Job Analysis – a versatile tool for Reward & HR

May 24, 2021 | Helpful Guides

Job Analysis


Reward and HR professionals often have to support senior managers in making sense of the jobs in their team, and in thinking through the optimum organisation structure. Suppose you have to support a rapidly changing IT department with these tasks – several questions might come up in discussion.


  • How do we chunk up the jobs in the IT function?
  • What’s the best way to separate out who is responsible for delivering what?
  • How do we design the jobs so that we attract and keep the talent?
  • How do we ensure we aren’t inadvertently creating problems for the future?
  • How do we move from a shallow understanding of each distinct job towards a deep understanding?



There are occasions when a Job Description simply doesn’t suffice, and you recognise the need to get under the surface of the manager’s thinking, and get to a more useful dialogue. Job analysis discussions (or if you prefer – interviews, conversations) help to deepen your understanding of the job, and can help you capture a quality description of all the important, core job activities and deliverables. This in turn helps the manager to know what’s required of the jobholder, and therefore supports performance management.


I offer here a practitioner’s guide to job analysis along with some practical tools, which I hope readers find useful in conducting several key HR functions. Firstly, to get our bearings, I’ll begin with a working definition of what job analysis is.



Job analysis – a working definition



Put simply, job analysis is a systematic process by which we break a job down into distinct parts, which we then analyse to describe what the jobholder does, and what competencies and capabilities are required to do the job well. While the job analysis might be conducted by the employee, their manager, HRBP, Reward or OD, there are only a few areas we are focusing on – core activities (not every one-off task they might perform), jobholder specification (qualities, competencies – like saying “OK, that’s the job – so what sort of person could do that job?”), and the context (the environment, internal and external e.g. technological, legal, societal, financial, etc.) in which they perform their work.



Goals of job analysis


There are many uses for job analysis, and I’ll touch briefly on some of the main ones –


  • Job description


I’ve lost count of the times when managers were unable to articulate exactly what a jobholder was tasked with, or failed to capture all the important aspects of the job. The Job Analyst can provide interview support to winnow out all the core activities of the role, by asking the right questions, sometimes with the aid of a Position Analysis Questionnaire, to capture key metrics, percentage of working time spent on each core activity, limits of decision making authority, job dimensions, typical problem solving challenges in the job. You’ll also ask for detail on their main internal and external relationships, or to build understanding of the environment they work in. Gathering details on required skills and abilities will inform the job description, and deepen understanding of the role.


  • Job evaluation


I’ve written fairly extensively on job evaluation elsewhere on this blog, but it helps to have a simple working definition. Job evaluation is the process we use for determining the relative rank or grade of different jobs in the organisation. When we apply job evaluation consistently and fairly, we obtain a rational pecking order of all the jobs in the company, and ensure a sense of felt fairness between jobholders. The focus of this work is to ensure equitable treatment of all jobholders, and to ensure a rank ordering of jobs which is clear, defensible and ideally transparent.



  • Job design


Job design is one of the most important, and probably the most overlooked advantages to come from job analysis. This is the process of building a job using design thinking so that it does 2 things – it adds value to the business, and provides interesting and motivating work to the employee. For instance, when you support the organisation structure design for the fictional IT department mentioned earlier, this might include front-line, customer-facing roles such as Helpdesk. Now if you design the job to be 100% Helpdesk, you almost guarantee that ambitious, capable workers won’t stick around long. What should you do different? Well – empathise a little – how would you enjoy 100% Helpdesk? . If your design was 50% Helpdesk with 50% Security, 50% Infrastructure or 50% Development, your chances of worker engagement and talent retention just increased massively.



  • Performance management


Consider this. How can a manager properly conduct an employee performance assessment unless they have a clear understanding of the job? Job analysis provides a foundational input to the performance management process, and in any appraisal of the person performing that job. Without a proper understanding of the role, the manager is doing the performance review based on guesswork.



  • Employee training needs


Now that we’ve got a clearer picture of the job and the capabilities and skills of the jobholder, we can use this understanding to conduct a performance review and training needs analysis. When we know what good performance looks like for this role, we know clearly what knowledge, skill-sets and competencies are needed. This means we can focus in on training needs.


That gives a flavour of how job analysis helps. There are other uses of course – classifying jobs, matching employees to roles during restructures, process analysis and optimisation, identifying workplace hazards to reduce accidents or injuries, work analysis, workforce planning, time and motion studies and others besides. Like all highly effective problem solving, you have survey the whole landscape and analyse the advantages for each course of action.





Methods for job analysis


While there are several methods for job analysis – among them being Position Analysis Questionnaire (which I’ll cover in a future article), Critical Incident Technique, Task Inventory, Functional Job Analysis and some others, I’ll dwell here on Critical Incident Technique and Functional Job Analysis.



