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Reframe jobs, reap rewards.


Employers stand to benefit by implementing a new two-dimensional visual model for representing jobs. The approach works well for all jobs and functions, including technical ones: It leverages work cycles and work processes people already use; and separates WHAT needs to be done from HOW, making it less dependent on organization charts.

This new job representation format is ideal for identifying all competencies required to do each job and different job levels. For HR, a single common model means lower cost of maintenance and training. The new representation makes it simpler for HR to create competency maps for a wider variety of jobs, gain buy-in from their user communities, respond strategically to bridging competency gaps, provide effective career guidance to new employees, test different staffing scenarios for new groups and incorporate new findings from fields such as the study of expertise.

Renewed Interest in Employee Qualifications

The rise in the median age of professionals worldwide (United Nations Dept. of Economic and Social Affairs, 2009) and the predicted impending skills shortage, often expressed as "knowledge walking out of the door," has created a renewed interest in the capture, codification and dissemination of knowledge held and used by senior level workers. Australia (, Singapore (, Canada (Murray, Claremont & Binkley, 2005) and many European countries (Winterton, Le Diest & String fellow, 2005; Simpson, 2006) have renewed their emphasis on worker competencies in the past few years. Many large corporations in South America and Latin America are making competency-based certification ( an integral part of their operational performance improvement plans. The Software Engineering Institute's (SEI) People Capability Maturity Model (PCMM[TM]) requires organizations to have workforce competency maps to be certified as Level 3 "Defined" organizations (Curtis, Hefley & Miller, 2001). Further, companies in India and China view understanding the knowledge, skills and competencies needed to perform jobs as essential to getting their people ready to support the growth of their companies and industries.

A common tool for identifying knowledge, skill and competency gaps and for competency based performance evaluations is a task or competency list. Some companies use externally created lists. There are many off-the-shelf generic competency models, including technical or professional competencies that technical and professional organizations produce.

There are a few problems with this approach. There is no off-the-shelf competency list that one can start using without a high degree of customization (Acharya, 2003). Rapid organization changes have diminished the shelf life of many existing competency lists (Mansfield, 2005). And end users, employees and leaders often do not accept many competency lists of generic skills.

Public labor market authorities in many countries have created skills databases such as DISCO, O * NET and Taxonomy DB (Markowitsch & Plaimauer, 2004). These databases are a good starting point for developing competency lists. However, it's not easy to understand whether there is an underlying pattern connecting the different lists or what the underlying pattern might be. Also, these lists often don't address job levels within job families, especially in technical and professional roles.

Another approach for mapping employee competencies is the do-it-yourself strategy. Typical projects begin with gathering and analyzing existing documentation about jobs, tasks, job goals or task elements. The logical distinction between job and task analysis is that job analysis addresses a higher level of aggregation than the techniques employed in task analysis (Shraagen, 2007).

Common techniques used in task analysis (Kirwan & Ainsworth, 1992) are activity sampling, critical incident technique, observation, structured interviews and verbal protocols. There are several methods for structuring the collected information into a systematic format. These task description techniques include charting and networking techniques, decomposition methods, hierarchical and cognitive task analysis, operational sequence diagrams and timelines. These methods can be time-consuming, requiring many internal and/or external resources.

The main output from applying these methods and techniques is usually a list of jobs and a description of each job. The description typically includes a job title followed by a bulleted list of responsibilities or tasks. From these lists, a list of competencies is generated. Once a list of competencies is created, in most cases, there is no easy way to find out if the list is complete or to check it for redundancy. Employees and managers begin to question the credibility of the lists and the validity of the findings, slowing the pace of the initiatives, and in some cases, causing the projects to fail.

The challenges to implementation of competency-based training initiatives stem from leaders' and employees' lack of buy-in to the competency models and their link to the real world of work, task and job performance. Some companies resort to a simple competency model that may be easier to implement but may not fully or accurately reflect the requirements or scope of the tasks. Therefore, it does not meet the needs for training or for performance management. A complex competency model with multiple dimensions may be a better indicator of qualifications for a task, but may not be easy to understand or implement.

