Stop Ignoring Job Analysis

Why ignore job analysis — a choice that costs dearly, with no offsetting benefits?

SHRM characterizes job analysis as the “foundation of all HR practices” (including talent acquisition). Since 1978, job analysis has been the “essential” starting place for validity studies under the “Uniform Guidelines on Employee Selection Procedures,” the regulatory standard and primary legal reference in adjudicating allegations of employment discrimination.

Job analysis enables the common language and shared data set necessary to integrate the former “HR silos.” Strategic talent management — the alignment of talent strategy and workforce planning with business strategy — depends upon such integration. In turn, serving as the foundation and force field for all business initiative, strategic talent management gives you a competitive edge.

Job analysis also helps you develop assessment strategies that help you stay on the right side of the law and better predict who’ll be a quality hire.

Finally, by establishing the information processing demands of each job/role, job analysis sets the stage for taking much smarter and more profitable approaches to selecting, deploying, managing, developing, and retaining top talent, using empirically proven analytical and statistical methods.

That’s the authoritative “what for” of job analysis. The corresponding “how to” has been well codified since before the 1978 promulgation of those Uniform Guidelines mentioned above. In the interim, advances in psychometric testing, the science of employee selection, and the economics of employment have compounded the benefits available from solid job analysis.

Meanwhile, the Internet, SaaS, and O*Net, among other developments, have made the “how to” of quality job analysis more accessible, easier, and less expensive, year after year. Benefits up, effort down and costs down; that spells huge business opportunity, especially when framed in terms of annual U.S. non-farm payrolls totaling $6.35 trillion, and annual job turnover, at roughly 40 percent.

Why, then, don’t companies take job analysis seriously? Why do most employers persist with groundless employee selection practices that don’t perform as well as coin tosses and which invite legal and regulatory jeopardy, at every turn. Who’s to blame?

I put the blame squarely on the C-suite, starting with the CEO and followed closely by the CFO, CHRO, and CLO. The chairman of the board and the lead director ought to take some heat, as well. All of these folks know or should know the costly and risky nature of their company’s neglect. Each could do something about it.

Of course we could blame recruiters, hiring managers, HR professionals, HRMS suppliers, and lots of other folks, too. We could even blame the EEOC for not handing out more fines and enforcement actions; and we could blame all the high-priced consultants who fail to point out the elephant in the room. But let’s just acknowledge that effective leadership, from the top, would probably have gotten the job done post haste, long ago.

The necessary transformation is really quite straightforward and sensible: job analysis establishes “what it takes” to do a particular job — i.e. both in terms of tasks and contributions (job description) and in terms of jobholder KSAOs: knowledge, skills, abilities, and other characteristics (job specification). Without knowing what it takes, one cannot possibly identify candidates who have what it takes. Plus, you can’t properly validate a selection procedure, in order to avoid/defend allegations of discrimination, in the presence of adverse impact.

The most popular and long-standing screening and selection methods — i.e. reading résumés, application reviews, educational attainment, employment history, unstructured interviews, self-reporting personality tests, etc. — lack predictive validity for job performance and job learning.

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The best predictors include: general mental ability (GMA or g), integrity/conscientiousness tests, job knowledge, work samples, job simulations, and structured interviews. When specifically referenced to a job analysis and when used together (i.e. the “whole-person approach” to assessment, as recommended by U.S. Department of Labor), these tests predict job performance and job learning with high reliability and validity, as required for both regulatory compliance and high-performance employee selection.

Recruiters, whether corporate or third-party, should want to see job analyses and the resulting job descriptions and job specifications — i.e. real ones … not the usual, ersatz, wish-list compilations that get called “job descriptions” and tend to frame recruiting assignments very poorly. Recruiters should also want to see the related assessment strategies and the corresponding selection process validity studies. These documents will help sourcing, screening, and recruiting efforts and ultimately lead to hires who perform well, develop well, and want to stay.

Recruiters, hiring managers, and employers will all benefit from taking job analysis disciplines to heart; indirectly, so will applicants, candidates, finalists, and employees, as well as businesses and society at large.

The choice ought to be easy; however, it hasn’t turned out that way. As Peter Drucker wrote: “What you have to do and the way you have to do it is incredibly simple. Whether you are willing to do it, that’s another matter.”

Fixing the mess will likely require CEO approval. But the CFO, CLO and/or CHRO can make that happen, by simply presenting the immutable business case. Recruiters, hiring managers, financial professionals, compliance professionals, and/or HR professionals, among others, could petition the CFO, CLO or CHRO, to get the ball rolling, and then help to build the business case favoring change for the better.


image from Shutterstock

A former international industrial CEO, engineer/MBA (Purdue/Tuck), strategist, and serial entrepreneur, Richard S. ("Dick") Melrose provides strategic advisory services to clients ranging from startups to Fortune 25.

Melrose asserts that the same five high-level strategic outcomes underwrite business success, regardless of industry, size, or scope. Talent, and more particularly Strategic Talent Management -- i.e. the alignment of Talent Strategy and Workforce Plan with Business Strategy -- constitutes one of those five Critical Success Factors.

Dick is a subject matter expert in each of the five Critical Success Factors (including Platform, Excellence, Knowledge, and Innovation, as well). He also advises clients how to readily make their strategies systematic, logically valid, step-by-step, ongoing processes, which "Accelerate purposeful value creation and capture."


6 Comments on “Stop Ignoring Job Analysis

  1. No question Richard’s heart is in the right place and the gap between best and current hiring practices accurately described. Someone might argue that even today’s worst practices rarely produce negative validities, but only the pointy headed among us would care. Richard didn’t directly answer the question he began with—- “Why ignore job analysis?”.

