Comparing TJA and CM

Competency Modelling (CM) has replaced Traditional Job Analysis (TJA) for a host of human resource applications. There seems to be no professional consensus regarding the difference between TJA and CM. Instead of an “either/or” approach, we propose framing this dilemma differently. We believe that TJA and CM are fundamentally different HRM tools, even though the line that separates them has been blurred in many of their field applications to date. We outline how the practice of CM can be fruitfully supplemented using not only TJA but also new forms of work analysis.

Purpose: Describe vs. Influence Behavior

The purpose of CM is to influence how such assignments are performed in a manner aligned with the organization’s strategy. A parallel can be drawn with the notions of “trait relevance” and “situation strength,” which correspond to the concepts of “channel-and-volume” in signal detection theory. CM ideally attempts to open up a conduit for strategy execution, so that the employee learns how to incorporate strategic concerns into day-to-day behavior. We believe that CM is much better suited to the task of influencing employee behavior along strategic lines than TJA is.

Competency models should be easy to understand and communicate to anyone in the organization, regardless of job title. In contrast, TJA is usually burdened with long lists of tasks and psychologically-worded Knowledge, Skills, Abilities, and Other Characteristics (KSAOs) that provide a deep understanding of the nature of each employee’s job. A CM was designed with the intent to provide a path to US Veterans Administration (VA) employees in regard to the behavioral themes that characterized the new strategy. This strategic reinvention of the VA involved moving away from a historic, military-type organization with a formal division of labor. a function of the occupational context in which the employee performs, multiple sets of BIs were developed to illustrate to employees how the behavioral themes signaled by this competency could be manifested in their specific job family and rank.

Competency labels such as “systems thinking” are problematic because they cut across domains (Pearlman, 1997). When the purpose is guiding employee behavior, the business jargon that is employed to word competencies is arguably superior to the labels assigned to narrower, unitary psychological constructs such as those often included in the lists of KSAOs that characterize TJA. Using a more definitionally pure set of competencies may indeed defeat CM’s primary purpose of influencing behavior along strategic lines. We contend that employees often have difficulties understanding psychological nomenclature and, second, that the language of attributes such as abilities and personality traits fails to convey an organization’s strategic themes in a visionary, appealing, and straightforward manner.

View of the job

The arrival of the conceptualization of the job as a separate entity from the person who performs a certain work activity can be traced to the onset of the industrial revolution. TJA attempts to parallel a physical science where an external object, i.e., the job, becomes the object of study by a series of unobtrusive observers. Job analysts and Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) are then asked to describe this abstract entity. When SMEs are reminded that they are reporting about “the job,” they are asked to assume that their job exists separately from their performing the job. This is akin to a mental exercise in mind–body separation.

The job analyst is interested in a “neutral” description of the role that is not contaminated by any job holder’s idiosyncratic interpretation. When conducted in this objectivist fashion (Cronshaw, 1998), TJA has focused on capturing the essential elements of the position in the form of an across-incumbents description, because division of labor requires that jobs be seen as “constant” across all incumbent workers. TJA’s intentionally aseptic, physical sciences-like view of the job forgets that jobs are essentially roles, which are both interpreted and enacted in very different ways on the job incumbent. Performance is the by-product of the incumbent’s interpretation of the role, which introduces an idiosyncratic approach to how the job ought to be performed. CM acknowledges the criticality of role interpretation and tries to influence it by loudly signaling the behavioral “themes” that the organization would like to see reflected in the incumbent’s approach to the role. Job performance can be influenced by encouraging the employee to interpret the job according to the “script” that best fits the organization’s strategy.

Focus: Job vs. Organization

As indicated by its name, TJA focuses solely on the job. CM assumes that performance across all jobs in the organization should be touched by certain behavioral themes embedded in the competencies that are connected directly to the organizational strategy. According to Sartain and Schumann (2006), an employer brand should support the business strategy. This delivery requires behavior that delivers what the brand promises. Many of the descriptors employed in TJA such as job tasks and KSAOs are created ad-hoc for the job under investigation.

