Do you know what, exactly, your employees do? Believe it or not, many executives haven’t taken the necessary steps to truly understand each position in their organization.

In today’s chaotic employment landscape, a job analysis should be the first step in every major human resources effort. A job analysis provides the objective criteria needed for executives to make informed decisions regarding staffing, selection, performance, succession planning and compensation.

While some people use the term job description interchangeably with job analysis, the processes are actually quite different, says Jody Wheaton, director of Organizational Effectiveness for Corporate College. “A job description is a written statement about the job,” she says. “A job analysis is a systematic process that captures the entire job in compliance with professional and legal guidelines. Ultimately, this helps you develop a selection system that is valid and legally defensible.”

Smart Business spoke with Wheaton about the benefits of a job analysis, what approaches are available and who should be involved.

How can an organization benefit from conducting a job analysis?

Conducting a job analysis is important because organizations are being asked to work leaner and more efficiently while developing growth and innovation. It’s important to be aware of the critical responsibilities for each position, especially those that are considered strategic in nature, and those that impact the customer and the bottom line. In addition to determining the critical tasks associated with each job, it’s crucial to identify the desired knowledge, abilities, skill sets and other preferred characteristics.

Job analysis serves as the foundation for helping select the right people into an organization, in terms of job fit as well as cultural fit. A job analysis allows companies to not only create better selection systems, but also create effective training development programs, compensation and talent management systems. Often organizations hire for technical ability and fire for personality flaws. Organizations should consider hiring for both experience and cultural fit. Job analysis provides the needed data. In the event an organization is challenged legally, the court will look to see if a job analysis was done properly and if the selection system was considered to be job-relevant. Organizations should take a proactive approach to minimize legal challenges.

What job analysis approaches are available?

Many companies begin with reviewing the Occupational Informational Network (O*NET), which provides comprehensive occupational descriptions and data under the sponsorship of the U.S. Department of Labor/Employment and Training Administration.

To build on the O*NET data, the first approach is conducting interviews and focus groups. Typically these are conducted with job incumbents and supervisors. The drawbacks to this approach include the time required, scheduling and large number of people that need to be included if there are a large number of incumbents serving in the role.

Surveys are another option. This method allows you to gather data quickly and summarize the data statistically. Drawbacks include the inability to ask clarifying questions and gain needed buy in.

Off-the-shelf job analysis systems don’t allow for flexibility and are often too generic. We believe a blended tailored approach is the best choice, gathering and leveraging multiple perspectives and methods. We also believe leveraging technology in the process is critical.

What kind of components should be included?

Knowledge, skills, abilities, work behaviors, tasks associated with the job, competencies and cultural aspects of the organization should all be part of the data collection process. Be sure to distinguish between essential and non-essential characteristics for Americans with Disability Act (ADA) purposes.

Who should be included?

You want to make sure you have a good sample of high performers who understand the job and do it well. You should include senior-level management, direct supervisors and anyone who has critical knowledge about the job. Finally, include those who understand the training and development function, because they can often best articulate where people go wrong after attending training.

How much time will it take?

It depends on your approach. It can take anywhere from a few weeks to three months. You don’t have to take a manual- or labor-intensive approach. Often, a manual approach involves time, resources, creation of job analysis questions, summarizing the data, availability of employees, travel, schedules, etc.

Having a systematic process and leveraging technology-based tools allow job analysis participants to go through the process in a more efficient manner. Such tools provide standardized questions that can be edited to ensure they are customized to that job, as opposed to off-the-shelf tools, which use generic statements that can’t be customized.

How can businesses ensure standardization and legal compliance?

The best practice is educating and training all employees on the process, the importance behind it, and why you do it. In some organizations, stakeholders get involved in the process, even becoming engaged in the selection measures that are chosen. With other organizations, the HR department bears the entire burden. For legal compliance, it’s important to follow professional guidelines regarding sampling — who you include, the type of information you include, etc. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) Uniform Guidelines and the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology’s (SIOC) Principles for the Validation and Use of Personnel Selection Procedures are a couple of good resources to help with compliance.

Jody Wheaton is director of Organizational Effectiveness for Corporate College. Reach her at or (216) 987-5867.

Published in Cleveland