Traditional Job Analysis vs Competency Approach: A Detailed Comparison

When it comes to defining job roles, organizations have two main options – traditional job analysis (TJA) or competency models (CM). The key distinction is that TJA offers more granular documentation of current tasks and responsibilities, while competency models provide higher-level mapping of capabilities critical now and in the future.

In short, TJA gives tactical details for established roles, but CMs deliver strategic adaptability for evolving roles. The ideal approach integrates both methodologies to get precision task outlines complemented by dynamic future-looking competency models

Traditional Job Analysis vs Competency Approach
Traditional Job Analysis vs Competency Approach

What is Traditional Job Analysis? 

Traditional job analysis (TJA) involves decomposing a job into its constituent elements in granular detail. The aim is to capture every major and minor responsibility, task, skill, ability, knowledge area, and working condition associated with the role.

TJA typically utilizes techniques like task analysis, work diaries, shadowing, questionnaires, interviews, focus groups, and workshops. Subject matter experts like job incumbents and supervisors provide input to HR professionals who synthesize the data.

The outputs of traditional job analysis include:

  • Detailed job descriptions outlining all duties and performance objectives.
  • Job specifications listing required competencies like skills, education, experience, etc.
  • Job evaluation criteria for compensation, grading, and comparison.
  • Training guidelines personalized for the role.
  • Performance appraisal standards aligned with key accountabilities.

The extensive detail provided by TJA is advantageous for specialized or regulated roles where precision is mandatory. However, for dynamic jobs, this static snapshot view can quickly become outdated.

What is the Competency Approach? 

The competency approach focuses on defining the core competencies and behaviors that drive peak performance in a job or job family. Rather than task decomposition, the emphasis is on capability analysis.

Competency models are developed by:

  • Identifying high performers in the targeted role.
  • Conducting behavioral event interviews to discern their differentiating competencies.
  • Deriving a competency framework encapsulating capabilities common across top talent.
  • Gaining leadership validation of the model.
  • Grouping competencies into functional clusters if needed.

The outputs of competency modeling include:

  • Competency dictionaries describing required proficiencies.
  • Framework maps depicting competency categories or levels.
  • Career ladders aligned with progressive competency mastery.
  • Personalized development plans targeting capability improvement.
  • Selection criteria focused on competencies rather than credentials.
  • Succession plans highlighting transferable leadership potential.

Competency models focus on dynamic proficiencies needed today and into the future rather than static activities. However, they lack the granular detail captured by traditional job analysis.

Key Differences Between the Two Approaches

Below is a comparison of some of the major differences between traditional job analysis and competency modeling:

Traditional Job AnalysisCompetency Approach
FocusResponsibilities and tasksCapabilities driving performance
GranularityVery granular documentationHigh-level competencies
TimeframeCurrent jobNeeded now and in future
InputsSupervisor interviewsHigh performer interviews
OutputsJob descriptionsCompetency models
AdaptabilityStatic pictureDynamic model
AssessmentHard skillsSoft skills and behaviors

The table comparing traditional job analysis and competency models highlights some key differences between the two approaches:

The first major difference is the focus – traditional job analysis concentrates on cataloging all the specific responsibilities and tasks that make up a job, while the competency approach focuses more broadly on identifying the core capabilities and behaviors that drive high performance.

Secondly, traditional job analysis results in very granular, nuanced documentation of every major and minor duty involved in a job. The competency method operates at a higher level, seeking to define broad differentiating competencies.

The third difference is that traditional job analysis reflects the job as it exists currently, providing a static snapshot. Competency models aim to articulate enduring capabilities needed not just now, but also into the future, making them more dynamic.

Next, the two methods utilize different inputs – traditional job analysis relies on interviews with supervisors, while competency modeling involves in-depth interviews with current high performers.

In terms of outputs, traditional job analysis produces highly detailed job descriptions, while competency modeling results in competency frameworks, maps, and dictionaries.

Traditional job analysis also provides a fixed picture at a point in time that can become outdated. Competency models are more adaptive to changing organizational capabilities needs.

Finally, traditional job analysis focuses on assessing hard skills and abilities for a job. The competency approach provides insights into soft skills, behaviors, and leadership attributes that differentiate high performers.

In summary, TJA offers more tactical details while CM provides a strategic, future-oriented perspective.

When is Traditional Job Analysis Most Appropriate? 