Such descriptors are unique to each job and hardly allow for between-job comparisons. ONET has emerged as an approach to develop a universal occupational language that can be used to describe all jobs. CM employs everyday or business terms that are more readily understood by end-users. Their definition includes the freedom to “learn and grow, make a positive difference, travel, work hard and have fun, work and innovate, and stay connected,” all of which touch on critical values and behaviors that define the airline’s brand. Still another strength of a list of competencies that cuts across all jobs in the organization is its ability to simplify succession planning and career development systems.  Competencies represent universal behavioral themes that the organization would like to see displayed across all jobs.

TJA descriptors such as abilities and skills are often job-specific, and therefore fail to convey what are the key factors that the employee should work on if s/he wishes to advance to higher jobs in the organization. General Electric’s performance management system includes the competency of “inclusiveness”.

Time orientation: Past vs. Future

The primary purpose of TJA is to provide an “objective” account of the “average” work activities and their associated worker requirements. CM intends to prescribe the manner in which work activities should be carried out in alignment with the organization’s strategy. TJA relies primarily in those who have performed the job to date as a primary source of information (typically job incumbents). As a result of the emphasis on the job as it has been performed to date, the dominant flow of information in TJA proceeds in a bottom-up direction. The flow of information in CM is essentially top-down, with those in charge of strategic planning trying to send a strong signal to those below them. The generic nature of competencies does allow for employee collaboration in shaping the meaning of the competency in the context of an employee’s particular circumstances.

Performance level: Typical vs. Maximal

The difference in performance level foci can also be framed in the context of the psychological contract between the employee and the organization. Whereas TJA can be said to focus on describing “typical” performance as represented in the description of the job as performed by an “average” job incumbent, CM aims at inducing “maximal” performance. This understanding establishes a commitment to interpret the current role, and future roles along the lines of certain behavioral themes representing maximal performance in line with the organization’s strategy. CM: TJA is best suited to defining the requirements of task performance, which involves discharging the technical, and formally prescribed aspects of the job included in the job description. CM appears better qualified to encourage contextual and prosocial performance, which are not so clearly related to the formal job description but, instead, are part of an interpretation of one’s role.

Many of the behavioral themes normally alluded to in competency definitions bear on the interpersonal aspects of the manner VAin which the job ought to be performed. For instance, the VA defined “Organizational Stewardship” as a competency involving the demonstration of “commitment to the organization, its members and customers”.

Measurement approach: Latent Trait vs. Clinical Judgment

Critics of CM have argued that competencies do not meet the rigorous criteria needed to establish valid constructs. Staffing experts have been quick to adopt a potentially misguided “latent trait reading” of the notion of competency. We argue that concerns about competency measures not meeting the standards of construct validity are misguided. The primary aim of CM is hardly to yield construct-valid measures of latent traits, but to promote employee behavior towards strategic-oriented “themes,” which do not have to represent the type of construct that meets the psychometric standards. The multi-construct nature of the competency is unlikely to result in large correlations with any measure of a presumably simpler, single-construct measure.

Lack of construct validity does not imply that competencies are useless from a measurement point of view. For this reason, we argue that measures of interrater agreement have a place in CM, but not as an index. In fact, their purpose is simply to provide a summary score that can be used to evaluate, rank-order, or classify individuals, which can be accomplished regardless of the number of constructs or latent traits underlying them.

TJA and CM: Recommendations and future research

In this section, we highlight how TJA can supplement CM at various points of the HR planning process. Unlike CM, which focuses on strategy execution, strategic job analysis is concerned with strategy formulation. Strategic job analysis does not provide a conduit between strategic business goals and employee behavior.

Derivation of strategic & functional competencies

The first panel of SMEs is charged with translating the organization’s strategy into a series of competencies. This panel should include top strategic decision makers and individuals familiar with all of the organization’s operations and functions. With few exceptions, TJA has relatively little to offer in terms of the competencies needed for teamwork. For instance, a cost-driven organization, which vigorously pursues production/delivery efficiencies and tight cost controls, should probably include competencies embodying behavioral themes such as consistency/reliability. First, competencies should refer to durable human capital, should capture the organization’s competitive advantage by creating distinctiveness, should be tacit or difficult to imitate, and should be especially valuable in a knowledge-based economy.