Critical Incident Technique


Critical Incident Technique has a well-established history in the social sciences, and has become a commonplace technique, especially in psychology. One advantage is that critical incidents can be observed and therefore studies. What do we mean by “critical incident”? These are behaviours that represent either excellent or unacceptable performance, and a critical incident report usually captures –


  • Description of the context, setting and circumstance leading to the incident
  • The behaviours of the employee during the described incident
  • The outcomes and consequences of these behaviours and their impact



Examples might come from call centres where the operator must deal with an angry customer, and the manager tracks how effectively the worker managed the call to provide feedback and learning. Or from a sales presentation where the sales professional handles objections. Or from health and safety, whenever a serious accident, injury or fatality occurs. The incidents can provide useful training material to improve worker performance. Managers often track their own development, using critical incidents as reflective opportunities and rich sources of learning.


Functional Job Analysis


Functional Job Analysis defines what work needs to be performed as well as the employee skills, qualifications and competencies needed to perform the job successfully. While mainstream job descriptions often capture what is delivered, i.e. what gets done by the jobholder, the Functional Job Analysis dwells on tasks. It’s often less contentious as an approach, because people tend to agree about the activities involved, whereas “what the jobholder is responsible for” can be more arguable.



Think of the Catering Assistant who must “provide effective customer service” to customers when they come into the staff restaurant. There might be many ways they do this e.g. serve beverages and snacks, provide information on available dishes, deal with special requests by talking with the Chef, take payment or lunch vouchers where relevant, fulfil requests for tea, coffee or drinks, serves up food courses, takes meals to the customer table if required, answers customer queries, stocks the vending machines with a selection of sandwiches, snacks and soft drinks, removes used trays, crockery and cutlery to the wash area, and removes any rubbish.


Conducting job analysis



Let’s think now about the steps involved in carrying out job analysis –


Choose the job analysis method


I mentioned earlier that job analysis can serve many different purposes in HR. Having reached a decision on why you want to use job analysis, your next thoughts will likely turn to the method of job analysis as you decide which one is most apt. The chances are you’ll use one of the approaches described earlier – Critical Incident Technique, Functional Job Analysis or one of the others. The method will pretty much determine how you go about collecting data.


Data gathering


This boils down to a handful of approaches – observational data, interviews or questionnaires – or combinations thereof. Let’s consider each a little further.


  • Observational data


I did see observational data gathering used once in a TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) training course, where the course leader wanted would-be TEFL teachers to offer feedback focusing on particular teacher-learner interactions and for behaviour modelling. I’ve also seen this used management training triads using observers, but I’ve never seen it used for job analysis. We have to go back half a century or so to find it used in time-and-motion or work study. Observational data supposedly doesn’t affect normal performance, but another school of thought argues that “the nature of the thing observed is itself affected by observation” – a view with which I’d agree. Here the Job Analyst observes the person doing the job in the moment or on video playback. In mainstream HR practice, its place seems limited.


  • Interviews


The Job Analyst asks specific questions to further their understanding of the role in question. Questions are based on either reported activity or observation, and might ask e.g. about the tasks performed, the amount of time spent each week / month / year on that activity, and about the importance, level of difficulty and value of these tasks, critical performance issues, job dependencies, the influence and communications entailed, accountabilities, relationships, budgets, people and resources managed, and so on. As with all interviewing, a conversational approach usually works best.


  • Questionnaires


Questionnaires can be designed in-house or might be provided by consultants as an off-the shelf support. The widely used Position Analysis Questionnaire is used to supplement or inform the job description, and the Job Analyst can draw on this tool when they must obtain more details on the job in question.




Making sense the data



Generally, the data we’re speaking about here is qualitative, though there may be times when you gather quantitative data as well, especially the important metrics of the job. If you were part of a group of observers gathering data on factory operative and their performance, you might take the average of all the observations and get into some statistical analysis, though I’ve never seen this used amongst HR teams in the UK. The chances are that a conversation about the job with 3 Cleaners will tell you as much as a longer study where a group of analysts study all 200 Cleaners across the organisation. The conversation / interview approach will save a lot of time and money, and nearly all organisations will take this pragmatic option.



What’s the conclusion?


In summary, job analysis is now a tried and tested technique that can serve many useful functions for HR teams, and one that adds value when used competently. Better quality and clearly understood job descriptions should lead to better hiring decisions, superior employee performance, clearer training needs identification, and more accurate performance review conversations. While it takes time, and some might drop it on cost grounds, others will be persuaded of its value, especially as jobs are apt to change rapidly, especially in the tech sector. Like any HR tool, gaining an informed view of each distinct role supports leadership in making good decisions on job design, skill-sets, workforce planning and the overall people strategy.

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