Competency-based Job Description

Once, I heard someone say, what is so important about the Job Description? After all, it's just a piece of paper & what difference does that make?

The Job Description can best be compared to a 'User Manual' which tells us 'how to' operate particular device or machine. It gives precise details about components, requirements, directions for effective and efficient use.

As they say 'When all else fails, read the instructions', and, 'When all else fails, and the instructions are missing - kick it'. In our case we can't kick it; hence a wise option is to 'read the instructions'. Let us see why a Job Description is so important.

As we all know the process involved for this is called 'Job Analysis' and theoretically the output is 'Job Description' and 'Job Specification'. [While the Job Description describes tasks to be accomplished, the Job Specifications lists the Knowledge, Skills, and Abilities (KSA's) needed to accomplish these tasks.] Though they are defined separately, however in practice, they are written in the same document under different headings.

In fact, there is no one right way or format for writing a job description. It is better explained by Crawford H. Greenwalt, President, E I DuPont, "...There are many ways in which a good job can be done - as many ways, in fact, as there are men to whom the task is given."

Due to various benefits and convenience many companies prefer computerized Job Analysis. There are many software's available for this process for e.g. Job Evaluation Manager (JEM) -Online tool (Haygroup), Talent | Reward (Towerswatson).

Following are four Principles of Job Analysis:

1. Analysis NOT List: The focus must remain on in-depth analysis of the Job and not just preparing a list of the tasks.

2. Jobs NOT People: The analysis must focus on the job and not on the jobholder's performance, style, character or career history.

3. Facts NOT Judgment: The focus must be on communicating the 'facts' as they are and avoid making any judgment about the job.

4. The Job as it is now: The job needs to be analyzed as it is now or is planned to develop over the next 1-2 years.

Job Description - Purposes:

The main purpose (use) of the job description is to provide precise information to the Job holder, about his contribution for achieving organizational objectives. It is a fundamental tool for a Line Manager who can use it to ensure that his/her subordinates understand what they have to achieve and the criteria on which their performance will be measured. Beyond this main purpose, job description provides information to support other HR Processes; however it must be reviewed and updated periodically.

Job Description & Competencies:

I have already covered the importance of competency models in my previous post. However, it is important to note the views of Mr. Dipak Kumar Bhattacharyya, in his book, 'HR Research Methods' (2007). He says, "The need to link the intellectual capital of the firm to the strategic objective is the order of the day. Firms have realized that unless they align themselves accordingly they will not be able to gain a competitive advantage: Thus, a competency-based approach is today used by a lot many organizations in achieving their strategic objectives.

Competency mapping, therefore, has now become essential for every organization to achieve excellence, gain competitive advantage, and renew them through proper restructuring."

In any Job Description, Key Result Area (KRA's) represents the "Output" of the job. And the knowledge, skills and competencies represent the "Inputs" of the job. Competency-based job analysis basically means writing job description based on competencies rather than just job duties.

The validated competencies can be taken directly from existing library in case the company has already adopted a competency model. Alternatively if the company is in the "process of developing competency model", then during the "data collection" phase (step no. 3 of process - as shown in previous post) various assessment methods can be used. However, "Behavioral Event Interview" (BEI) is given more importance by Haygroup. Other methods include Expert Panels or Focus Group and Surveys. These methods either can be used on their own or along with other methods for effective results.

A directory / library typically contain a list of approximately 15 to 20 tailored competencies. These competencies are key to high performance in the organization.

For each competency we require:
-   A definition
-   A business rationale (why it matters to the business)
-   Levels of demonstration, with behavioral indicators

The Panel identifies the 8-10 key competencies required which are important for achieving success in a particular position (Position Level and Functional / Technical Competencies). The 'Core competency' is also identified in the process. For e.g. "Passion for the Business" [ IBM - List of competencies page 210, Who Says Elephants Can't Dance? (2002) ].  And finally specify the 'levels' of demonstration of each competency which is required.


