and discusses models that are applicable and effective in the performance of competence analysis. In elucidating its theoretical framework, the study examined current rationalistic approaches that managers use in evaluating the competence of employees in different professions. Sandberg (2000) identifies the work-oriented approach, the worker-oriented approach, and the multimethod-oriented approach as three rationalistic approaches that are dominant in management. The work-oriented approach regards competence as a personal attribute-based task, activities, or jobs that employees perform. In essence, a work-oriented approach translates tasks, activities, or jobs into a set of personal attributes. However, the weakness of this approach is that the list of tasks, activities, and jobs does not offer a comprehensive description of personal attributes and corresponding competence. The worker-oriented approach view competence as specific attributes that workers possess such as knowledge, skills, personal traits, and abilities. A proponent of this approach is Boyatzis who described human competence as generic attributes reflected by underlying personal attributes (Sandberg 2000). However, the weakness of the worker-oriented approach is that it produces an abstract and generic description of competence.

The multimethod-oriented approach recognizes the weaknesses of the worker-oriented approach and the work-oriented approach and offers comprehensive competence analysis. In essence, this approach expands tasks, activities, and jobs as well as personal attributes. For instance, competence analysis of police lieutenants used 23 activities and 46 personal attributes, which were quantified and summed up to determine competence (Sandberg 2000). Overall, the rationalistic approaches, which the study employed in the theoretical framework, examine competence from the perspective of attributes required to perform tasks, activities, and tasks. According to Sandberg (2000), rationalistic approaches are not effective in performing competence analysis since the operationalization of attributes produces a simple, narrow, and abstract description of competence. Thus, the study recommends the use of the interpretative approaches, as an alternative approach, because they provide comprehensive competitive analysis based on the meaning of work and experience of work. Therefore, the analysis of the theoretical framework shows that it forms the basis of the study.

Situating the Study

The analysis of the background shows that the article situates the study within the previous studies performed in the field of management. In introducing the study, the article highlights the essence of competence analysis in improving the management and performance of employees in diverse organizations. Sandberg (2000) cites numerous studies, which recommend continuous amendments of the approaches used in the analysis of competence to improve management and performance of employees in diverse organizations. Moreover, the article situated the study within the field of management by undertaking the literature review. In this view, the article examined literature, which describes competence as a relationship between work and person. Since workers have different knowledge, skills, and abilities, they have different levels of competence. Based on the works of Taylor done in 1911, the article holds that managers should employ scientific principles in undertaking competence analysis and improving the training and development of workers (Sandberg, 2000). Thus, the essence of competitive analysis in modern society has compelled organizations to employ scientific principles in the management of organizations and improve performance.

Moreover, the literature review indicates that the rationalistic approaches are the most common methods of competence analysis. Sandberg (2000) analyzed the literature and noted that the work-oriented approach, the worker-oriented approach, and the multimethod approach are three rationalistic approaches that managements can use in understanding competence analysis. By analyzing literature, the article describes and differentiates these three approaches by elucidating concepts and principles. Moreover, the article highlights the strengths and weaknesses of each of the rationalistic approaches to show the essence of the interpretative approach. By dwelling on the weaknesses of the rationalistic approaches, the study identifies the research gap. Given that the rationalistic approaches offer a narrow, simple, and abstract assessment of competence, Sandberg (2000) states that they do not sufficiently explain the complexity of competence in diverse jobs and professions. With the help of extensive literature, the article explains how the interpretative approach is an alternative to the rationalistic approach in the performance of competence analysis. Further analysis of literature used shows that ample studies show that there is a gap in competence analysis using the rationalistic approach.

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Research Approach

The methodology indicates that the study employed the phenomenographic approach to competitive analysis of engineers working at the automobile company, Volvo Car Corporation. Phenomenology is a research approach that structures first-hand information based on individual experiences. In this view, the study employed phenomenology is analyzing the competence of automobile engineers. The article justifies the use of this approach in the study by stating that it offers a qualitative description of employees and their experiences (Sandberg 2000). As numerous previous studies have employed phenomenography in describing the experiences and attributes of employees in various industries, the article justifies its application in the study. Therefore, the study employed a phenomenology approach in undertaking the interpretative competence analysis of automobile engineers.

Analysis of Methodology

The study reports the methodology because it describes the study site, sampling, data collection, validation, and data analysis. In describing the study site and sampling, the study selected 20 automobile engineers from the Volvo Car Corporation using convenience sampling. As the inclusion criteria, the study selected engineers with diverse experience in optimization and formal education to obtain a wide range of competence levels. In data collection, the study employed observations and interviews. As the study selected engineers with diverse experience and education levels, the use of both observation and interviews ensured that there are diverse conceptions of optimization competence among engineers. To collect valid and reliable data, the researcher invited engineers to a seminar and explained to them that the essence of the study was to collect information regarding their experience in engine optimization. The researcher then observed and talked with engineers in their department for one week and recorded observations made. The researcher also recorded audio of interviews for two to three hours. Two research questions, which ask about optimization and competent optimizer, were asked severally in a dialectical process until a point where engineers provided no unique answers. The audios were transcribed into a 700-page document, which was kept for data analysis.

Thematic analysis was used in data analysis for the study aimed to elucidate what and how engineers conceived optimization based on their experiences. The study sorted engineers based on their conception of optimization to generate major themes. Within-group and between-groups competence analyses were compared to optimize the categorization of engineers into respective groups with major themes. The study checked the validity and reliability of the study using three approaches, namely, communicative validity, reliability as interpretative awareness, and pragmatic validity (Sandberg 2000). Communicative validity deals with the appropriate use of language, reliability as interpretative awareness deals with the manner of interpreting findings, and pragmatic validity deals with the consistency of the generated knowledge.

The study achieved communicative validity by interpreting the responses of engineers within the context of responses and the whole transcript, and by presenting them twice to engineers to validate. The study achieved reliability as interpretative awareness by asking what and how questions, treating all responses equally, and probing engineers extensively with follow-up questions. The study achieved pragmatic validity by comparing observations and interviews, use of validating follow-up questions, and observing reactions to interpretations of their responses. However, the study does not examine the ethical considerations and limitations of the study. Therefore, the study does not report fully report all aspects of the methodology because ethical considerations and limitations are lacking.

Presentation and Analysis of Results

The study presents results because it aligns and connects them to the theoretical framework, phenomenology. The analysis of data revealed that engineers have three main conceptions of optimizers and optimizations. The three main conceptions are separate qualities, interacting qualities, and customer’s perspective forms of optimizations. The article tabulated these three conceptions and indicated their respective key attributes regarding focus, analysis and interpretation, accurate optimization, engine knowledge, knowledge of monitoring systems, self-tech, and cooperation. The tabulation of results shows that the study structured the findings to improve clarity and presentation. The study discusses that the importance of the findings as they enhance understanding of competence and provide a new way of competence analysis that is not only comprehensive but also accurate. As the study was done in an automobile company and among optimization engineers, the study suggests future research in other industries and among diverse employees to enhance the generalizability of the findings.

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Reference List

Sandberg, J 2000, ‘Understanding human competence at work: An interpretative approach,’ Academy of Management Journal, vol. 43, no. 1, pp. 9-25.

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