    Those that believe in “following the money” note the poor linkage between requiring best practices in hiring (that begin with job analysis and follow up with deploying selection tools proven to predict future job performance) and any C-Officer’s annual bonus or stock options. And I suspect it’s true that a senior operations executive needs to approve investment in staffing methods. Just check the signing authority given to HR managers and even VPs. In my experience, it’s just enough to pull the trigger on two decks of competency sort cards, but falls short of a validation study and an annual budget for validated online screening.

    Jack Welch has argued that HR is every organization’s “killer app”, but did he set bonuses for the V and C suite based in part on their deployment of best hiring practices. I would love to know.

    1. It matters not how well located my heart might be, Tom. Strategic Talent Management drives organizational performance, which for businesses means compounding economic results, over the long term.

      And, yes, C-suite bonuses do correlate positively with economic results, despite the large hole in the bucket whereby lay-offs generate free cash flow to finance share buy-backs that increase earnings per share and trigger top management bonuses, as the firm declines into mediocrity, I wonder what would happen if, at the next quarterly earnings call, the CEO just stood up and said: “We don’t know how to employ this talent and this capital in our business to earn an attractive return, so we decided to return these wealth-producing resources to society.” Would Wall Street still applaud? Would the CEO still have a job?

      I didn’t answer my own rhetorical question because … Well Duh! But, I’ll answer it here, so as not to leave any room for doubt. A business leader would have to be nuts (arrogant, ill informed, in denial, afraid, etc.) to ignore Job Analysis and all the beneficial capabilities that can flow from it.

      It’s not about “best practices”; it’s about organizational performance; its about results and how to get them through people. If, together, the CFO and CHRO cannot make the business/financial case to the CEO for managing talent well, then the company needs a new CFO and CHRO. According to PriceWaterhouseCoopers (May 2014), 93% of CEOs recognize that they need to change their strategy for attracting and retaining talent, but 61% admitted that they have not yet taken their first step to do so. CFOs and CHROs should seize the moment!

      1. “A business leader would have to be nuts (arrogant, ill informed, in denial, afraid, etc.) to ignore Job Analysis and all the beneficial capabilities that can flow from it.”

        Most business leaders are arrogant, ill informed, in denial, afraid, and many other such things. Hence, the problem. The change you’re talking about goes well beyond some convincing in the C suite. It goes to a fundamental change in how employees are viewed in society today. It’s a change from viewing them as disposable, subservient, Lucky-To-Have-A-Job, we’re doing you a favor by employing you, commodities, to viewing employer and employee as mutual participants in an exchange.

        The reality is most publicly traded employers would happily mow down their employees with a steamroller if it meant a chance at bump in their quarterly earnings, and most private employers view their companies as fiefdoms, and demand loyalty to the death from their serf employees which is, of course, never returned. Both expect their employees to never see their families or have lives outside of work, and begrudge every cent of salary, every second of PTO, and every walk to the water cooler as slacking off. They simply do not value their employees. If anything they are barely tolerated.

        Until this changes no one will care about quality hiring because to them it’s like trying to get better quality thieves. Cognitive dissonance won’t allow the two concepts to live in their heads at the same time: quality… employees? Most C level people don’t know how those two words can even go together

        1. MR, of course I know that CEOs are all of those things. Indeed, for 60% of them, according to a recent survey, being found to be incompetent is their biggest fear. Competent people don’t think that way.

          I also agree that there’s nothing in most of their current behavior that gives one any cause for optimism about C-suites starting to take their interest in talent management beyond the top line of a survey.

          This is a C-suite problem, and a societal consequence. Society is a victim. Consider anemic quality job creation, stagnant median household incomes and five decades of steady U.S. business ROA decline, as three indisputable symptoms. Society didn’t do that; business did. Workers did’n’t do it either; C-Suites squandered steadily recurring workforce productivity gains over the same five decades.

          I may be just as cynical as you are. However, I would rather rail against the tide than let C-suites collective ignorance and indifference remain the order or the day, without a contest.

          Thanks for your comment. Cheers!

  2. I think job analyses are ignored because it’s just not “sexy” enough. it’s foundational work. A sports equivalent would be running the same 3 point shooting or tackling drills every practice. It’s far easier to jump straight to “Competency Models,” as if these models could be plucked out of thin air. (And often, they are. Or they’re bought off-the-shelf without any consideration for situational validity.)

    I mean, who pays for this basic work? Even more fundamentally, who is qualified to do this work? (I/O psychologists don’t exactly grow on trees.) So 1) you’ve got a large number of HR professionals who have a tenuous grasp of competency modeling and what is involved with getting there and 2) the ones who actually do get it ignore it because they’re too busy or don’t have enough authority to advocate for starting at the basics i.e., job analyses.

    1. Thank you for your comment.

      In an excellent article on the subject of “Doing Competencies Well”, Michael A. Campion et al. wrote: “Competency modeling could be considered the ‘Trojan Horse’ for job analysis. You can find a copy of that article posted here: unfortunately, with someone else’s highlights. So, rather than JA devolving into sloppy CM, perhaps an alternative approach might build from baseline CMs to formal JAs, over time.

      You ask who pays? That reminds me of the questions: “What if we train them and they leave? vs. What if we don’t train them and they stay? Businesses that don’t take job analysis seriously cannot possibly take talent management seriously … which, in turn, becomes tantamount to not taking the business seriously.

      As Peter Drucker wrote; “Business is a human organization, made or broken by the quality of its people.”

      Additionally, as I pointed out in the post, today, we have various ways to move constructively down the JA path without the effort, expense and expertise required two decades ago.

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