The work of the future will be designed around the “job to be done”

Thinking about the future of work requires a number of changes in perspective. We saw earlier, for example, that we should already start thinking in terms of the person who works! Today we are going to talk about a subject that affects the quality of the work provided, customer satisfaction and employee commitment: the importance of the “job to be done”.

But before going any further I think it is necessary to clarify this notion.

In a few words:

Jobs-to-be-Done Theory provides a framework for defining, categorizing, capturing, and organizing all your customers’ needs.

Or else

JOBS-TO-BE-DONE is best defined as a perspective — a lens through which you can observe markets, customers, needs, competitors, and customer segments differently, and by doing so, make innovation far more predictable and profitable.

So you’re going to tell me that we’re talking about innovation, marketing and that it has nothing to do here. On the contrary.

I see a double interest in this.

1°) In the above definition replace the word customer by employee and you will start to get an idea.

2°) And even in its original sense, this notion has a considerable impact on work, especially in the service sector. When you innovate in the product, you also innovate in the way you deliver it. Unfortunately, even in companies that practice it, marketing innovation that impacts people’s work is done without any consultation with HR and without any interest on their part.

So let’s look at this through the prism of the forces shaping the future of work in 2022.

The pandemic

No impact here. For once.


No impact here. For once, too.


Here we are at the heart of the matter.

If we apply the JTBD theory in the strict sense, it allows us to innovate in products and services by sticking to the needs of the customers. This has an impact on the way we deliver them.

If we push the logic a little further and apply it to employees, it also makes sense: understand the ultimate goal assigned to them to put them in the best position to achieve it.

In fact, the two can be usefully combined. I have already explained to you how, in setting up a management delivery model, we start from the promise made to the customer and then deduce what the customer expects from the employee, then what the employee should expect from his manager and the company, and so on.

Some people will tell me that this is obvious and that companies already work like this, but this is not true.

When assessing a person’s competencies, one checks a list of items that are independent of each other but not the ultimate goal to which they contribute.

A very basic example that makes it easy to understand: serving coffee. A basic task that requires no qualifications? What if we say that if it is served in the company’s cafeteria it is an element of the employee experience? What if you thought that in a hotel, such a basic action should embody the company’s know-how and provide a real experience for the customer? That changes everything.

I remember a person working in the hospitality sector who once told me “I’m not looking for people who serve coffee but people who serve customers“. The former are dedicated to a task, the latter have really understood what their mission is.

And for something as simple as “satisfying a customer through the service of a coffee” to happen, there are many things that are not in the hands of the person serving him. A quality product, a quality machine, a barista who knows his job, an order well taken and well transmitted. This is the difference between a job and a Job To Be Done. Because the customer who ordered the coffee expects more than a black beverage in a cup and that’s what we have to understand.

This applies everywhere, in all professions, in all companies, with different levels of complexity.

And to prove definitively that this notion is totally ignored in most companies try to answer honestly the following three questions:

1°) Do the employees have everything they need to do their job in terms of internal organization, collaboration, tools, managerial support?

2°) Do 100% of the tasks they are asked to perform contribute to this goal?

3°) If HR knows the jobs, tasks and responsibilities of each function, do they know what this ultimately contributes to at the customer level?

Once again, it is necessary to think of work not as an individual activity composed of tasks but as a whole including several people, operating procedures, tools, etc.

A collaborator is not an isolated person who performs tasks by applying skills, but is immersed in a context within which he contributes directly or indirectly to the satisfaction of a customer need.

The problem with purely HR approaches to the future of work is that they are only interested in the individual/task/competence triptych and not at all in the final objective.

It is by treating, in a certain way, the employee as a customer that we will help to better satisfy the customer, whether it is internal or external, and therefore that the company will best accomplish its mission and reach its objectives.

I will end with a caricatural, imperfect, but explicit example. Every day, we see products and services arrive on the market to allow us, as customers, to do our “job to be done”. Sometimes there were previously things that allowed us to almost do it but totally in the way we needed to do it. It is in this gap that companies are jumping in, sometimes transforming a market and taking a major competitive advantage over others.

So take Uber. There used to be plenty of ways to get a car with a driver to get from one place to another. But not with an app. But not by paying with the app. But not by following the driver’s route. But not by being able to share the fare in one click with a friend. But not by sharing the status of your ride with the person who was waiting for you.

