Don’t cut corners on job analysis

Colin Mercer | 20 December 2018

In today’s world, there is continual pressure to do things ever more quickly and efficiently.

There is one area, however, where more haste definitely leads to less speed, and that is in the analysis of job roles. Although it is tempting to get started immediately on an assignment to find the new CEO or Marketing Director, especially for a client organisation that we know well, we nevertheless insist on first obtaining a detailed understanding of the key tasks, deliverables, inter-dependencies and the context within which the job-holder must perform. This granular understanding of the target role(s) is just as important at the outset of an assessment or development project if one wants to deliver genuine return on investment.

Over our 40 year history, and based upon the expertise of our own highly qualified business psychologists, we believe the following principles underpin thorough job analysis:

  • Speak to multiple stakeholders about the role – the boss’s view of the role, whilst absolutely essential, is also totally insufficient.
  • Ask about how the role will evolve in the future.
  • Get a sense of the frequency of tasks – what is done every day, what weekly, and what monthly?
  • Also get a sense of relative importance – obviously, it will be important to perform well across the whole role but what are the particular deliverables where failure will quickly prove terminal?
  • When asking commentators to describe the role, get them to provide specific examples of good and bad, rather than generalities.
  • Link the role components to the organisational objectives. Ensure you understand how every aspect of the job contributes to organisational performance.
  • Based on the data you have gathered, draw up a role specification (and/or a competency set) and circulate this to relevant stakeholders. Highlight any differences of opinion and ensure these are debated and settled before beginning any recruitment, assessment or development activity.
  • Ensure your analysis and outputs dove-tail with existing HR systems and processes. In practice, this might involve adopting the language of existing competency frameworks. But don’t be tempted by the seductive shortcut of simply adopting wholesale the existing competencies – by all means use these as your guide, but do your homework to understand what they actually mean for the role in question.

To help achieve the above objectives, ‘critical incident technique’ (Flanagan 1954) is a great tool. However, it does not address the thorny issue of getting diverse stakeholders to agree on the deliverables, and at NSCG we have therefore designed a tool called Blueprint. This involves the use of simple exercises such as competency cards and key behaviour inventories in order to build up a detailed, comprehensive picture of the role. The process is built on a robust and carefully researched library of competencies and capabilities that have been found to underpin long-term success within a cross section of sectors. Run as a participative team-based session, it typically requires the input of between three and eight participants who can be drawn from the line, HR and any other relevant stakeholders.

In addition to providing a systematic and thorough way of evaluating the key dimensions of the role, Blueprint stimulates a high level of debate amongst stakeholders leading to an early, clear and shared understanding of both job and candidate requirements. Only by achieving this consensus at the outset can organisations expect agreement amongst decision makers about the suitability of candidates downstream in any selection process.

In summary, the benefits are:

  • Ensures consensus amongst key stakeholders – the process achieves a high degree of stakeholder engagement leading to agreement as to the key requirements of the role. Many clients also comment on the teambuilding benefits of a Blueprint session.
  • Improves the quality of hiring decisions – Blueprint generates a framework for assessing candidate suitability hence reducing the risk of making poor placement decisions. The same template can be used to help identify individual knowledge gaps/development needs, of particular importance for internal candidates.
  • Quick, structured, rigorous and thorough – a Blueprint profiling session can be undertaken within half a day. Although it requires a time commitment from senior managers, it yields a detailed report clarifying the key outputs/deliverables, and the essential and desirable competency requirements of the role. It also introduces a clear element of defensibility, demonstrating that the recruitment (or assessment or development) process is founded upon clear, job-relevant dimensions.
  • Alignment with other HR systems – the Blueprint output report can be mapped against existing competency sets/leadership frameworks enabling integration with established HR systems and processes.

Colin Mercer is a board director and leads the talent strategy consulting team. NSCG has used Blueprint extensively across both public and private sectors to support internal and external recruitment campaigns as well as major change projects requiring the design and implementation of new team structures. If you would like to discuss how Blueprint could help you define roles in your organisation please, get in touch.

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