Researchers such as Paquette (2007) and Calhoun, Rowney, Eng & Hoffman (2005) have addressed this issue by proposing visual models for competency. Paquette has proposed a logic-based model of competency and developed a software program that breaks down the components of an individual's performance. Calhoun, et al, have proposed a 3-D model that integrates domain-specific competencies with Bloom's taxonomy (Krathwohl, Bloom and Masia, 1964) of cognitive processing and Dreyfus's five levels of expertise (Gookin, 2009).

Model Development Rationale

At the request of an oil refinery in South America for a training program to develop engineers, we developed a new system for managing employee qualifications (patent pending). Its purposes were to identify the training needs for engineers, provide career paths and assistance to employees, and have the potential to underpin their other HR processes. Recognizing the need for a balance between rigor and ease-of-application, two principles guided the development process:

* That which cannot be visualized is not easy to remember, and that which cannot be remembered is not easy to implement.

* To be useful, the model has to be as simple as possible while maintaining its rigor and relevance.

Because most competency lists in manufacturing are derived from job-task analysis, we suspected that the root cause of the inadequacy and limitations of these models is related to how the jobs are represented. We began investigating different ways to describe or represent jobs that would make it easy to create a complete, valid and reliable list of job-tasks. This shift in emphasis of investigation from modeling competencies to refraining jobs and tasks is different from the work of Paquette and Calhoun, et al, quoted earlier.

The new visual model is derived from application of four new insights we discovered as we attempted to figure out an effective way to represent the engineering jobs in question.

Insight 1: The List Format has Limitations

The list format works quite well when documenting a step-by-step process or for brainstorming ideas, but may not be the most appropriate format for some applications, like competencies.

The main problems with task lists and the derived competency lists is that managers and employees who are supposed to use the lists are not able to easily do the following:

* Discern if a list is complete;

* Check if the items in a list are mutually exclusive;

* Detect the underlying structure;

* Predict how a list would change with job levels; and

* Map a career advancement path for moving from one job to a different job type in the same company.

Our solution addresses the above issues by refraining jobs using the power of two-dimensional maps instead of the traditional linear-sequential "list" format.

Insight 2: Every Task Description Contains a Verb and at Least One Object (or its property)

For our present purpose, a task is any standalone action that a group or a function in a company performs that adds value to the enterprise and that someone possessing certain defined levels of unique competencies can accomplish. It is the answer to the question, "What needs to be done?" not "What is being done or how it is being done?" Our insight is that each task a group (or a function) performs within a company has two dimensions: an action verb and at least one object.


Each task has an action verb and at least one object, or target. Consider the task "troubleshoot a compressor." "Troubleshoot" is the action verb and "compressor" is the object. The object may be a tangible or an intangible asset, an item of study or support or a deliverable. Consider the task "create a five-year plan." "Five-year plan" is a deliverable. It is a product that creates value for the company.

These two dimensions can be mapped as coordinates for the new representation by listing the "action verbs" on the x-axis and the corresponding objects (or assets) on the y-axis. This map is called an O/E or outcome/ experience map. It is relatively easy for employees, engineers in this case, to see if all the objects are included on the y-axis, in a traditional interview or focus group process. How does one know for certain that all of the action verbs have been included on the x-axis? Leveraging the idea of cycles solves that problem.

Insight 3: Every Job Type has at Least One Process or Object-State Cycle Associated with It

Processes and cycles are ubiquitous in the business world. Employees know these cycles and processes, and they are often even part of the measurement process for the functions. This new modeling process uses these commonly known and understood processes and cycles to identify the actions that are necessary to particular roles.

Functions have processes and cycles common to their function. People in marketing are concerned about the product cycle. Market ers know product cycles, know where they are in the product cycle with a product, and often have measurements linked to it. Software engineers follow software development cycles, and their measurement systems often are linked to them.

Professionals also work with common cycles. Health care providers monitor their performance relative to the "patient cycle," from admittance to discharge and follow-up. Engineers use problem-solving cycles. Quality professionals apply PDCA (plan-do-check-act).

Other cycles and processes are common to multiple functions, such as planning cycles, change management processes or continuous improvement cycles. In a manufacturing or a process unit, the equipment items are the primary objects. Employees perform activities that depend mainly on the operational state of the processing unit or its lifecycle (See Exhibit 2). The lifecycle of an equipment item, a planning cycle, and how the two cycles are interlinked for the activity called "start up" are also illustrated in Exhibit 2.

