Critical Incident Technique

The critical incident technique is a job analysis method first described by John Flanagan in 1954. The method involves the collection of hundreds of anecdotal descriptions of effective and ineffective job behaviors that job incumbents, supervisors, and others have actually observed in the work setting. These anecdotes, called critical incidents, must be specific behaviors that exemplify success or failure in some aspect of the job being analyzed. For example, a critical ineffective incident for a truck driver would be "The driver failed to look in his rear-view mirror when backing up the truck and consequently hit a parked car." The observer reporting the critical incident is typically asked to describe (1) what led up to the incident and the context in which it occurred; (2) exactly what the individual did that was effective or ineffective; (3) the apparent consequences of this behavior; and (4) whether or not the consequences were under the individual's control.

After several hundred critical incidents are collected, they are content-analyzed and sorted by one or more judges into categories or dimensions of critical job behavior. These dimensions then serve as the basis for the identification or construction ofjob-related tests and other selection devices. They can also be used as a basis for the development of training programs.

In Applied Psychology in Personnel Management, Cascio

(1982) noted that a major advantage of the critical incident technique as a job analysis method is that it focuses on observable, measurable job behaviors. Disadvantages of the method include the considerable amount of time and effort required to implement it and its neglect of average job performance.

The critical incident technique has been employed for several purposes other than job analysis. In 1959 Herzberg and his coworkers (Herzberg, Mausner, & Snyderman, 1959) used the method to research work motivation and satisfaction. Flanagan and Burns (1955) showed how the critical incident technique could be adapted for use as a work performance appraisal and development tool. The application of Thurstone scaling to critical incidents, suggested most notably by Smith and Kendall (1963), has led to the development of several work performance appraisal techniques, including behaviorally anchored rating scales, mixed standard rating scales, and weighted checklists. In "Spin-Offs From Behavior Expectation Scale Procedures," Blood (1974) showed how critical incidents could be used to investigate organizational policy. The critical incident technique has also been used to improve workplace and product safety and efficiency.

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