Self Confidence                                    Level 4
Achievement Orientation                  Level 3
Transparency                                        Level 5
Service Orientation                             Level 3
Teamwork & Collaboration                Level 4

Prof. / Dr. David McClelland had already stated the importance of competencies compared to intelligence. Where competencies are more likely to contribute towards the achievement of success in a particular job. In fact, they are perceived as predictors of superior performance. Hence, a competency based job description can be used in various HR processes, especially to distinguish the "best from the rest".

Benefits / Advantages:

1. Communicating competencies: A Job Description can be an important tool for effectively communicating needed 'competencies' to employees. i.e. which competencies are important for achieving success in a particular job. And the needed 'Level' of each competency. 

2. Facilitate processes integration: Since the Job Description is an important document that facilitate executing various HR processes as shown in the above image. Competency-based Job Description provides 'Lingua Franca' (common language) to integrate these processes. ( For strategic HR, the lingua franca is competencies - The Art and Science of competency Modeling - Kornferry Institute [pdf] )

3. Measurable competencies: Since job competencies are always observable and 'measurable' behaviors comprising part of a job, they provide a sound basis for Performance Management, Training & other HR initiatives compared to tasks and duties. Needless to say, “What gets measured gets done” as correctly said by Peter Drucker, in fact, there is similar quote by Lou Gerstner "people don’t do what you expect but what you inspect".

4. Provides Strategic approach: Designing competency-based Job Description is more strategic approach since it provides a direct link to business goals and organization strategy. Mr. Jeffery S. Shippmann, very clearly explain it in his article, "The Practice of Competency Modeling" [pdf] (Personnel Psychology 2000)

He says, "Competency approach typically include a fairly  substantial effort to understand an organization's business context and competitive strategy and to establish some direct line-of-sight between individual competency requirements and the broader goals of the organization".

5. Assessment & Development: As researchers have advocated the use of the competency-based approach for assessment and development purposes. Such job description would facilitate the process of Training Need Analysis and provide concrete basis for designing training and development strategies. Similarly, it may benefit to other HR Processes such as HRP, Career Planning and Succession Planning.

6. Predictive HR Analytics: There is a vast amount of data being collected during Job Analysis and Competency development process. In the advent of HR Analytics, a competency based job description would certainly provide a sound basis to facilitate predicting future success. Here competencies can play an important role since they consider other aspects such as Belief, Interest, Values, Self-image, Traits and Motive; apart from Experience, Qualifications, and skills. Typically underlying elements of competencies which are less visible ( "Ice-berg Model" ) but they largely direct and control surface behavior.

Precautions :

However, according to Mr. Frederick Morgeson there are two possibilities that affect the analysis. ( "Self Presentation Process in Job Analysis" [pdf] Journal of Applied Psychology 2004)

1. Normally respondents give higher ratings for competencies.  Employees tend to inflate their job during the process of interview since the result has direct impact on job grade, compensation and employee status. The purpose of the analysis (e.g., strategic clarification vs. organizational restructuring) is also likely to exert a strong influence on employee response.

2. Respondents give lower ratings for entry-level competencies. For example, we tend to use lower 'levels' of particular competency for the entry-level job (Trainee, Junior Associate) compared to senior positions.

To sum it up, the competency-based approach certainly helps to enhance performance, manage change and drive cultural transformation, while at the same time empower and motivate the employees.

I would like to conclude with another approach in addition to Job Description, by designing 'Job families' & 'personal scorecards' for every employee. Robert Kaplan & David Norton have articulated the significance of this approach in their book - "The Execution Premium" (2008). It says,

“we have described how to identify strategic job families. ... They create the differentiation in the strategy for sustainable competitive advantage. ... the HR processes eventually need to ensure that all employees have competency development programs in place that will give them the knowledge, skills, and values they need in order to achieve the targeted performance on their personal scorecards."

[Inputs taken from Haygroup - Job Analysis - Training Material]


Cris Flores said…
A dissertation, or thesis paper, is comprised of chapters, graphs, tables, headings, and subheadings. Above all, it is a research paper and contains wide array of facts collected from reference books, notes, etc. ksa knowledge skills abilities

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