A Focused Issue on Fundamental Issues in Competence Theory Development: Volume 4


Table of contents

(14 chapters)

This issue of Research in Competence-Based Management focuses on a range of fundamental issues in developing competence theory and undertaking competence-based research.

Part I of this chapter applies the principles of the philosophy of science and the derived scientific method to analyze the foundational concepts and core proposition of the Resource-Base View (RBV) as popularized by Barney (1986, 1991, 1997). This analysis identifies seven fundamental conceptual deficiencies and logic problems in Barney's conceptualization of “strategically valuable resources” and in Barney's VRIO framework for identifying strategically valuable resources that can be sources of sustained competitive advantage. Three problems – the Value Conundrum, the Tautology Problem in the Identification of Resources, and the Absence of a Chain of Causality – relate to the RBV's and VRIO's failure to provide an adequate conceptual basis for identifying strategically valuable resources. The Uniqueness Dilemma, the Cognitive Impossibility Dilemma, and an Asymmetry in Assumptions about Resource Factor Markets result in an inability of the VRIO framework to support identification of resources that can be sources of sustained competitive advantage. More fundamentally, the core proposition of the RBV – that resources that are strategically valuable, rare, inimitable, and organizationally embedded are sources of sustainable competitive advantage – is argued to result directly in the Epistemological Impossibility Problem that precludes use of the scientific method in RBV research. This chapter argues that until these conceptual deficiencies and logic problems are recognized and remedied, the RBV – in spite of its current popularity – is and will remain theoretically sterile and incapable of contributing in any systematic way to the development of strategy theory.

Part II of this chapter then suggests how foundational concepts developed within the competence perspective on strategy provide essential remedies for the identified deficiencies and problems in the RBV – and thereby provide a more conceptually adequate basis for representing the nature of firms in the scientific study of their interactions and competitive outcomes.

Using the framework of the philosophy of science, this chapter explores some basic theoretical issues that must be recognized and addressed in developing theory within the competence perspective. We first develop an overview of resource-based and competence-based research to highlight some fundamental theoretical issues. We then identify a set of basic assumptions for conducting a research program focused on development of a “competence-based theory of the firm.” Working from these basic assumptions, we argue for a shift in the epistemological aim of competence theory development from explaining market success to explaining firm competitiveness. We explain how such a shift theoretical focus and approach can remedy the problem of circular reasoning often observed in resource-based thinking that tries to contribute to the competence literature.

Drawing on concepts from the resource-based view, the dynamic capabilities school, and competence-base theory, this chapter develops a value chain framework for evaluating and managing resources and capabilities. In common with activity-based value chains, our framework is a method for representing and analyzing the firm, and identifying what may be its optimal configuration. However, as opposed to an activity-based value chain, our approach is specifically designed to help clarify interrelationships between a firm's various assets and capabilities. Thus, it may help researchers and managers alike to analyze to what extent a firm's successes may be attributed to a certain set of resources and capabilities and whether there is scope to further develop them to advance the firm's strategies. Our value chain framework can be used singly or in conjunction with an activity value chain framework, depending on the strategic problem being addressed. However, we suggest that our resource and capabilities value chain will be most useful when determining how a firm's business processes should be funded, what resources and capabilities should make them up, or how these decisions could affect the firm's present organizational structure.

This chapter proposes that organizational strategy formation should be characterized theoretically as a process that is subject to several interacting forces, rather than represented by separate discrete decision-models or theoretic perspectives, as is commonly done in the strategic management literature. Based on an extensive review of relevant theory and empirical work in strategic decision-making, organizational change theory, cognitive and social psychology, and strategy processes, seven kinds of “forces” – rational, imposed, teleological, learning, political, heuristic, and social – are identified as interacting in and having significant influence on the strategy formation process. It is further argued that by applying a holistic “forces-view” of the significant and interacting influences on strategy formation, we can better understand the dynamics and challenges in managing the process of defining and changing organizational strategies.

