Welcome the 'Jobs to be Done' Theory

The core in the ‘jobs to be done’ theory is the idea that customer hire products and services for a specific job to be done and either continue to hire or look for new options.

Published: 17th June 2018 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th June 2018 02:33 PM   |  A+A-

Iconic management guru and Harvard Business School Professor Clay Christensen and his co-authors Taddy Hall, Karen Dillon and David Clay in their scholarly book Competing Against Luck: The Story of Innovation and Customer Choice lay down a path-breaking way for organisations to uncork their latest ‘jobs to be done’ theory. Complimenting Clay’s theory of ‘Disruptive Innovation’ which is about competitive response to innovation, the ‘jobs to be done’ theory is about the need for organisations to understand the fact that customers don’t buy a product or service but they hire them to do a job.

His co-authored article for the Harvard Business Review using his colleague and legendary Theodore  Levitt’s quote,  “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole!”  Clay’s corporate examples like Amazon, Intuit, Uber, Airbnb, Chobani yogurt, etc. are exemplary. What magnetically attracted me was the Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) story.

Education also serves its customers with products and services. Products in the form of degrees and services in the form of training, research,  consultancy, etc. The SNHU was lauded by many publications as one of the most innovative colleges in the US. It distinguished its product and service by serving the non-consumption (distance education) customer moving away from the traditional bread and butter model. They knew which side of the bread needs to be buttered or served a new breakfast menu with a laser focus to provide the students who have hired SNHU.

The core in the ‘jobs to be done’ theory is the idea that customer hire products and services for a specific job to be done and either continue to hire or look for new options. The full batch of graduates or other services that universities and higher education institutions offer fit into this description. Graduates are hired for a specific job and not for their flashy degrees. Services are hired for fit expertise and not for fat research budget or grants. Institutions that begin to understand the evolving ‘jobs to be done’ theory of corporate recruiters, job providers and service consumers are the ones who can differentiate and transform successfully.  

Recently, McKinsey’s poll found though 84 percent of global executives reported that innovation was extremely important to their growth strategies, a staggering 94 percent were dissatisfied with their organisations’ innovation path that fell short of ambitions. In higher education, it’s not the falling share of innovation but the falling levels of ambitions that is concerning. There cannot be a time more appropriate than now to demystify the purpose and produce of higher education. All universities cannot be successful in teaching, research, consultancy, skills, distance education, etc. A blinded pathway that provides a roadmap for universities to do all of these will lead to a cul-de-sac.

Universities need to unbundle themselves and be hired for a specific purpose and continuously reinvent or innovate their purpose and delivery mechanism. The ‘jobs to be done’ theory re-brands a university’s purpose—elite university, mass university, niche university, the local university, lifelong-learning mechanism, etc. The Institute of Public Policy Research that identified these new models have found a new partner endorsing it: Jobs to be done theory.


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