So perhaps this sounds like a ridiculous title because of course, you know the job you need to do – you make or read slides, you run tests and produce results, you provide reports, you teach, you run experiments to answer research questions, you process the zillions of paperwork that the university and the government requires, you answer the phones and field questions – we all do our jobs every day and we don’t get fired, so of course we know the job we need to do.
Well, maybe not. I recently read an article by a professor at the Harvard Business School, Clayton Christensen, who is an expert on “jobs-to-be-done theory” and its role in business success and innovation.1 He points out that jobs are complex and multi-faceted, and never simply about function. The actual “job” is what your client/customer is really seeking to accomplish in a given circumstance – and this usually includes powerful social and emotional components. Dr. Christensen gives the example of a home builder who couldn’t figure out why their condos built for down-sizing empty-nesters weren’t selling, despite the high-end finishes and amenities. The builders were surprised to discover that the small formal dining room was the reason – though a dining room was perceived by the builders as unimportant since this room is infrequently used, feedback from potential buyers showed that they wanted a dining room large enough to gather extended family and friends for holidays. In fact, potential buyers indicated that they didn’t want to have to sell their existing dining room furniture to fit into the condo – the table that they had celebrated at for decades was seen as important to keep. This was the real “job to be done” for the condo builders: Maintaining family gatherings and traditions, even when down-sizing.
Identifying the truly relevant “job to be done” behind the work in our department intrigues me since it likely isn’t what we think it is. I can’t say that I have the answers, but I do have some thoughts. In our clinical work, for example, I think that an important “job to be done” is to reduce anxiety related to patient care. As we all know, 70+% of all medical decisions are based on laboratory results – therefore, patients and clinicians experience a significant anxiety-filled void until the information provided by our laboratory is received. This anxiety is at the root of the complaints we receive and the pressure we experience for rapid turnaround time, accurate results, and understandable reports. Reducing this anxiety is the reason for our existence as a department and as professionals within our medical center. We may not fully appreciate that providing a report is not enough to accomplish this “job to be done.” Clinicians and patients need more from us through all phases of the test cycle — collection, analysis, and afterward – since better understanding the process and the final product helps to reduce their anxiety. How can we do that? And is this the value we need to provide as we move to value-based reimbursement and patient-centered care?
Likewise, in education and research, what is the real job to be done? Our medical center “hires” us to do a teaching job for our residents and CLS students – but is this just about how to perform the analyses and issue reports? More likely, they hire us to meet our community’s social and emotional needs for a pipeline of expert laboratory professionals who will fight disease and improve health. Likewise, external funding agencies are “hiring” creativity from our researchers to discover new knowledge that will meet the social and emotional need to keep our nation healthy. Recognizing the real “job to be done” can help better identify thematic topics, focus grant proposals, and provide the social and emotional connections that will inspire a reviewer and potentially increase success in obtaining research funding.
Appreciating the “job to be done” seems to be in the air. Twice in the last month, I heard the same story about a passerby who asked three workers at a city construction site what they were doing. The first worker responded that he was laying bricks and the second said he was earning a living for his family – all true statements that reflect their function. But the third said he was helping to create a civilization since the building would stand for decades, maybe even centuries, to serve as a gathering place for the communities that lived there. This story was shared as an example of finding higher meaning in one’s work — a wonderful message. But I also think the story is a great example of identifying the real “job to be done” – i.e, the social and emotional dimensions that help shape effective roles and a high-functioning workplace. I’m interested in hearing your ideas on the real “jobs to be done” in the different parts of our department so that we can better align what we do with the needs of those we serve. Please share your ideas here, or share with your supervisor or colleagues, or send me an e-mail – I’d love to hear from you.
Christensen CM, Hall T, Dillon K, Duncan DS. Know your customers’ jobs to be done. Harvard Business Review, September 2016; pp. 54-62. https://hbr.org/2016/09/know-your-customers-jobs-to-be-done (Accessed August 21, 2016)