This chapter is based on a four-year literature review process that focused on conceptual business management research. A new platform for advancing business management in competence-related ways is compiled using 66 references that contain a population of 84 competence-related business management concepts published in English between the years 1990 and 2002. For the purposes of this study, the home bases of focal firms are limited to the OECD countries. Ex ante, various research traditions were regrouped into eight schools of thought on business management based on resources, competences, knowledge, organizations, processes, business dynamism, evolution, and Porter's frameworks. The eligible concepts were identified via an analysis of 50 journals and books of 18 publishers. The findings reveal that 99 authors have assigned primary or secondary roles to a firm's competences within their 84 concepts across the eight schools of thought. The two schools with primary emphasis on a firm's competences, the dynamism-based school (18 concepts) and the competence-based school (16 concepts), have produced 34 (41%) concepts. The six other schools have generated 50 (60%) concepts: 14 knowledge-based, ten resource-based, ten evolutionary, seven Porterian, seven organization-based, and two process-based concepts. The platform developed in this chapter may help researchers to focus on the most promising areas and ways to produce highly applicable concepts for managing a firm's dynamic business. Some suggestions to this end are put forth: (i) increase future collaboration between scholars, business managers, and business consultants, (ii) advance competence-based concepts primarily along the international business dimension, and (iii) conduct future competence-related literature reviews. The rigorous conduct of future reviews involves the replicable ways of searching, browsing, including or excluding, retrieving, inferring, coding, and presenting the conceptual data.

In this research we explore the issue of “competence management,” as usually defined in the corporate vocabulary, mostly in the human resource (HR) function, and more particularly of “strategic competence management” (long-run management of competences which are critical to achieve strategic goals). We try to show that competence management is a dynamic organizational competence. We analyze it in the case of a large European telecommunications company, France Télécom, in the years 2001–2003. The telecommunications sector is characterized by quick changes in technology, markets, and industrial structures, and therefore a high level of uncertainty. It is also a high-tech activity, based upon continuously evolving personal skills which require long education and training times. There is an apparent contradiction between uncertainty, which makes planning difficult, and the necessity to plan new competence development with long response times. This contradiction cannot be solved if competences are defined in a static way, as structural attributes of actual or potential employees or groups of employees. The strategic competence management issue must be considered rather in the frame of a dynamic, process-based view, which involves an on-going collective and reflexive activity of actors themselves to define and manage their competences. We tested process-based competence management in the case of two telecommunication domains: high bit-rate ADSL telecommunications and Internet services to small and medium businesses. The reflexive and collective competence management process had to be instrumented with instruments which did not aim at an accurate representation of competences as objects, but rather tried to offer a meaningful support for actors’ continuous (re)interpretation of present and future work situations in terms of critical competences. As a conclusion we extend the example of competence management instruments to the general issue of management instruments, in the context of uncertain and dynamic environments. Information-based theories of instruments view instruments as specular representations of situations, which allow optimal or satisficing problem-solving procedures. But when business environments continuously evolve and resist prediction, we must move toward an interpretive view of management instruments as meaningful signs, which help actors to make sense of the situations in which they are involved. Their relevance is not an absolute ontological truth but the practical effectiveness of their context-situated utilization and interpretation. A semiotic and pragmatist theory of activity and instruments can then be proposed.

Flexibility is a basic requirement to cope with complexity and dynamics. The aim of this chapter is to analyze to which extent self-organization can support integrating flexibility in the processes of competence-building and competence-leveraging. The objective of this discussion is therefore to deduce possible contributions of the concept of self-organization to a strategic competence-based management in regard to effects of flexibilization.

Understanding the phenomena of corporate longevity and self-renewing organizations has become an important topic in recent management literature. However, the majority of the research contributions focus on internal determinants of longevity and self-renewal. Using a coevolutionary framework, the purpose of this chapter is to address the dynamic interaction between organizations and environments in the realm of sustained strategic renewal, i.e. corporate longevity. To this end, we will focus on the competence of long-lived firms to coevolve due to the joint effect of managerial intentionality and environmental selection pressures. Building on coevolutionary framework, we develop a conceptual framework that highlights an organization's coevolutionary competence. Two longitudinal case studies are presented illustrating the arguments.

Questions regarding the internationalization of enterprises have been the focus of scientific studies for several years now. Many authors to date, however, still point to the fact that there is a current lack of an acceptable model for research into the internationalization process. At present, with the Scandinavian School, the GAINS approach, and the process trilogy (at least) three different approaches are vying for predominance, where evolutionary and revolutionary process interpretations seem to contradict each other. Since there is empirical proof for both approaches, reconciling these is currently difficult. Within this context, the objective of this discourse is to contribute to shaping corporate internationalization process theory with the resource-based and the competence-based views by rectifying several current deficits. The approach is deductive in order to circumvent the problems associated with inductive theory development that result when using the Scandinavian School and GAINS approaches. Secondly, the approach is economically substantiated in contrast to predominant non-economic interpretations. Finally, this approach makes it possible to formulate hypotheses that do not contradict previous findings on the internationalization process. Both evolutionary and revolutionary internationalization processes can be explained on this base.

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Research in Competence-Based Management
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Emerald Publishing Limited
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