Comparing Traditional versus Competency based Job Analysis

In practice, one will come across almost any job description today he/she will probably find that some of the job’s listed duties and responsibilities are competency-based, while most are not. For example, consider the typical duties in a marketing manager’s job description. Which of the duties would complete the phrase, “In order to perform this job competently, the employee should be able to …”?

Some familiar duties and responsibilities would not fit these requirements. For example, “works with writers and artists and overseas copywriting, design, layout, and production of promotional materials” is not particularly measurable. How to measure the extent to which the employee “works with writers and artists” or “overseas copywriting, design, and layout”? Put another way, if a training program has to be devised for this job’s incumbent, how to determine whether the HR department has adequately trained the person to work with writers and artists? In fact, what sort of training would that duty and responsibility even imply? It’s not clear at all. On the other hand, some of the job’s typical duties and responsibilities are more easily expressed as competencies. For example, we could easily complete the phrase, “to perform this job competently, the employee should be able to” with “conduct marketing surveys on current and new product concepts; prepare marketing activity reports; and develop and execute marketing plans and programs”.

How to Write Job Competencies: Defining the job’s competencies and writing them up involves a process that is similar in most respects to traditional job analysis. In other words, the manager will interview job incumbents and their supervisors, ask open-ended questions regarding job responsibilities and activities, and perhaps identify critical incidents that pinpoint success on the job. There are also off-the-shelf competencies databanks. Perhaps the largest source book for standard competencies is the one created by the Department of labor’s Office of personnel Management (see

Modern, competency-based job analysis/job design techniques can help companies implement high-performance strategies. In one firm British Petroleum’s exploration division the need for more efficient, flexible, flatter organizations and empowered employees inspired management to replace job descriptions with matrices listing skills and skill levels. Senior managers wanted to shift employees’ attention from a job description/ “that’s-not-my-job” mentality to one that would motivate them to obtain the new skills and competencies they needed to accomplish their broader responsibilities.

They created skills, matrices for various jobs held by two groups of employees, those on a management track and those whose aims lay elsewhere (such as to stay in engineering) HR prepared a matrix for each job or job family (such as drilling manager) The matrix listed (1) the basic skills needed for that job (such as technical expertise and business awareness) and (2) the minimum level of each skill required for that job or job family. As you can see, the emphasis is no longer on specific job duties. Instead, the focus is on specifying and developing the new skills (technical expertise, business awareness, and so on) needed for the employees’ broader, empowered and relatively undefined responsibilities.

The skills matrix triggered other HR changes, and supported a performance management effort. For example, the matrices gave employees a constant reminder of what skills they must improve. The firm instituted a new skill-based pay plan that awards raises on skills improvement. Performance appraisals now focus more on skills acquisitions. And training emphasizes developing broad skills like leadership and planning skills applicable across a wide range of responsibilities and jobs.

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