Traditional job analysis is advantageous in situations where precision and standardization are important, such as:

  • Stable Roles: For established jobs unlikely to change radically over time, TJA provides an accurate reference.
  • Specialized Functions: For highly specialized roles, capturing intricacies is vital and well-suited to granular TJA.
  • New Roles: When creating new functions, TJA helps clearly define responsibilities.
  • Compliance Requirements: For regulated roles, documenting duties meticulously is mandatory and enabled by TJA.
  • Routine Tasks: Jobs focused on repetitive execution are better defined via detailed TJA.
  • Merit-Based Promotion: If progression is based on mastering well-defined responsibilities, TJA documents these clearly for evaluation.
  • Litigation Protection: The granular facts provided by TJA help organizations defend against employment litigation.

When Do Competency Models Offer More Value? 

The competency approach delivers greater benefits in circumstances such as:

  • Strategic Reorientation: Competency models aligned to evolving business objectives facilitate transformation.
  • Agility Needs: For dynamic jobs, competency models adapt better than static TJA documents.
  • Scalability: CM provides consistency across job families enabling enterprise-wide talent management.
  • Growth Trajectories: CMs map progressive mastery levels for phased career development.
  • Succession Planning: For nurturing leadership pipelines, CMS spotlight transferable capabilities.
  • Employee Potential: Focused on strengths not tasks, CMS boost motivation and self-improvement.
  • Current Capability Gaps: Models derived from high performers highlight developmental areas.
  • Changing Industry: Models stay relevant despite industry evolution if the competencies are strategically chosen.
  • Data Interpretation: Models provide leading indicators on capabilities differentiating top talent.

Pros and Cons of Each Approach 

Benefits of Traditional Job Analysis

  • Provides very granular documentation of all major and minor job duties.
  • Captures both core responsibilities as well as specialized niche activities.
  • Useful when stable, precise role definitions are required.
  • Simpler methodology compared to developing comprehensive competency models.
  • Low risk of missing key job elements since the aim is complete task decomposition.

Limitations of Traditional Job Analysis

  • Very time-consuming and labor-intensive to capture nuanced details.
  • Can become outdated quickly as business objectives and needs evolve.
  • Focused on past and present job requirements rather than preparing for the future.
  • Not well-suited for dynamic or evolving roles.
  • Developing standardized TJA processes across large organizations is difficult.
  • No insight into the relative importance of tasks or differentiating capabilities.

Advantages of the Competency Approach

  • Provides better alignment between talent management and strategic business goals.
  • Highlights differentiating capabilities driving peak performance rather than generic activities.
  • Emphasizes portable competencies and behaviors that remain relevant despite job changes.
  • Adapts more readily to changing organizational capabilities needs.
  • Data-driven insights into improvement areas based on high performer analysis.
  • Promotes internal mobility and succession planning by illuminating transferable competencies.

Downsides of the Competency Approach

  • More challenging implementation process requiring specialized expertise.
  • Ambiguous competency definitions hard to observe and measure.
  • Risk of overly broad competency frameworks that lack granularity.
  • Heavy reliance on analyzing current high performers whose competencies may not fully meet future needs.
  • Lagging indicator of issues if models not updated regularly.
  • Less helpful for documenting routine day-to-day activities of a job.

Best Practices for Implementation 

Effective Traditional Job Analysis

  • Use multiple data collection methods – interviews, shadowing, surveys etc.
  • Involve both supervisors and job incumbents.
  • Include SMEs from across business units and geographies for consistency.
  • Review and update TJA annually to keep it current.
  • Carefully craft TJA processes to scale across the organization.
  • Balance standardization with customization for unique roles.

Successful Competency Modeling

  • Secure senior management endorsement and involvement.
  • Include perspectives from HR, executives, line managers and high performers.
  • Focus models on aligning capabilities to strategic business priorities and culture.
  • Keep competency models simple, relevant and crystal clear.
  • Set formal model review cycles, annually at a minimum.
  • Use traditional job analysis to provide granular task details.

Tips for Integrating Both Approaches 

Below are examples of how traditional job analysis and competency models can complement each other:

  • TJA: A software company uses TJA to develop job descriptions for its software developers. The job descriptions include a list of the essential duties and responsibilities of the job, as well as the knowledge, skills, and abilities that are required.
  • CM: A healthcare organization uses CM to develop a competency model for its nurses. The competency model includes a list of the KSABs that are necessary for successful performance as a nurse, such as clinical skills, patient care skills, and communication skills.
  • Hybrid approach: A manufacturing company uses a hybrid approach to job analysis. The company uses TJA to identify the essential duties and responsibilities of its production operators. The company then uses CM to identify the KSABs that are necessary for successful performance, such as technical skills, safety skills, and problem-solving skills.

Conclusion and Summary

Ideally, organizations should integrate both approaches. Well-designed competency models aligned to business strategy can be complemented by traditional job analysis providing tactical task details.

This hybrid model gives the precision needed for job specifications and performance management while also equipping organizations with dynamic capability frameworks to drive talent management and compete effectively in the future.

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