David McClelland, IQ and Competencies

“Understanding human motivation ought to be a good thing. It should help us to find out what we really want so that we can avoid chasing rainbows that are not for us.”

-David McClelland, American Psychologist

Are high scores in school/colleges related to high performance in work life?

Most of the management institutes in their entrance exam test students on quantitative ability, reasoning and language ability, which are highly correlated to “g” factor or intelligence factor.

Students with high IQ have higher chances of clearing entrance exam like CAT or XAT. So class of IIM is full of 200+ students with high IQ who compete among themselves. Will this class produce successful leaders? I am not aware of any study correlating grades obtained by IIM student and his success in corporate world, so it is not possible to answer this question.

David McClelland, a psychologist at Harvard, after lot of research came with conclusion that IQ scores and job performance are not related. He also discovered that other traditional measures used in the hiring process, such as examination results and references, were equally poor at predicting success on the job.

McClelland found an alternative to the traditional aptitude and intelligence testing, which yielded a deeper measure that he labelled “competencies.” A competency is defined as an underlying characteristic of a person which enables them to deliver superior performance in a given job, role, or situation i.e. competency separates a superior performer from average performer.


He took sample of superior performers and average performers and using behavioural event interview tried to understand how each of them (i.e. superior and average performer) did their tasks. To avoid bias “double blind” technique was used i.e. interviewer did not know if person was average or superior, while the candidate also did not know if he was interviewed as average or superior.

McClelland went beyond skill and knowledge when he defined competency, competency is a cluster of skill, knowledge, motive, self-image and trait ex. in addition to skill and knowledge a person may have any one of three motives- need to achieve , need for affiliation and need for power. His work and methodology is used by Hays Associates.

Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis came with list of leadership competencies using emotional intelligence frame work.

I will not get into details of competency framework and mapping, as this information is readily available on net.

My point is if McClelland’s research is correct, then entrance exams should be scrapped and selection of students should be done based on behavioural event interview on managerial competencies.






Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s