How competent is your company?

A Steinbeis tool for checking company competence

Company competence is increasingly being seen as the key to competiveness and business success. But how does one measure competence? There are already many concepts and instruments, but until now there have been no standards in terms of consistent content and methodology. The focus generally lies on HR issues, making it difficult to conduct an encompassing analysis of business competence. Not least, the tools available to date are not really user-friendly. This is where Steinbeis intends to make things easier: Experts in the Steinbeis consulting department are developing an instrument to check company competence that is comprehensive, easy to use, and draws on founded methods.

The tool will allow consultants to map standardized profiles of their clients’ company competence, graph these profiles, and examine and interpret them more closely. The application will be based on a software solution that feeds into a database to carry out comparisons and make interpretations.

Similar to KODE, a test that conducts personality and competence diagnostics, the Steinbeis Company Competence Check (UKC) takes into account how people see themselves and are seen by others. The selfassessment mainly involves the “Quick Check” using software. Within no more than 20 minutes, users are able to carry out a self-assessment based on preformulated postulations and questions relating to key areas of company competence. The system then immediately generates an automated evaluation, complete with diagrams.

The external assessment mainly revolves around an encompassing called “Master Check.” This assessment involves a detailed catalog of questions, capturing and examining all key areas of company competence. The result is automatically provided to the consultant with a detailed breakdown and evaluation of the company’s competence profile, including key strengths and weaknesses as well as specific areas of potential improvement and possible actions. The tool will make it easier for consultants to examine competence in a more structured way relieving the work-load by already producing an automated report.

The Steinbeis UKC is based on the business-check-concept developed by Prof. Dr. Werner Bornholdt, the long-standing director of the Steinbeis Transfer Center for New Products. Bornholdt’s approach is based on an holistic view of the company’s competence structure. His check can be considered an extended variety of the balanced scorecard. For Bornholdt, the subjective perspective is essential when measuring and evaluating company competence. As a result, to develop the UKC, the Steinbeis experts first selected the purely quantitative indicators used in Bornholdt’s concept. These feed into a “Fact Check,” which is supplemented with a number of other quantitative indicators to provide the user with a brief quantitative profile of the company being assessed, before the actual main check.

This main check is then used purely as a qualitative instrument. It draws on the qualitative assessment of respondents to examine the company’s competence. The approach makes a distinction between four areas of competence that are considered of central importance in the literature: knowledge, leadership, innovation, and communication. Each of these competence-levels is subcategorized into two “Check Levels.” So in the competence area of knowledge, there are resources (knowledge bases) and learning (the willingness and capacity to acquire and develop knowledge). In leadership, the second competence-level, there are strategy and personnel. In the third competence-level of innovation, there are the subcategories of processes and products. Finally, the fourth level of competence, communication, includes networking (collaborative and transfer relationships) and markets (market image and market skimming).

Each of these eight dimensions is broken down further into three sub-dimensions, so that overall there are 24 sub-dimensions within the concept. These 24 sub-dimensions are operationalized by qualitative indicators, which find their expression in preformulated questions and postulations. For Quick Check testing, respondents (the people carrying out the check) are asked three questions or given three postulations per lower level (or around five questions/postulations per lower level for the Master Check). So with the Quick Check, there are around 72 questions to answer, with the Master Check there are around 120.

The Steinbeis experts’ project is undergoing a consultation process, with close and early involvement of internal and external partners, potential users (consultants and managers) and other key players. There are also regular project team meetings involving Steinbeis staff as well as external partners from business and academia. Their task is to agree key strategic decisions and issues affecting the project. A major priority of the project team members is to actively involve potential users early in the development process, and to test and keep developing the concept in practical application through several rounds of feedback. Users should have plenty of opportunity to provide active input throughout the development process through comments, ideas, and criticisms, thus shaping the outcome. A pre-launch pretest with consultants and companies to allow the competence check to be used with a larger sample group and be evaluated methodically is an essential milestone for the project.

Apart from the development of the instrument itself, the development of the analytical process and a related certification program for Steinbeis consultants are other important aspects of the project. The results of the pretest and the project’s overall development process will be issued by a study scheduled for presentation at the next Steinbeis Consulting Day on July 3, 2014.

Share this page