Jobs to Be Done Theory

The theory that helps innovators understand how and why people make decisions.

Target illustration

Definition

Jobs to Be Done is a lens that reveals the circumstances—or forces—that drive people and organizations toward and away from decisions. 

While conventional marketing focuses on market demographics or product attributes, Jobs to Be Done Theory (JTBD or Jobs Theory) goes beyond superficial categories to expose the functional, social, and emotional dimensions that explain why people make the choices they do. 

Everyone has Jobs to Be Done in their lives—the progress they’re trying to make as they strive toward a goal or aspiration within particular circumstances.

We call these Jobs because just as people hire contractors to help them build houses or lawyers to build a case, people “hire” products or services when “jobs” arise in their lives.

Forces of Progress

Unique Insight

People don’t simply buy or pick products or services; they pull them into their lives to make progress.

Explainer

What’s the value of applying a Jobs to Be Done Theory lens? And how does it compare to using demographic data, market assumptions, and competitive analyses? Check out our video to find out.

Case Studies

A decade ago, Bob Moesta, was hired to help bolster sales of new condominiums for a Detroit-area building company. The company had targeted retirees and divorced single parents with prices that appealed to that segment with high-end touches like granite countertops and stainless steel appliances to give a sense of luxury. Lots of time and money were invested in a sales team and marketing campaigns.

The units got lots of foot traffic, but few visits ended up converting to sales. Maybe bay windows would be better? That’s what focus groups said, so the architect scrambled to add bay windows and other details to a few showcase units. Still, sales didn’t improve.

So, Moesta took a Jobs to Be Done approach: He set out to learn from the people who had bought units what job they were hiring the condominiums to do, and the conversations revealed an unusual clue: the dining room table. Prospective customers repeatedly told the company they didn’t need a formal dining room. And yet, in Moesta’s conversations with actual buyers, the dining room table came up repeatedly. “People kept saying, ‘As soon as I figured out what to do with my dining room table, then I was free to move,’” says Moesta. The table represented family. 

What was stopping buyers from making the decision to move, he hypothesized, was not a feature that the construction company had failed to offer, but rather, the anxiety that came with giving up something that had profound meaning. “I went in thinking they were in the business of new-home construction,” Moesta recalls. “But I realized they were in the business of moving lives.”

Illustration of furniture in a room

With this understanding of the Job to Be Done, dozens of small but important changes were made to the offering, including larger dining rooms. The company also focused on easing the anxiety of the move itself: It provided moving services, two years’ worth of storage, and a sorting room within the condo development where new owners could take their time making decisions about what to discard.

The new offering changed everything. The company raised prices by $3,500, which included (profitably) covering the cost of moving and storage. By 2007, when industry sales were down  49%, the developers had actually grown business by 25%.

Forty percent of first-time, full-time postsecondary students fail to graduate from four-year programs within six years. 74% of postsecondary students either transfer or drop out. And over 50% of alumni report that their college experience disappointed them.

In his years of immersion within education systems, Michael B. Horn came to understand that among the reasons for these poor outcomes is that institutions have failed to understand why people are attending college. Put another way, they haven’t considered the Job to Be Done that individuals have when they enroll. 

Alongside Bob Moesta, Horn conducted research over several years and drew on more than 200 detailed stories of students making the decision to attend some form of postsecondary education—from four-year universities and community colleges, to online universities and coding bootcamps—and analyzed the data to discover why people “hire” postsecondary education.

Illustration of college students walking

There are five Jobs to Be Done when hiring postsecondary education, and each is filled with functional and emotional forces that push and pull people to make decisions. For example, if I get another degree, I’ll get a raise that justifies the cost. Or if I go to college, then I can do what’s expected of me by my family. 

Today’s postsecondary schools and programs need to identify which Job they will serve and the experiences they must offer to help people be successful in that Job. In other words, they have to decide what to be good—and bad—at. Until then, the sector’s results will continue to disappoint—and students, employers, and society will pay the price.

