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What is your school website “hired” to do?

Understanding the real purpose your website needs to accomplish

Cartoon characters holding flag that says Get the Job

I recently read a book called “Competing Against Luck” by Clayton Christensen of Harvard Business School. It produced a plethora of “ah-ha” moments for me and applies to schools and education in general. It introduces the “Jobs-to-be-Done” theory, which has been around for about 20 years now and is applied by businesses to inform their strategy, marketing, and innovation. Christensen’s earlier book called “The Innovators Dilemma” set business management on its head and introduced the term “disruptive innovation.” A more recent book is “Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns.” Or, if you’re more video-inclined, watch his session at the 2017 National Summit on Educational Reform.

Since strategy, marketing, and innovation are all vital for education to keep pace in today’s digital world and to keep our nation’s students competitive (and employed), I was intrigued. School administrators should be as well. 

What is “Jobs Theory” anyway?

People pay for a service or product to get a “job” done. The example used in the book was that when you buy a drill, you actually don’t need a drill, you need a hole. The functional job you are hiring for is to make a hole.

Yes, jobs are functional, but they also include emotional and social components that influence our satisfaction with our purchasing choices. So, to look at what we do through the eyes of our customers, we need to understand what job our customers need accomplished. This perspective can change our ideas about what that service should be or provide us with ideas for a new, more effective approach to getting the job done. 

To return for a moment to our example of the job of needing a hole, the emotional and social aspects might include convenience, time required, difficulty, cost, accuracy, flexibility, or the weight of the device used to make the hole. This realization inspires innovation and creativity. 

There are now many innovative solutions for making a hole, including: when it isn’t near an electrical outlet, the flexibility of getting holes of various sizes, a solution that is lightweight and portable, a variety of cost choices, or those with a light attached so we can see what we are doing even in the dark. Voila! Ingenuity at its finest. So, we went from a sharp rock spun between the hands to a hand-crank drill to a DeWalt lithium-ion compact 2-speed cordless drill.

Jobs-to-be-done in K-12 education

Consider this generalized K-12 educational example: Parents (our customers) are seeking the best educational environment for their children (the job they need done). This group and this job are what constitutes our “market.” Our goal is to provide services that accomplish the task that meets our customer needs. 

So, that is our functional job, but there are also emotional and social components we must consider. Our customers may also want their children to feel enthusiastic about learning, to fit in with their peers, to get a scholarship, to be popular, or they may want to feel like they are fantastic parents whose kids get into the best colleges (or land a good paying job or are contributing members of society). All of these components factor into how those customers feel about the job being done and should influence how you’ll approach the situation at your school.

Typically, jobs-to-be-done remain stable over the long haul. It is the solutions that change and evolve to better accomplish the job over time. So, we can’t just ask our customers what solution we should provide. They don’t know what they don’t know. 

If you asked folks in 1907 how they could get from point A to point B faster, they would have told you they needed a faster horse. Then the Model T came along in 1908. The job didn’t change, but the solution certainly did, and it accomplished the task faster. Talk about innovation!

When you look at the job instead of the solution, it can be quite mind-blowing because you can think out of the box and address the many emotional and social concerns rather than just the current functional concerns.

What our customers do know is what job they want done. But, that means we have to understand not just the functional role, but that those social and emotional influences are critical to success as well. Disruptive innovation comes about when we know, really know, what the job-to-be-done is in the minds of our customers (in our example, is parents of PreK-12 school-age children).

I’m not about to take on the task of discussing all educational jobs-to-be-done in this blog, but I will use the example of school websites and use jobs theory to analyze this one seemingly small aspect of a PreK-12 school’s service.

What is a school website’s job-to-be-done? Are we improving/investing/innovating in ways that are irrelevant to the job schools or administrators are hiring a website, social media, public relations service to do?

Let’s look at school websites

We could debate this, but at a high level, we can probably all agree your school website’s job is to provide current, engaging information about your school to your customers. It is there to help them make a decision (when you want to increase enrollment) or to reassure them you’re doing a great job (for parents of currently enrolled students) and to keep them informed and build confidence and trust (for both prospective and currently enrolled customers). You have several groups of customers (so it gets more complicated and has more than one job), like parents, potential new hires, community members, taxpayers, students, and alumni. 

However, your primary customer is likely to be parents. It will be either the parents of the students enrolled in your school or prospective parents whose students you’d like to have enrolled in your school. Again, two different jobs, so we’ll start with existing parents for our job-to-be-done discussion. Here are the questions you must answer:

  1. What is the job my school website needs to do for parents of enrolled students? This job will include the functional, emotional, and social dimensions.
  2. What experiences must we provide to do the job perfectly?
  3. What and how will we integrate to provide the perfect job?
  4. How can we brand our school so when a parent needs this job done, they will find us here at "insert your school’s name here"?

Functional jobs

So, what is the job-to-be-done for a school website? Here are a few functional jobs on which your website is typically expected to deliver:

  • Geographic and statistical information. This might include your address (including city and state), size of your school (number of students, student-teacher ratios, attendance boundaries, towns or communities serviced, grades, etc.)
  • Contact information. Where, when, and how to contact you would include phone numbers, email addresses (for the various departments, schools, and staff members), hours of availability, school addresses/locations, registration and enrollment requirements/forms/processes/deadlines, and school start and end dates, etc.
  • Requirements. What are your enrollment requirements or restrictions? Are there required costs or tuitions? Age limits? Prerequisites for classes or curriculum? Eligibility standards for sports, clubs, or other extra-curricular activities? 
  • Emergency information. What emergency procedures do students or parents need to know in the event of a school closure, illness outbreak, dangerous on-site situation, or health or injury requirements? Who is allowed to be on campus and are there restrictions? What emergency information do you require parents supply to the school?
  • Events and Activities. This may be as simple as a current calendar for the days your school is in session, when there are scheduled activities like testing or early release, sporting events, parent/teacher conferences, open houses, etc. Is it in a convenient, intuitive place so parents can quickly get to the typical information they might need to support their child’s education and their day-to-day activities? Is it current and accurate?