The association with cycles makes it easy to verify that there is no overlap between action verbs and no task is left out.



Insight 4: Different Job Levels (Job Families) Include Tasks of Different Degree of Difficulty

Every job level is typically associated with a specific set of tasks. In most cases, as the job levels increase, the degree of complexity, difficulty and risks linked to the set of tasks also rise.

In our new method, the issue of exact location of each task on the new map is resolved by arranging the action verbs by degree of difficulty from left to right and arranging the assets or objects of action by their level of complexity (or degree of interconnectivity) from bottom to top. This strategy of defining task complexity mirrors in some ways the taxonomy of problem-types researched extensively by Professor Jonassen (2007). This takes care of order or arrangement of tasks. Because a job consists of a set of closely related tasks, the job-levels will also increase as one climbs diagonally across the map.

The "Outcome/Experience (O/E)" map is named to emphasize that the tasks in the cells create an outcome that the enterprise deems valuable. Each functional unit in a company has at least one O/E map linked to it. The O/E map is a visual representation of a job and provides information that results in accurate competency lists. It can be used on an individual basis to identify what an employee has actually done in his or her career and on an organizational basis to identify needed job levels.

Job Representation Examples

A common job type in the IT function is that of a help desk professional. A quick search on Google reveals that these jobs are called by different names such as customer support agent, Level I help desk agent, Level II help desk agent, help desk analyst, etc. As expected, the job descriptions show a bulleted list of tasks to be performed by the employee.

To apply our model and method, the first question we ask is "WHAT" does the person in that position do? "Resolves customer issues related to the use of a software application" is a typical answer. We place the verb "resolves" on the x-axis and the object "customer issue" on the y-axis. Next, we arrange the customer issues on the y-axis based on a combined scale of complexity and business impact.

We can identify the customer issues by talking with people in the help center or by reviewing documentation. The signature cycle associated with help centers and the verb "resolve" is the problem resolution or problem-solving cycle. Again, we can consult with help center employees or company documentation to determine the exact language used for the problem solving cycle. The cycle consists of the following steps:

1. Gather and record data.

2. Categorize problem.

3. Analyze, solve or escalate.

4. Document the solution.

5. Make recommendations for improvement.




The resulting map (Exhibit 3) shows the problem-solution cycle on the x-axis, the escalating difficulty of the customer issues on the y-axis. The cells show the proposed new job levels for this job.

The maps shown as Exhibits 4 and 5 are derived from actual application of the new model to two different job families at an oil refinery. Exhibit 4 shows a section of an O/E map for the job of "Planners." Many large corporations have planning and scheduling departments. The horizontal axis (x-axis) shows the main phases of a planning cycle re-arranged by degree of difficulty. The vertical axis (y-axis) shows the types of plans and schedules. The longer-term plans are higher on the y-axis due to their higher level of uncertainty. The job positions are designated by letters P1, P2, etc. P1 is a higher job level than P2, etc. The O/E maps for processes that are common for many different jobs can be "re-used."

Exhibit 5 is a section of an O/E map for refinery operators. The signature cycle for operators is the plant life cycle on the x-axis. This includes monitor, troubleshoot, optimize, de-bottleneck and flexibility analysis. Junior or field operators focus on equipment items (or components). Senior or board operators work on process units consisting of several integrated components. In Exhibit 5, equipment items are arranged in an increasing degree of complexity on the y-axis, from components to systems. Job levels in this O/E map are designated by letters B, C, D, etc.

Generating Competency Maps

One of the main business drivers for mapping competencies is to find and bridge employee competency gaps. This new job representation model is ideal for generating a structured list of all required competencies. A competency map can be created by reverse engineering each task in the O/E map.

This second map is called the Knowledge-Ability map, or the K-A map. For each task, answering two questions generates a list of associated competencies.

* What specific artifacts, such as documents, training, expert advice and tools are resources for doing the task?

* What is the appropriate level of cognitive processing or skill (if it is a procedure) required to be demonstrated by an individual for each resource item to do the task?