Infographic: The 5 Jobs of Postsecondary Education

  1. Help Me Get Into My Best School
    Students: Want the classic college experience in hopes of reinventing themselves. And yet, they’ve rarely thought about what they’ll do once enrolled. For them, making progress is all about getting accepted.
    Institutions: Many colleges are set up well for this Job. But skyrocketing costs are limiting the performance of a high-touch experience.
  2. Help Me Do What’s Expected of Me
    Students: Looking to satisfy someone else’s expectations of them—like parents, friends, etc. They see school as the next logical step in their journey. They also don’t have—or can’t see—other options. They believe a degree will provide a safety net.
    Institutions: Consider counseling students into a gap year or structure yourself as a ‘transfer college’—a short-term destination that helps students get into the right school for them.
  3. Help Me Get Away
    Students: Looking to get away from their day job; break a current habit; or leave home and their family, town, or a relationship. They’re looking for a fresh start with a support system and to check a box with a degree.
    Institutions: Revamp your first-year program to help students build passions and learn what they do—and don’t—like.
  4. Help Me Step It Up
    Students: Want to leave their current circumstances and are ready to invest resources to improve prospects. They believe practical skills or certifications will help them get back on track.
    Institutions: Create pathways that move students through a clear, convenient fixed set of learning experiences that result in students’ desired outcomes.
  5. Help Me Extend Myself
    Students: Looking to challenge themselves in pursuit of a bolder vision for their life. Life is OK, but they’re now able to make the time and allocate the budget to pursue practical skills or certifications.
    Institutions: Make your program as low risk as possible to encourage people to enroll and align program experiences with the highly emotional reasons students are attending.

Click the image to download and check out our resource library for additional content.

Infographic: The Five Jobs of Higher Education

These insights are part of Michael B. Horn and Bob Moesta’s book, Choosing College: How to Make Better Learning Decisions Throughout Your Life. Learn more here.

Illustration of a milkshake

Morning milkshakes

A fast food restaurant discovered customers were hiring milkshakes for different Jobs throughout the day. In the morning, it was to satiate hunger, make their drive more interesting, and easily hold food in the car. In the afternoon, the shake was a treat for their kids. Turns out, the competition wasn’t other fast food milkshakes; rather,bananas and bagels vs. other kids’ treats.

Illustration of a bag of money

Tedious taxes

A tax software company thought customers wanted deeper insights on how to maximize their refund, so they built a robust platform. However, the complexity led to an increasing amount of time customers had to spend with the software. A Jobs to Be Done analysis revealed the main Job for many customers was to spend less time on their taxes—an insight that led to product simplification and resulted in an increase in sales. 

Helpful Tools

Infographic: Three critical must-knows

Jobs to Be Done (JTBD) is a lens that reveals the circumstances—or forces—that drive people and organizations toward and away from decisions. Here are 3 critical considerations to keep in mind!

A person or organization can have multiple “jobs”

Jobs incorporate functional, social, and emotional forces at play in decision-making.

Example: A person hiring a new home may have the job: “Help me have a space large enough for my expanding family” (functional). Their job may also be: “Help me feel like I have achieved a milestone in my life” (emotional).

Jobs can change over time or as needs or goals are met or unmet.

Circumstances are subject to change.

Example: When a school district implements a new technology, the job of leadership could be: “Help me remain compliant with state funding.” Over time, as the district discovers best practices and increasing teacher approval of the tech toward improving student outcomes, the district’s job may change to: “Help me be an innovative leader among districts in my state.”

Jobs is not asking why someone made their decision.

JTBD methodology is about uncovering a story and discovering underlying circumstances common across specific groups of individuals.

Example: Standard market research may ask someone why they purchase a Milkshake from a drive-through, and answers typically focus on flavor. However, JTBD may reveal that the circumstances driving decision-making in many customers’ days are, in fact: “Help me relieve stress with an easy-to-hold snack.”

Infographic: 3 Critical Must-Knows about Jobs To Be Done Theory

At the Clayton Christensen Institute, we’re using Jobs to Be Done Theory to:

Help Nigerians access electricity

Nigeria has the largest energy deficit in the world. Because solar energy is affordable long-term and renewable, it’s  considered one of the main ways Nigeria could reach its electricity goals. But adoption of solar energy is slow-going. Understanding why solar energy adoption isn’t happening as quickly as one would expect through the lens of Jobs to Be Done will help innovators better address these barriers and develop solar products and services that better fit the functional, emotional, and social needs of Nigerians.

Support innovative health care business leaders

What do people really want from health care? In her podcast, “Life-Centered Health Care,” Ann Somers Hogg chats with Jay Gerhart, Vice President, Innovation Engine at Atrium Health about how understanding patients’, consumers’, and customers’ Jobs to Be Done can help health care providers and leaders understand what their patients really want.

microschools

Understand the growing demand for microschools

Public school districts across the US have lost over one million students since 2020. Meanwhile, novel educational models—such as microschools and hybrid homeschooling—have more than doubled their enrollments. What’s driving families to new learning environments? Interviews with parents who recently moved their children to microschools uncovered three Jobs to Be Done.

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