In 2012, Cognizant, a leading provider of information technology, consulting, and business process outsourcing services, partnered with New Markets Advisors in an effort to deploy the “jobs to be done” approach in its client work. The “jobs to be done” (JTBD) approach is a framework that enables companies to gain insight into customer motivations. In implementing this new way of thinking about customers across its organization, Cognizant faced formidable challenges. Not only would the JTBD approach need to yield immediate results, but it would also need to be applied consistently across its vast and decentralized workforce.
New Markets helped Cognizant to create a unique capability-building program – one that would succeed where more conventional corporate training programs would likely struggle. To ensure that the JTBD approach would have an immediate impact on job performance, New Markets helped Cognizant to organize training sessions in which they introduced their project teams to the framework and demonstrated how it could help them to overcome real problems they would encounter in their day-to-day work. To overcome potential resistance from middle management, Cognizant attracted early and visible support from the company’s senior executives, which helped to generate grassroots support for the framework and assure trainees of its relevance and efficacy.
To encourage collective application of the JTBD methodology after the formal training, Cognizant organized the trainees into small learning teams. These teams not only provided the trainees with an internal support group to whom they could bring questions about the methodology, but also created a community with which they could discuss challenges and successes. Rather than simultaneously training much of the company’s 178,000 person workforce through an online portal, which would inevitably provide trainees with an incomplete grasp of the methodology, New Markets encouraged Cognizant to instead focus on training a small group of expert practitioners, who would develop a nuanced understanding of the JTBD framework. These experts could rigorously apply the methodology in their day-to-day work and demonstrate its effectiveness to their co-workers. To create incentives for these experts to remain engaged with the JTBD framework and organically build momentum for the methodology, New Markets helped Cognizant to develop a certification program for trainees. This certification program, which began with the initial training session, proceeded through three additional phases, which served to bolster the experts’ standing, provided them reason to deploy the new methods immediately, and created case studies of success that could inspire others throughout the organization.
Through these approaches, Cognizant has quickly generated support for a new innovation methodology, with little disruption to the organization. It has found a way to reconcile the need to build long-term capabilities with the competing need to ensure a lack of interference with short-term business priorities.
BUILDING AN INNOVATION CAPABILITY AROUND “JOBS TO BE DONE”
The concept of “jobs to be done” is simple yet profound. While companies fixate on selling specific products or services, and typically define the market by what is bought, customers see the world differently. Customers – whether they are businesses or individual consumers – simply want to get certain jobs done and are open to many different ways of doing this. For instance, the competition for a movie with the kids on a rainy Saturday likely is not just other movie theaters, but bowling, board games, playdates, arcades, and boredom. As the great management scholar Peter Drucker once said, “The customer rarely buys what the company thinks it is selling.”
The notion of addressing “jobs to be done” was first popularized by Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen. In an example he frequently uses, a fast food restaurant discovered that milkshakes actually served wildly distinct jobs – a boredom-busting breakfast on the go, and a way to indulge the children. By understanding the job, rather than thinking just about the product, the restaurant opened up previously unknown levers of innovation that were readily at its disposal.
Cognizant Technology Services, a global IT consulting and outsourcing provider, sought to deploy this approach in its client work, yet it struggled with how to operationalize this thinking across an organization that needs to be rigorous in its analysis of clients’ situations and consistent across a vast organization. Given New Markets Advisors’ extensive experience in deploying the “jobs” approach, as well as its track record in building innovation capabilities, Cognizant partnered with the firm to create a solution.
Cognizant is a fast-growth company, which creates challenges for a capability-building program. The company’s revenue grew from $229 million to $8.8 billion in the period spanning 2002-2013. The company’s ability to handle such rapid growth is due in part to its decentralization. Over 178,000 employees are spread across more than 50 countries, backed by a US headquarters.
Such a decentralized institution is a poor place to introduce new ways of working by central fiat. Demand for learning must come from the grassroots. However, consistent approaches are critical to the company’s sustained success. Clients turn to Cognizant for highly-reliable, costeffective IT systems, and the production and administration of those IT systems require common work approaches. Moreover, as the company moves increasingly to help clients to invent new solutions and solve novel types of business problems, it needs to build capabilities in its workforce to think in creative ways. Cognizant therefore has to embrace potential paradoxes. It must be decentralized but consistent. It must be creative yet rigorous.
