Three Approaches to Determining Work Requirements in Key Positions

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Once key positions have been identified, direct attention to determining the

work requirements in those positions. After all, the only way that individuals

can be prepared as replacements for key positions is to clarify first what the

key position incumbents do and what kind of characteristics they possess. At

least three ways may be used to do that, and they are described below.

1. Conducting Job and Task Analysis

Job analysis summarizes or outlines the activities, responsibilities, duties, or

essential functions of a job. Task analysis goes a step beyond job analysis to

determine what must be done to carry out each activity or meet each responsibility,

duty, or essential function. The result of a job analysis is called a job

description; the result of a task analysis is called a task inventory. Some authorities

distinguish between the terms job and position:

A job consists of a group of related activities

and duties. Ideally, the duties of a job should

consist of natural units of work that are similar

and related. They should be clear and distinct

from those of other jobs to minimize misunderstanding

and conflict among employees and

to enable employees to recognize what is expected

of them. For some jobs, several employees

may be required, each of whom will

occupy a separate position. A position consists

of different duties and responsibilities

performed by only one employee.7

It is thus important to distinguish between a job description, which provides

information about an entire job category (such as supervisors, managers,

or executives), and a position description, which provides information unique

to one employee. In most cases, the focus of determining work requirements

for SP&M is on positions, since the aim is to identify work requirements

unique to key positions.

Assessing Present Work Requirements and Individual Job Performance 185

What Is a Position Description?

A position description summarizes the duties, activities, or responsibilities of

a position. Hence, it literally describes a position in one organizational setting.

It answers this question: ‘‘What are incumbents in the position expected to do

in the organization?’’

No universal standards exist either for job descriptions or for position descriptions.

8 In most organizations, however, position descriptions list at least

the title, salary or wage level, location in the organization, and essential job

functions. An essential job function, a legal term used in the Americans with

Disabilities Act, is an activity that must be conducted by a position incumbent.

More specifically, it ‘‘is [a job activity] that’s fundamental to successful performance

of the job, as opposed to marginal job functions, which may be

performed by particular incumbents at particular times, but are incidental to

the main purpose of the job. If the performance of a job function is only a

matter of convenience, and not necessary, it’s a marginal function.’’9

Some organizations add other features to job descriptions, and the same

features may be added to position descriptions as well. These additions may

include, for instance, the approximate time devoted to each essential job function,

the percentage of a position’s total time devoted to each essential job

function, the relative importance of each essential job function to successful

performance, and a job specification listing the minimum qualifications required

for selection.