A recent, comprehensive treatment of team-based research by Mathieu, Maynard, Rapp and Gilson (2008) refers to team competencies as a blend of aggregated patterns of individual-level KSAOs and emergent competencies such as goal orientation or group value consensus surrounding such issues as diversity or learning.  Schuler and Jackson (1987) noted that strategic focus should inform the choice of competencies. The literature on strategic HRM provides a number of useful theoretical models for strategy formulation. CM is not concerned with making these decisions, but with how to best translate already made strategic decisions into a series of behavioral themes. Future research is needed to formulate team-level competency models.

Evaluation of CM

Some CM applications waste valuable SME time asking them to rate the extent to which strategic competencies apply to a given job or job family. Strategic competencies are dictated by the organization’s strategy and, as a result, they are expected to influence performance across all jobs. The question of whether or not the competency “applies” to the job is therefore moot, because such a decision should be already made at the organizational level. To comply with the job-relatedness provisions of the Uniform Guidelines, the organization may need to supplement CM with TJA, unless they can convincingly argue that work is not organized around fixed and stable job titles. Because strategic competencies should touch virtually every job in the organization, every employee should find ways to incorporate the type of on-brand, strategic behavior signaled by the competencies into his/her day-to-day behavior.

Measures of interrater agreement may still provide evidence of content validity in CM, but raters should judge the extent to which competencies capture the distinctive competitive advantage of the organization, and not the relevance of each competency to their job.  Competencies are rather fuzzy constructs, a better understanding of their scientific underpinnings would require an identification of each competency’s measurement model. TJA may be helpful in this respect because it provides an array of KSAOs that may shed light on the latent traits possibly underlying the complex behavioral syndrome represented by a single competency. Hayton and Kelley (2006) provided a helpful example of how a competency model for supporting corporate entrepreneurship can be supplemented by a series of inferences regarding the underlying, measurable knowledge, skills, and abilities contributing to these competencies. These multi-level measurement models may help researchers gain a better understanding the constructs underlying the kind of strategic performance sought by the organization

Developing the Organization’s own Competency language

Competency definitions and, especially the behavioral anchors that demonstrate such competencies for each job or job family, should be disseminated to the appropriate stakeholders across the organization. This is not to suggest that a CM project cannot start with a pre-existing dictionary of competencies, but we strongly support the position that these must be customized to capture the shared meaning associated with the situated behavioral themes informed by the organization’s strategy. Should the list of competencies be limited strictly to strategic performance drivers or those inspired solely by the overall organizational strategy?  Competencies may fail to instill a distinctive sense of what it means to work for the organization and, as a result, fail to provoke on-brand, strategic behavior. Werbel and DeMarie (2005) noted that a broad array of competencies is likely to dilute the unique organizational identity captured in the CM.

Derivation of Behavioral incidents

We believe cross-fertilization between TJA and CM can be most beneficial because the former can help the latter achieve its primary purpose of influencing employee behavior along strategic lines. SMEs should be charged with developing the behavioral indicators that illustrate or contribute to the theme represented by the competency on the focal job. The critical incident technique can be employed to have SMEs use their knowledge of the job to identify instances where a competency can influence one or more employee behaviors. As explained earlier, CM is future rather than past-oriented and, thus, these instances do not need to be actual examples of past behaviors, but situations where the SMEs conceive that employee behaviors can be fruitfully informed by strategic competencies. Panelists will argue along the lines of a panel discussion among assessors in assessment centers (Gaugler et al., 1987).

Panelists will reach a consensus regarding how behavioral anchors should be best phrased to signal the manner in which the competency influences job performance. The value of these behavioral indicators lies in facilitating the communication of the strategic signals embedded in the CM to the employees. Of course, employees should understand that behavioral indicators are just examples, and not the only behaviors through which competencies can be incorporated to their job.



In this article, we’ve looked at the main differences between job analysis and competency modelling. In essence, whereas TJA focuses on describing and measuring the requirements of work, CM creates a conduit to influence day-to-day employee performance along strategic lines. Both have a place in best-practice talent management, and both can work in harmony with each other to deliver excellent results.


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