The differing functions of competency modelling and job analysis

In anticipation of our upcoming TTS Client conference, with its theme of Competencies 2.0: The final frontier, we turn to the important topic of competency modelling and job analysis, two processes that are often misunderstood or confused with one another.

Despite an often-muddled view of these two interventions, job analysis and competency modelling actually have quite different functions within the talent management value chain.

DimensionJob analysisCompetency modelling
PurposeDescribing behaviourInfluencing behaviour
View of the jobExternal objectRole to be enacted
Time orientationPastFuture
Performance levelTask / typicalContextual / maximum
MeasurementLatent traitMultiple determinants

 (Adapted from: Sanchez & Levine, 2009)

While the differences described above are important to understand, they do not preclude complementary roles for each process. Combining job analysis and competency modelling in meaningful ways will be a topic for a future article. For now, let’s clarify the main differences between these two approaches.

Describing vs Influencing behaviour

Competency modelling, in contrast to job analysis, is best viewed as a “top-down” approach rather than “bottom-up”. When IO Practitioners engage in competency modelling, they follow an organizational agenda that seeks to change behaviour based on strategic imperatives.

For instance, a financial institution may want to ensure that employees are more digitally aware and innovative. Competency modelling can assist in this regard by describing how such a competency may manifest at different levels within the organisation, and using simple, non-jargon language, can signal to employees what is expected of them in terms of this new behaviour.

When conducting job profiling, the focus would be more on describing, in detail and using competency language, what this behaviour of digital awareness may be composed of (for instance, how it would be assessed using existing tools).

External object vs Enacted role

Job analysis has as a central principle the assumption that jobs are separate from the individuals in those jobs (i.e. the incumbents). This assumption is helpful, because when doing job analysis, the practitioner can try to derive a “neutral” view of the job and the kind of functions that position fulfils in the organisation. Clearly, this view has pragmatic benefits for IO Professionals.

However, contemporary research on job performance suggests that the way incumbents enact their job roles has fundamental importance for eventual outcomes. In other words, the way we interpret how we do our jobs influences performance almost as much (if not more) than the neutral facts of the job itself.

Competency modelling can play a role here to ensure that a company’s strategic goals and intentions are served by providing employees with a “script” or signals on how jobs are to be interpreted and enacted, with the aim of ensuring maximal performance.

Job focus vs Organisation focus

By now, it should come as no surprise that competency modelling’s focus is more on organisation-wide views of behaviour than the specifics of skills and abilities needed in any one particular job. It is this focus shift in competency modelling, from the very particular to the more general, that holds promise for IO Professionals with strategic mandates.

In essence, the creation of a non-technical, everyday competency language during competency modelling, allows the organisation to guide employee behaviour and resolve questions of when (and if) a particular person’s behaviour is out of sync with organizational values and strategy.

For instance, Sanchez and Levine (2009) use the example of Microsoft, who linked their organizational competencies (known as success factors) with organisational performance in a clear, easy-to-understand lexicon that everyone in the business could understand.

Past vs. Future focus

Job analysis, in an attempt to describe the specifics of a position, necessarily takes a historical view of jobs. The focus is on describing what has taken place, and how incumbents have fulfilled the criteria of a given job description. In this sense, job analysis is well suited to deliver data on what has made a particular function work the way it does within the larger organisation.

Competency modelling in contrast, takes a more future-forward approach and asks the question: How should a particular series of roles be enacted in the future? It is therefore more prescriptive than descriptive in nature. As such, competency modelling is well suited to make practical new strategic directions and how such changes may influence everyday work behaviour.

Task requirements vs Contextual performance

In job analysis, IO Practitioners need to focus carefully on a neutral view the tasks associated with completing the work the job was designed to accomplish. As such, the focus is more on typical job performance and the contractual obligations of employees to employer.

In competency modelling, more contextual factors are taken into account, and the focus shifts on how competencies may be enacted to deliver on strategic or aspirational goals for the organisation. In this way, competency modelling requires employees to augment their basic conception of tasks requirements in a job with how the tasks ought to be performed in a greater, organizational (or team) context.

Latent measurement vs Multiple determinants

Job analysis, with a focus on specific abilities, capacities and other traits, lends itself well to a more measurement-centric approach. Here, practitioners can focus on how to measure specific latent traits that lead directly to outcome criteria such as job performance, observed behaviour, and similar constructs.

In contrast, competency modelling takes a more holistic, collective approach. Because of its emphases on everyday, non-jargon language and prescription rather than description, competencies need not have a one-to-one correspondence with measurement devices.

Indeed, it is part of the IO Professional’s professional competence to be able to draw these connections and highlight how multiple measures and variables may be used to provide insights into competency performance.

Common critiques of competencies are being non-rigorous and referencing multiple factors that are not all equally measureable are therefore misplaced. The function of competency and competency modelling is to illuminate the complexities of required behaviour, whereas the IO Professional’s function is (in part) to show how these complexities may be measured.

Final thoughts

In today’s article, we’ve looked carefully at the main differences between job analysis and competency modelling. Both have a place in best-practice talent management, and both can work in harmony with each other to deliver excellent results. How this may take place will be the focus of our next article.

If you’d like to know more about how TTS helps clients make better talent decisions by using competency best practices, why not drop us a line at:


Sanchez, J. I. & Levine, E. L. (2009). What is (or should be) the difference between competency modeling and traditional job analysis?. Human Resource Management Review, 19, 53-63.