We had cabs but we needed Uber.

In many companies it’s a bit like that: to do their job they give employees cabs (or what they used to be) when they need Ubers. It’s almost the same thing, it’s about the same thing so it’s okay. Well no it’s not ok, it’s the difference between an employee who is fully supported in their work and one who is almost. Between a company that is efficient and one that is almost efficient.

In terms of Job to Be Done Uber and cabs are almost the same. But the almost revolutionized an industry.

The evolution of society and economy

Little impact here but I see the idea emerging among some (too few) leaders that businesses become a “service” for their employees. Not just a structure that organizes work but a structure that supports employees in their mission.

Here again, this is a very logical development: one cannot live as an individual in a service society and no longer receive services as soon as one walks through the office door to deliver them to clients.

While a simplification effort is essential for companies to remain competitive, redesigning work starting from internal and external customers will allow to start again from a blank sheet of paper, to remove unnecessary burdens, to create the necessary context for success and to reposition the company in a role of support for the success of its employees, of “enabler”.

Last point: I often mention Six Simple Rules: How to Manage Complexity without Getting Complicated by Yves Morieux which is one of my favorite books. What is the first rule the author suggests to make the company less complicated? Understand what employees really do on a daily basis. Today many know what they are supposed to do, many imagine what they do, few really know what they do and even fewer know what they think they should really do.

The transformation of service activities and knowledge work

There is no impact here except that while companies invest a lot in terms of customer experience and product/service innovation, the gap between the promise made to the customer and the context in which the employee is put to keep it is widening.

Bottom line

The idea behind Job To Be Done is originally to understand the needs of customers and markets in order to innovate and satisfy them, and as everything that happens on the customer side eventually happens on the employee side, there is no doubt that this notion will catch on. And the sooner the better.

Today, work is defined as much by the business and its constraints as by the needs of the employee and the promise made to the customer. Or even more.

In fact, that’s not quite true. When you get closer to the field, to the customer, a manager and team have this understanding that customer satisfaction requires more than just the completion of a certain number of tasks at an individual level. Their problem is that they are not always free to implement whatever they feel is necessary to achieve this.

The so-called support functions provide a framework and it is up to the employees to work with or against this framework. Another example of the unproductivity of organizational complication.

These constraints are more often imposed by HR and IT, but depending on the activity, by other functions as well. Some of them are totally legitimate and justified, others are less so, as they consist in making the operational staff bear part of their own workload and are constraints that the business gives itself by habit and bureaucratic heritage.

I’ll use my example with Uber and cabs… the business says “we have this on hand, maybe we can do better but it’s almost the job so it’ll do and anyway we’ve always done it this way“. The employee says “This doesn’t fit what I need to accomplish…it drops me off 1km from my house, I have to draw cash to pay and I have to finish on foot“.

Thus, the organization and the content of the work are even more thought out according to the internal constraints rather than the mission of the business, of the employee and thus, beyond the expectations of the customer which are nevertheless the reason for living of the business as much as its condition of survival.

The future of work will be built around the success of customers and the employees who serve them. Provided we want to understand them and put the whole organization at their service. They must be the center of gravity of the business, not its internal functions which tend to become their own raison d’être.

1Forces shaping the future of work in 2022
2The future of work is about…work and its future
3The future of work is not a promise or a dream
4The future of work is not a place or a time of day
5Future of pay and compensation: speaking the same language, paying in real time, making sense.
6The future of work: simple by nature, simple by obligation(coming soon)
7The future of work only the result is watched
8The future of work will rely on data and continuous improvement
9The future of work will be “agile by design”
10Management in the future of work: digital leadership and systemic approach to management
11In the future of work, engagement is measured in relation to the work, not the companny or the people
12Career management in the future of work: the art of adapting to the unpredictable
13In the future of work the employee experience is a background task, not a program
14The future of “care” at work: useful and productive
15The work of the future will be designed for humans
16The work of the future will be designed according to the “job to be done”
17The future of work will be automated with relevance
18In the future of work the mental load is the new workload
19The social link in the future of work: weaker, stronger
20The future of work will be digitally responsible
21But who is in charge of the future of work?

Image : job to be done by fizkes via Shutterstock

Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler
Head of People and Business Delivery @Emakina / Former consulting director / Crossroads of people, business and technology / Speaker / Compulsive traveler

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