Every day managers make decisions that affect employees. It might be who to hire, who to promote, or who to give a plum assignment. How should a manager go about making these sorts of decisions? Should they base them on intuition, on loyalty, or on personal relationships? Those sorts of considerations can be tempting, but they can lead to all sorts of problems when decisions go wrong, or are legally challenged. It is better to base decisions on the match between the demands of the job and the talents of people. This is why job relevance is important.
What Is Job Relevance?
Job relevance means that decisions are based on the match between jobs and people. It involves figuring out what it takes to do a particular job, and then finding people who are a good fit. This means first assessing the needs of the job, and then assessing the characteristics of people to find the best matches. This is where the concept of KSAO (Knowledge, Skill, Ability, and Other Characteristics) comes in. KSAOs can be assessed from the job side (KSAOs needed to do a job) and the people side (KSAOs people have). For more on KSAOs and how they are used, see my industrial and organizational psychology textbook.
What Are KSAOs?
- Knowledge: What people know about something related to the job. An attorney has knowledge of the law; a bartender has knowledge about mixing cocktails.
- Skill: A person’s level of proficiency is performing a task. A plumber is skilled in using hand tools; a secretary is skilled in typing.
- Ability: A person’s capability of learning knowledge or skill. Both a plumber and secretary need hand-eye coordination to be able to learn the skill in using hand tools or typing.
- Other Characteristics: Other personal characteristics of people that aren’t covered by the KSAs. This might involve attitudes (how a person feels about customers), personality (how conscientious and reliable a person is), or values (how much a person values honesty). These other qualities can be as important as a person’s KSAs.
Matching KSAOs of Jobs and People
Job relevance begins with a job analysis to identify the KSAOs of the job in question. This means conducting a study to collect KSAO information or relying on an existing database such as the US Department of Labor’s online O*NET. Conducting your own study assures that the results are the best match to your particular situation, but it can be expensive and time consuming to conduct such studies. O*NET is free but it is based on job families, so it might only be an approximation of your particular job.
Once you know the KSAOs of your job, you can choose selection methods to assess KSAOs in applicants (for hiring) or existing employees (for promotions and other actions). This can involve using background information, and a number of tools, including people analytics and pre-employment assessments. Decisions can be made based on choosing those people who have the best KSAO match to the particular job or situation.
Job Relevance Is Important
There are several reasons why job relevance is important.
- It results in better decisions in the long run. Matching people to jobs means having people who have the capability to perform better, and are more likely to be committed and engaged.
- It results in more diversity. When practices are focused on job relevance, biases against minority groups and women are minimized.
- The process is seen as more fair. Hiring and promotion practices can be seen as unfair to those who are not hired or promoted. A transparent focus on job relevance is fairer because it favors those who have the best fit.
- It reduces legal challenges. In many countries laws require nondiscriminatory hiring and promotion practices that affect minorities, women, and the disabled. In the United States, for example, job relevance is an important component in legal HR decisions.
Job relevance should be a foundation for many important decisions involving employees. Not only is it the right thing to do, it is simply good business.
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