One K-A map is developed per job level to match corresponding tasks in each O/E map. K-A maps are created by reverse engineering the O/E map. SME's identify the cognitive processes needed to do the signature cycle or processes (x-axis) and the concepts, facts, procedures and principles on the y-axis. K-A maps are used to identify individual and organizational competency gaps and provide the needs analysis for training programs and other development efforts. Examples and details of how to generate competency maps from an O/E map can be found in Ranade (2008) and Ranade, et al. (2010).

Old Barriers No More

The new job representation model and the maps derived from it have many unique and beneficial features that are of value to HR managers, executives and employees.


The new job representation model makes it easy to visualize, remember and explain jobs, job tasks and competencies. Resistance to acceptance is lowered, because much of the language in the model and maps is familiar, job-focused and known language, "not HR-speak." Employees are able to clearly see the links among their own competencies, tasks, jobs and business outcomes. Cognitive barriers to implementation are reduced, thus lowering the risk of failure and the cost of competency mapping initiatives.


The O/E map is independent of the organization structure. It does not matter how the tasks are carved out, as long as the total number of tasks and their relative locations remain the same. This makes the approach sustainable in the long-term. A longer shelf life means lower costs for competency-driven HR projects.


Cross-function Applicability

As shown in the examples section, the new model can be used for all types of functions in the value chain as well as in the supporting roles. The advantage of single, cross-functional model and maps is the use of common vocabulary, resulting in lower cost of training and maintenance. For example, application of the new approach at a refinery site showed for the first time that at least 30 of the competencies were common to all professionals. This created an opportunity for HR to standardize and lower the cost of training interventions for those common competencies.


A job is more than summation of tasks. Being able to perform a certain number of tasks qualifies a person for a job, but to succeed at a job, a person needs additional interpersonal and personal skills, such as ability to prioritize different tasks. The alignment of the task-based operational view and job-based HR perspective is easily achieved by a simple extension to the model: Add a new performance dimension (see Exhibit 6). From this perspective, the original O/E shows what needs to be done in a job. The levels indicate three different performance levels of a particular job.


The simple extension of the performance levels also provides a logical framework for defining how an employee at any given job level can develop for promotion to the next job level. Exhibit 7 shows the performance levels of two different employees for nine tasks. Notice that each employee is developed for only seven of the nine competencies. Additionally, both the employees are at Level 3 (L3) on only four of those seven competency areas. This provides employees information about what they can do to develop their competencies. The decision to promote depends, among other factors, on the weighted average of each individual's cumulative performance over all the tasks linked to his or her position. From a management perspective, during any period, the actual number of individuals needed for each job depends on the business needs and goals at that time.


New Applications

Defining Jobs and Job Levels for a New Function/Job

A skeleton O/E map for a new function or job will show all the tasks that need to be accomplished. Starting with such a map, one can test different strategies for balancing the distribution of number of available employees between job-levels and tasks. Then, deciding how many employees are qualified to do the various tasks enables hiring managers to determine what development and staffing strategies make the most sense.

Responding Strategically to Filling Competency Gaps

Exhibit 8 shows an O/E map with the corresponding job levels. By also filling in the number of people who can do each task (cell), the visual nature of the representation makes it easy to spot deficiencies in a group's competence (white cells). Leadership can decide the most appropriate strategies, such as training, hiring or contracting, to bridge those gaps. Additionally, a completed K-A map for each job level, combined with the O/E map, are excellent tools for developing precisely targeted advertisements for recruiting new employees.

Providing Effective Career Guidance to New Employees

One main reason for employees leaving a company is because they cannot see their future career path with that company. The O/E map helps new employees see what they need to know and do before they can qualify for different types of jobs in the same company. For example, if a new engineer shows interest in the planning function, his or her supervisor can show the employee a set of maps (see Exhibit 9) and quickly list the types of projects and training he or she needs to complete before being considered for a job in the planning department. This ability to "visualize" different career advancement paths has the potential to enhance employee loyalty and hence improve employee retention.