Social and emotional jobs

In addition to these examples of functional jobs, recognizing and understanding the emotional and social components of any functional job will show you valuable insights that will resonate with your customers at a much deeper level. What are some of the social and emotional jobs your website needs to deliver? Ideally, your school’s website should also provide information and convincing evidence in some of these areas (or whatever areas you identify as the job you need to do for your customers, which will vary from school to school, even grade to grade):

  • Inclusive. Will my child be welcomed, cared for, loved, protected, and engaged at this school? Will my child fit in, make friends, and learn to love learning? Do I see evidence of this through the stories, videos, testimonials, and examples on the website?
  • Successful. Will my child gain the necessary skills and knowledge to get a successful job, go on to college, become a contributing member of society, recognize his/her potential, become enthusiastic about his/her future, learn to think and reason for him/herself? (Or whatever definition of success parents might have for students attending your school.)
  • Supportive. Will this school be supportive of my role as a parent or guardian? Will it welcome my participation? Do its values and standards match those of my worldview and expectations for success? Will it allow my input and care about my child’s needs and progress? Will its teachers partner with me to help my child reach their highest potential?
  • Accessible. Is your website accessible to everyone, regardless of disability or device used? This means it must be ADA compliant and mobile-responsive so you aren’t making it more difficult or impossible for your website to do its job (which includes the examples listed above).

How does your school’s website measure up to the job to be done?

As you can see from the examples above, there is a lot that goes into making sure your school website is doing the job you’ve hired it to do. It might be functionally capable of all of these features (but if it isn’t, look again at the functional list above and start there). If it is in great shape functionally, then the next step is to look at the social and emotional aspects of your website’s job-to-be-done.

A school website doing its job requires creating and delivering on a strategic plan for communications, marketing, public relations, and customer service—all of which your website is ideally suited to deliver on, especially when used in conjunction with social media platforms. 

You can meet the social and emotional needs (using our jobs-to-be-done example list from above) by adding the following strategies to your website management:

Communications

To fulfill the jobs your customers are looking to hire your school to do, most will fall under the communications umbrella. A communications strategy focused on accomplishing those jobs is the goal. So, the first step is, of course, to determine what a particular job is. But, for our purposes here, we’ll again use our list from above as possible jobs your school is hired to do and give you some ideas to get the job done:

  • Inclusivity. The job you identify parents as needing to hire a school to do is to find a school that provides an environment where their child feels included, valued, accepted, or as part of your school’s tribe. Assuming you have such a school culture, the website and your social media become the perfect vehicles to show evidence to parents looking to hire for this job that your school fits the bill. Solutions are stories from students about how they feel; maybe stories about how they were afraid they wouldn’t fit in but your school removed this fear. These could be student success stories (and in this case, they might define success as feeling accepted and included) that are shared regularly, videos, testimonials, and quotes by students, parents, and alumni. Your communications and marketing strategy would consist of ongoing efforts to gather and share these stories as proof.
  • Educational success. As above, you will use stories and add stats to those stories to prove how your school does the job parents are looking to hire a school for. Using your website and social media, you can share your successes in areas like graduation rates, athletic or academic college scholarships, school rankings, etc. Gather stories from teachers and students that you can share, and don’t forget to interview alumni and let them share how your school helped them achieve their goals too.
  • Supportive. If one of the jobs your customers are looking to fill is a supportive, inviting school where parents are encouraged to be involved with their child’s education, share with them the ways you make this possible. You probably already offer back-to-school events or open house nights, but what about expanding that inclusion with events like family game nights, family movie night, or hosting a parenting group? Then, get the word out with your website news articles, social media, and video.
  • Accessibility. In addition to making sure your website is accessible by keeping it ADA compliant for those with disabilities, look at your staff and administrative accessibility. Do you have times when your staff and administration are available to parents or students to stop by, ask questions, or visit? Is your culture inviting and welcoming? If so, show examples through your website, social media, and by example. Acknowledge staff who are rock stars at being accessible, so others know what goals to strive for. Of course, be the example you expect of others (whether you are an administrator or the crossing guard, your example has influence and power). 

Marketing is communications; communications is marketing

It all boils down to communications. Done right, that becomes your marketing. If your school does the job parents are hiring for, then it is up to you to make the fact known. You have to market your value and provide proof that yours is the school that will get the job done. 

No school can deliver on all the possible jobs, but you can decide which ones you do well (or improve on them until you become excellent at some of them). Then, get the word out.

Help parents make the best decision for their child, and then continue to reinforce, throughout their child’s educational years, that they made the right choice.

When you deliver on the job-to-be-done, you will gain trust and confidence. Soon you will have others, including parents and students, serving as advocates and fans, and when that happens, everyone wins. Especially your students.

Look beyond the basic functionality you think you’ve hired your school website to do, and instead look at the job your school is being hired to do. Make sure your website serves as a tool to deliver on those jobs. If it isn’t, then fire it and hire one that does! (Of course, School Webmasters can help you there!)

Then, when you’ve nailed the whole website and communications management thing, take a look at the next job-to-be-done and tackle that. It is likely to be under the communications umbrella and often involves customer service, but that is a topic for another blog article.