Closing the Scientist-Practitioner Gap: How Do I Choose Between Job Analysis and Competency Modeling?

Shippmann, J., Ash, R., Battista, M., Carr, L., Eyde, L., Hesketh, B., et al. (2000). The practice of competency modeling. Personnel Psychology, 53, 703−740.

HR leaders are often tasked with developing job descriptions, performance appraisals, training programs, employee selection tools, career planning programs and much more. Often, the best practice first step is to systematically evaluate each relevant position within your organization as a basis for creating these programs. This evaluation is often done through performing job analysis or creating a competency model. While both of these methods are quite similar, each has its own strengths and limitations, as well as being better suited for different talent programs. In this article summary, we will outline practices tied to each approach and which have more scientific rigor behind them.

Job analysis has generally started from a position focused approach. Meaning that the core tasks, duties, and responsibilities make up the bulk of what job analysis is focused on. Competency modeling, on the other hand, has taken an employee/person-focused approach where the attributes, characteristics, and abilities of the employee that functions within the job are the core focus of the process. Job analysis looks at the “what” and competency modeling looks at the “how”. Both job analysis and competency modeling can include elements of the alternate approach. In job analysis, knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics, can be compared as similar to competencies describing the employee. In competency modeling, competencies can specify specific skills or tasks which is very much aligned with the approach to job analysis.

As HR leaders, you can leverage these KSAOs, task inventories, and competencies to inform selection, training, performance assessment, and much more. Job analysis or competency modeling often provides the core base of knowledge from which all employee related decisions and interventions can be developed.

So given that both of these approaches can be used to describe the work the employee does and the employees completing the work, how does one choose which approach to use?

Jeffrey Schippman and colleagues completed a research project focusing on just this question. They used experts to rate the scientific rigor behind each approach to evaluation jobs on 10 evaluative criteria and 7 non-evaluative criteria. Each criteria is presented below with a short description about the results of the comparison rating of scientific rigor between job analysis and competency modeling.

For your reference, when they say evaluative criteria it is referencing how the work of collecting job analysis or competency model information is carried out. In other words how you would collect, analyze and report information about the job/job family. When they discuss the non-evaluative criteria, it references the “other” comparable aspects of the two approaches not related to performing the work itself. This includes what the purpose of performing a job analysis or competency model (Ex: What talent programs will this inform?) and the focus of your research (Ex: Technical skills vs core competencies), and others.

Table 1 Level of Rigor: Job Analysis versus Competency Modeling

Evaluative Criteria                                                                                       More Rigor

  1. Method of Investigation & Data collection                                        Job Analysis
    1. Job Analysis provides more structure behind the development of methods aimed at collecting job-related information. Tools such as interviews, focus groups, observation, questionnaires, and work diaries all have direct connections to the job-related information content they collect.
  2. Type of descriptor content collected                                                  Job Analysis
    1. Job analysis puts more effort into determining the reason behind collecting specific job-related information. E.g., Focus more on task inventories, or focus more on worker characteristics, or is there a specific mix needed for the purpose of the investigation.
  3. Procedures for developing descriptive content                                  Job Analysis
    1. The descriptor content used to create the models often follows specific procedural steps for job analysis. Using online databases that were systematically developed or drawing from interviews and focus groups provide a data-backed source for your descriptor (e.g., task or KSAO statements) content.
  4. Level of detail of descriptive content                                                 Job Analysis
    1. Job Analysis aims for being as precise as possible about each aspect of a job. Statements are intended to provide exact detail of the portion of the job described rather than broad categories or sections of the job.
  5. Linking research results to business goals                                          Competency Model
    1. Competency modeling is better for linking to overall
      business goals because it examines how competencies
      are linked across job groups and apply to the
      organization globally.
  6. Extent of descriptor content review                                                    Job Analysis
    1. Job Analysis relies on organizational experts to review and verify the accuracy of job-related information and generated content. This process can be utilized by competency modeling but is often left to organizational leadership to determine.
  7. Ranking of prioritizing of descriptor content                                     Job Analysis
    1. Job Analysis provides opportunities to formally rank job-related information on multiple criteria (e.g., importance, frequency, consequence of error) providing a more detailed and nuanced understanding of the work completed within a job.
  8. Assessment of reliability of results                                                     Job Analysis
    1. Job analysis provides opportunities to assess the reproducibility of the model through consistency in job-related information collected and through consistency in ranking of job-related information by experts.
  9. Retention criteria for items and categories                                         Job Analysis
    1. Job Analysis utilizes the ranking and judgments of job content experts to decide if any job descriptors need to be edited or removed from the model. Through an iterative process, the same criteria for including and excluding content is employed for a consistent and detailed approach to developing the final model.
  10. Documentation of research process                                                    Job Analysis
    1. Job Analysis provides multiple opportunities to use the steps of model development to record and retain the key decisions made and the content of the model.

Non-evaluative Criteria

  1. Focus on core competencies                                                               Competency Model
    1. Competency Modeling does best at focusing on the broad sets of abilities that apply across jobs and are needed to be successful within an organization.
  2. Focus on Technical Skills                                                                   Job Analysis
    1. Job Analysis is better at focusing on the nuanced skills and abilities
      that provides an accurate depiction of each job, how they
      are similar and different.
  3. Organizational Fit vs. Job Match                                                       Competency Model
    1. By focusing on abilities and characteristics that are tied to organizational goals and the future development of a job position, competency modeling is better at providing organizational ft versus the fit to a job as it is currently constituted.
  4. Focus on Values and Personality Orientation                                    Competency Model
    1. Through leveraging the input of the highest levels of the organization and taking a top-down approach to the job function, competency modeling provides a better avenue to incorporate company values and personality into the job model.
  5. Face validity of content                                                                      Competency Model
    1. Through its broad encompassing descriptions and organizational content, competency models are often easily recognized as being related to the job and organization just based upon the descriptions.
  6. Training and development applications (needs analysis)                   Competency Model
    1. Through the identification of broad encompassing categories of abilities and skills, competency modeling often provides an outline for potential training and development areas for incumbents and new hires.
      *Job Analysis was rated very similarly for these criteria and can thrive for similar applications.
  7. Selection & Decisions Application                                                     Job Analysis
    1. Job Analysis is better suited for creating selection tools such (e.g., assessments & structured interviews) because of the rigor behind developing the connection between KSAOs and job performance.

The Results

According to scientific experts, Job Analysis tends to have more rigor in its approach to evaluating jobs. Whereas Competency Modeling is more rigorous in its approach to fulfilling the non-evaluative criteria that are important to organizations. One way to interpret this is that Job analysis is really well suited for helping define how jobs are different. For example, when developing selection tools or compensation packages, it is really important to understand how each job differs and is similar so fair and accurate decisions can be made for hiring and compensation purposes.

Alternatively, when your purpose is to identify a broad set of skills or abilities that apply across multiple jobs and tie back to your organization’s values, competency modeling may be the best fit. However, regardless of your intended purpose, you may want to consider studying about how each approach, Job Analysis and Competency Modeling, accomplish each stage of the model build and then use elements from both to strengthen the rigor behind the base of knowledge you are developing for your future employee-related decision making.

Article by By Thomas B. Ayres and Brandon Jordan

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