BUILDING CAPABILITIES THE RIGHT WAY FOR THE COMPANY
Cognizant and New Markets determined five ways that the “jobs to be done” learning program had to be distinct from traditional corporate training approaches seen elsewhere:
1. Show Value Immediately
In Cognizant’s fast-growth, project-oriented environment, there is little patience for training that does not have an immediate impact on job performance. If a program were to be seen as a distraction from day-to-day work, it would generate little support or demand. Yet the nature of this particular program was that it was teaching skills for long-term growth, enabling in-depth analysis of clients’ latent needs. It would not be possible to perform this sort of analysis overnight. How could Cognizant quicken the cycle time for proving the learning’s value?
The team decided to start small in its training sessions, getting people to focus on everyday examples from their internal work processes. A cohort of 50 people went through an initial two-day workshop in Chennai, India, and that large group was broken into subgroups of 3-5 associates who were teamed with an account manager during the session. The subgroups decided on their own which bits of project work could be ripe for new solutions. For instance, how could teams rapidly find the right associate for a role in such a big company? How could they determine when software challenges were very similar to those solved elsewhere before?
By deploying the “jobs to be done” methodology on these issues and drafting intriguing new solutions, teams showed that the program could have immediate relevance. There was some trepidation among the participants to put tools to work quickly, so an initial exercise had them deploy the methods on a fictional restaurant. When that first exercise was completed, participants realized that the restaurant was an analogy for an IT services environment in which individual diners all had specific requests but dishes were prepared from common ingredients in a consistent process. The analogy raised comfort levels and enabled a quick transition into work-oriented discussions.
When they completed their two-day training, staff had a variety of tools that they could put to immediate use. Draft questionnaires, reference charts, and other materials were developed to be used in small chunks, not to sit in a large binder that would quickly be ignored. This sort of packaging of tools also allowed associates to share what they had learned with their colleagues in a piecemeal manner, so that people who were not part of the first training cohort could immediately put elements of the program to use without necessarily understanding the full methodology.
In this context, managers could not question the return on investment from the learning program. The return on investment became quickly baked in to everyday activities in the core business.
2. Gain Early & Visible Support from Senior Executives
Cognizant’s Chief Information Officer and the Head of Innovation attended the initial two-day workshop, seeking to determine whether this methodology should be deployed broadly in the organization. Although his direct participation raised the stakes for the maiden voyage of the training, it created instant momentum when he bought into the approach.
Not only did the CIO endorse the methodology in a valedictory speech at the event’s conclusion, he also listened to over a dozen subgroups present their findings on how to deploy the tools on their key accounts’ issues. He observed the immediate payoff from the training, praised teams, and generated desire from others to participate in an initiative that had won the blessing of such a senior leader.
This approach built grassroots enthusiasm for learning the new methodology, and it also circumvented the inevitably slow process of generating support for the changes among middle management. The innovation and training staff did not have to create momentum for change, but rather had teams choose where to begin. Teams picked their own projects, senior management endorsed the initiative, and momentum built almost instantly.
3. Learn in Teams
With many traditional training programs, the employee is isolated upon returning to work, lacking both contact with fellow learners back in his “day job” and a mandate to start doing things differently. Without everyday social support, energy levels after training events can fade quickly and the learnings then fail to scale or be sustained.
To avoid such difficulties, particularly in a decentralized environment where employees are spread among so many distinct account organizations, Cognizant made staff choose their own learning teams that would persist after the initial training. Some of these teams were identical to the subgroups created for the training events, but others formed after the event to deploy the methods in project-based contexts. By grappling collectively with the application of the new methodologies, the teams could answer individuals’ questions and improve consistency of approaches. They could also provide social support for persevering through the inevitable challenges that arise when trying to bring new methods to an organization that is already moving fast to execute pressing priorities.
4. Create Experts
Many learning initiatives begin with familiarizing broad swathes of a company with new approaches, helping to ensure that people speak a common language and show widespread support for the program. In Cognizant’s case, this would not work. The company has over 178,000 associates across 50 countries worldwide. It hires thousands of people a year. There is no way to reach such a dispersed audience except through online tools, and online programs could not be mandated for employees in such a decentralized culture. Had the company opted to train even a fraction of its associates as “yellow belts” with some basic familiarity with the “jobs to be done” methodology, these people would still be drops in a relative ocean of employees, unable to change work practices throughout the enterprise.
Instead, Cognizant and New Markets Advisors framed the program around creating a cadre of experts. Fifty people went through the first two-day training event, and they proceeded to enter a three-step certification program over the next six months that would shape them into confident resources whom fellow employees could turn to. Sixty percent of participants in this first batch were from the Corporate Innovation Group, a team of internal innovation consultants who partner with the revenue earning account teams and corporate support functions. The remaining forty percent were from the account teams and internal support functions; they volunteered to champion the innovation initiative in their teams because they were passionate about this new methodology.
