Stop Ignoring Job Analysis

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Aug 28, 2015

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.

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

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