New Insights

In 1986, Dreyfus and Dreyfus defined five levels of progression of an individual from a novice to an expert (Gookin, 2009). Researchers in the domain of "acquiring expertise" have arrived at 10,000 hours of deliberate practice as a norm for achieving excellence in a wide variety of disciplines such as chess, piano and golf (Ericsson, Charness, Feltovich & Hoffman, 2007; Gladwell, 2008). Our new model and the derived maps make it simple to picture if and how these new ideas and models from pure domains and disciplines apply to the functional world of business operations.

Employees, on average, spend between two to five years in a job level. The more appropriate context for applying these new discoveries about experts and expertise is to the entire career of an individual with a company or with companies. As illustrated in Exhibit 10, there are three possible trajectories for expertise in the world of business operations:

1. An expert in the action verb, e.g., a specialist in optimization

2. An expert in a certain types of assets, e.g., a specialist in motors or scheduling, and

3. A general expert with the expertise in the company.

This ability of the model to incorporate findings from new fields also makes the new representation sustainable in the long-term.

Putting It All Together

Job modeling and competency identification is the foundation for myriad HR processes, such as staffing, performance management, employee development and career development. The new job representation model--the O/E maps--provide a visual representation of a job and job levels using a consistent structure and in the language of the business, function or profession. This model enables people in the functions themselves, or working with HR, to map out their jobs and identify an accurate list of knowledge and skills needed at each level. It capitalizes on their expertise and recognizes the importance of their "technical knowledge and skills" to their jobs. The job representation model leverages the use of cycles and processes to ensure that all actions necessary to do the job are included and uses the outcomes, results, or objects of action to ensure that the job is thoroughly represented.



The author is grateful to RWD Technologies, LLC for supporting this work. The author is indebted to the profession als at Ecopetrol, S.A., for their support, The author would like to thank Angela Corrales. leader of Ecopetrol's operational excellence team, for being an internal champion for the new job representation model. The author benefitted greatly from the work of and e mail exchanges with Professor K. Anders Ericsson (Florida State University), Mirjam De Jong (vapro ovp), Professor Dominic Simon (New Mexico State University), Professor David H. Jonassen (University of Missouri), and Professor David C Berliner (Arizona State University). Special mention must be made of reviewers of P & S magazine. Their feedback on the initial draft of this article was very helpful.


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Experience the Limitations of the LIST format

Examine the list of several countries in South America and answer the question: "How many more countries belong in the list?"

Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru,--,--, ...

Now try the same exercise one more time. But this time fill in the blanks on a "drawn to scale" map of South America taken from any reliable source (e.g., How did you do the second time? Did you know that you would be able to provide the correct answers even before you actually answered the questions?

Observation: Respondents' degree of confidence and accuracy of responses are likely to be much higher when using the map. Representing the same list on a structured map enables the respondents to quickly see the underlying pattern and recognize the "criterion for completion."

How to Create O/E and K-A Maps

1. Leadership identifies where they want to improve performance.

2. SMEs in the selected functions identify the primary reference cycles or processes for the job and the specific steps or parts in the cycle used. These should be action verbs. Place these in order of difficulty on the x-axis from left to right.

3. SMEs then identify the results, outcomes, or objects of those actions. Place these on the y-axis in order of complexity from low to high. This creates the O/E map.

4. Next the SMEs identify the cognitive processes, knowledge and competencies for each cell in the grid. This becomes the K-A map. Again, use the second group of experts to review the work.

List of Exhibits

Exhibit 1: Job Representation Model

Exhibit 2: Equipment Life Cycle and Combined Cycles

Exhibit 3: Job of a Help Desk Agent

Exhibit 4: Job of a Planner

Exhibit 5: Job of an Operator

Exhibit 6: Task Analysis and Job Performance

Exhibit 7: Promotability

Exhibit 8: Bridging Group Competency Gaps

Exhibit 9: A Career Path

Exhibit 10: Link to Expertise

Saidas M. "Sai" Ranade, Ph.D., is the manager of process and product innovation for RWD Technologies, LLC, and the inventor of the models and tools in this article. Ranade earned his Doctorate in Chemical Engineering from the University of Houston. His e-mail address is

Saidas M. "Sai" Ranade RWD Technologies, LLC
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Author:Ranade, Saidas M. "Sai"
Publication:People & Strategy
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2010
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