This group was followed five months later by a second cohort of 96 people who would become similar experts or line managers pushing for the tools’ use in their client teams. As Account Managers and Delivery Managers, they owned multiple accounts and collectively managed several thousand associates spanning the world. Given their influence and also their competing priorities, they were selected based upon their interest and had to commit to measurable innovation goals set by their leaders.
For Cognizant, these associates represent less than 0.1% of the total employee pool. They certainly do not constitute a critical mass of change agents advocating a new innovation methodology. However, these individuals now have the tools and learning to create impact with their immediate co-workers, and they are bringing these approaches to broader project-oriented teams. By serving as a resource to these teams, the participants in this program will familiarize their co-workers with the methodology, teach them how to apply it, and direct them to online reference tools that they can use themselves.
5. Build Momentum Organically
A critical success factor for Cognizant’s program was a certification process for expert practitioners. This process began with participation in the initial two-day training event, and it then proceeded through three additional phases requiring progressive commitments of time and a more nuanced understanding of the “jobs to be done” approach.
After participants completed their two-day training, they received Level 1 certification and were ready for a project-focused assignment to earn their Level 2 credentials. Participants had to choose a problem with their self-organized teams and apply the methodology to that problem area, noting in detail how they scoped the challenge, applied the framework, and developed suitable conclusions. The sorts of issues chosen by teams varied considerably, from improving candidate hiring to enhancing sales processes. To be credible, earning this certification had to be difficult, and two thirds of teams’ initial submissions were sent back for re-working with detailed feedback. All teams, including those that passed on the first try, were provided with suggestions for improvement.
Following on from Level 2 certification, teams aspiring to Level 3 (as almost all did) then had to answer essay-type assignments and create draft research guides using the “jobs” methodology. The essays covered a broad range of topics and asked participants both to describe the application of principles in their own words as well as to imagine how to make choices as the methodology was applied in case study scenarios. While the essay exercises were abstract and fictional so that they could cover a wide variety of situations, the research guides revolved around actual business issues faced by their working teams.
For Level 4 certification, participants had to complete and critique a range of readings, including ones that applied the “jobs” methodology in subtly different ways than participants had learned thus far. The point of the critiquing was not to lead participants to reject any other approach to using “jobs”, but rather to build their confidence to deal with objections and alternative interpretations of techniques. Additionally, Level 4 aspirants had to apply the methodology to projects with three Cognizant clients. This way, they moved beyond being resources solely to their immediate peers and began helping others in the organization through informal networks.
The certification program was constructed to turn participants into generalist practitioners of the methodology while simultaneously deepening their role in applying “jobs” to specific issues in their work environments. The process thereby made them into recognized experts who also had the ability to stretch outside their everyday organizations to help others in Cognizant to apply the approaches. Moreover, the team-based nature of the work brought in people who were not formally participating in the learning program, whether they were interviewees who provided contextual understanding or peers who helped to brainstorm solutions based upon the detailed investigations. The approach spread familiarity with the program and a desire to get more involved with the methodologies.
Cognizant designed the certification so that it would quickly produce dozens of internal case studies of success from far corners of the organization. The incentive of certification helped to build momentum organically, creating legions of people who were looking to apply the methodology in creative ways.
Critically, employees were able to choose their own projects. This facet of the program enhanced feelings of ownership while bypassing the need to charter initiatives through myriad middle managers who might not have prioritized the effort.
Action-based learning programs such as this one have a long and successful history. Yet any learning program is challenging in a company such as Cognizant. The company has a fast-paced, rapidly-changing, and highly decentralized culture that requires immediate relevance from learning and broad buy-in to new approaches.
Cognizant was able to surmount these hurdles through careful design of their program. Specifically, the company:
Tied learning to actual project teams confronting real innovation issues.
Parceled tools so that they could be shared piecemeal with teams unable to go through the full training.
Engineered a public endorsement of the program by a senior leader, who pushed Associates to create their own innovation initiatives without needing the sanction of middle managers.
Created learning teams that would support participants after the conclusion of formal training.
Focused on creating experts, rather than a mass of moderately-trained individuals lacking the confidence to promulgate the program on their own.
Developed a certification program to bolster the experts’ standing, provide them reason to deploy the new methods immediately, and create case studies of success that could inspire others throughout the organization.
Through these approaches, Cognizant has built momentum speedily for an important new innovation methodology, with little disruption to the organization. It has built capabilities for the long-term while simultaneously catering to short-term business needs.
OTHER WAYS NEW MARKETS BUILDS INNOVATIONCAPABILITIES
New Markets Advisors is a boutique consulting firm that helps companies determine what to bring to market and how to do it successfully