Last weekend, I went on a college campus tour with my twin daughters. During the visit, the admissions director said something that stunned both prospective students and their parents: “Not all of you need to go to college.”

Perhaps given the nature of the visit, it was a bit shocking to hear. But he is not alone in his thinking: there are a growing number of articles written about micro-certifications and apprenticeships. Additionally, a growing number of large corporations are saying college degrees are not required. But before I could even consider those factors, his question to the kids hit me hard: “Why do you want to go to college?” I thought that was a great question and I told my girls that they should really give that some serious consideration.

After all, college students are really customers of these institutions. What job are students “hiring” colleges to do? This “jobs-to-be-done” theory can apply to higher education, as well as our own businesses.

Understanding customer jobs

PB-US-Blog-inline-jobI recently read an article about education that addressed the admission director’s question, but from the school’s perspective: Do Colleges Truly Understand What Students Want From Them? It puts a spotlight on the fact that universities have an obligation to acknowledge “the job that has to be done” is based on the mindset of the student applying. The article leverages strategic research done by Clayton Christensen and others, which appears in the book, Competing Against Luck. This research concluded “the long-held maxim – that the crux of innovation is knowing more and more about the customer – is wrong. Customers don’t simply buy products or services; they ‘hire’ them to do a job. Understanding customers does not drive innovation success. Understanding customer jobs does.”

What job does your company do for your customers?

This is the question we should be asking ourselves in our modern-day, adult version of college consideration. Just like the admissions director asked my daughters why they want to go to college and what do they want college to do for them, we need to ask ourselves: Why do our customers buy from us and what job do we do for them?

Yes, they may be buying a product or service, but ultimately, there is a job they want (expect!) it to do for them. Are we delivering on the job our customers hired us for?

When we truly understand the job to be done, it can help us make changes to our offerings – those changes may be small, but they will always be significant to our customer. It may also help us differentiate ourselves in ways our competition hasn’t even considered, because we’re looking to create experiences that help customers make the progress they seek, while aligning our processes with the job to be done.

Worth your while

I will tell you what I told my daughters – think about it. Take it seriously. It’s an exercise well worth your time that will pay dividends in the long run.


Want more Al?

Ask Al a question or book him to speak at your next event.

He's spoken all over the world about industry dynamics and global talent management, leadership, business strategy, change management and work-life integration.

Ask Al
Al Chiaradonna