politicians and policy

How those in power can leverage Jobs Theory for health

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Sep 8, 2022

Amidst reversals in access to women’s health care services, an ongoing formula shortage, higher rates of school shootings, declining life expectancy, and recent news that many companies are pulling back on parental leave (in the only high-income country without national paid leave), one wonders how much more bad health news the US can handle. 

While the nation has demonstrated its capacity to handle quite a lot over the past two and a half years, our health is paying a price. Specifically, our mental health is bearing the crux of the load, and this is having downstream consequences on our overall health. After all, we know behavioral health issues are associated with increased chronic diseases

For parents in the US, the pandemic exacerbated mental health challenges. This is understandable in years characterized by failure to meet many of the foundational needs at the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy. With basic health needs not being met, one wonders how much longer parents can tolerate the environment. 

And regardless of political affiliation, many would agree we have a lot of ground to cover to make the US a more attractive place to raise a healthy family. So how might we achieve that goal? 

In this piece, I’ll look at how our leaders and elected officials could benefit from reframing the focus of their agendas and efforts around the basic health progress parents seek. If they shift their focus to one that maximizes serving citizens’ health-related Jobs to Be Done, multiple generations—and the nation as a whole—will benefit. 

Jobs to Be Done

A job is the progress someone seeks in a given situation. It has two parts: the context or situation in which the individual finds themselves, and the progress or goal they are seeking. When a job arises, individuals pull products and/or services into their lives to get that job done. 

Effectively, they “hire” those products or services to serve their job. If something comes along that does the job better, they will fire the old way, and hire the new one. Jobs uncover the causality behind people’s behaviors.  

Companies—or countries—serving these Jobs have three main considerations in order to serve people’s desired progress effectively. First, they must understand the Job, which includes functional, emotional, and social dimensions. Next, they must determine what experiences are required to help people do the job perfectly. Lastly, they must organize their resources and processes in a way that allows them to deliver those experiences and help their customers or citizens nail their Job to Be Done. 

The power of Jobs Theory is that it enables leaders to understand why people behave the way they do and to uncover how to help them achieve their goals. It helps companies, or in this case politicians, set themselves apart in the marketplace and enhance their competitiveness. Therefore, Jobs Theory and the interviewing methodology and analysis that underpins it is a vital tool in any politician’s toolkit. 

Yet, when it comes to addressing health-related goals, this tool hasn’t been leveraged. 

How politicians can use Jobs Theory to improve health 

When the basic health needs at the base of Maslow’s Hierarchy aren’t being met, political messages about issues higher up the ladder fall on deaf ears and leave citizens dissatisfied. As Maslow lays out, one cannot seek to optimize belonging and esteem needs if basic psychological, physiological, and safety needs aren’t met. At a unique time in our history, politicians and elected officials have the opportunity to reframe their efforts and promises around parents’ basic health-related Jobs to Be Done. 

To understand parents’ jobs, politicians and their teams would do well to perform numerous interviews to uncover and understand what people truly desire. In this process they would identify the struggles that people encounter, and what they are currently hiring to get their health-related jobs done. They would also uncover the nonconsumption and workarounds that people are employing—for example with the formula shortage. And in these customer stories of workarounds and struggling moments, politicians could uncover potential for innovations. 

The application of theory in this situation is a great fit, given politicians have a competency in going where their citizens are, listening to their struggles, and then developing agendas to serve them. Lately, many of the basic survival and health needs at the base of the Hierarchy have either been diminished, abolished, or underfunded, leaving citizens—and especially parents—to go it alone. 

But there is a better path forward for our health and our nation. To support the health of American parents, leaders can uncover their health-related jobs. And if they did, they would develop policy responses that focused on safe and consistent access to formula, guaranteed safety at school, and more, rather than issues higher up the Hierarchy. 

These focus areas are not divided across party lines. For example, a recent national survey highlighted that the majority of parents, by a wide margin, express satisfaction with what is being taught in schools—regardless of political affiliation. 

Nationally, our focus is misplaced. Jobs can help us reground ourselves in the health progress citizens seek. The resulting outcomes might be just what most are hoping for: better access to care, improved mental and physical health, the ability to consistently feed one’s child, and knowing kids can be sent to school safely. Most would agree these improved health outcomes are desirable, and application of Jobs Theory by those in power can help us achieve them. 

Ann Somers Hogg is a senior research fellow at the Christensen Institute. She focuses on business model innovation and disruption in health care, including how to transform a sick care system to one that values and incentivizes total health.