Learn More About Zeynep Ton
Businesses must continually adapt to new dynamics to survive, and responsive flexibility depends on a motivated team leaders can trust. But too often, companies find themselves caught in a vicious cycle of high turnover and undertrained staff, leading to dwindling operational efficiency. Is there a way out?
“If you ask most leaders what it takes to win, they say a great team is needed to succeed. But many leaders, especially in front line industries, think that they can’t afford to create that team,” says award-winning operations strategist Zeynep Ton, Professor of the Practice at the MIT Sloan School of Management. “My research shows that low pay ends up hurting businesses more than decision-makers might anticipate. There’s a better approach that helps companies win with customers and improves lives of employees, and it’s less risky to adopt that approach than leaders may think.”
A Modern Blueprint for Operational Efficiency
Co-founder of the Good Jobs Institute, Ton is driven by an unstoppable passion to show organizations how to develop a new mindset for creating good teams that win with customers while simultaneously satisfying investors and employees. In engaging presentations, she reveals the tools leaders can use – including ways to improve corporate decision-making and tips for designing work – that entice employees to stay with an organization, reduce harmful turnover and increase trust and productivity. Her clear and practical-to-implement solutions enable organizations to escape their outdated operations models, replacing them with a new system to foster dignity, pay and meaningful work.
As she describes in “The Case for Good Jobs: How Great Companies Bring Dignity, Pay, and Meaning to Everyone’s Work” (Harvard Business Review Press, June 2023), which is a follow up to her highly acclaimed book, “The Good Jobs Strategy,” when organizations commit to becoming customer-centric, the decisions that improve the jobs and lives of their workers – especially those on the front lines – so that they can better serve the customer become obvious. Her profit-driving framework helps organizations overcome the obstacles to creating good jobs, spelling out clear operational changes leaders can adopt to deliver a better customer experience and satisfy employees’ need to learn and grow.
“Part of the Good Jobs Strategy is investment in people – higher pay, more benefits, career paths. But the secret sauce is positioning your employees for success,” explains Ton. “Design your operations in a way that increases the productivity and contributions of your employees, so you can invest in them.”
Motivating Winning Teams Through the Lens of Customer-Centric Thinking
Deeply experienced as both a practitioner and researcher, Ton has partnered with retail and service industry leaders such as Quest Diagnostics, Mud Bay and Sam’s Club as they adopted her “Good Jobs” model. A veteran executive educator, her insider’s perspective of many of the problems that incur significant costs for leading global organizations has revealed that many issues in the supply chain happen in the last ten yards, or in the retail portion of the chain, leading to lost sales and lower profits. By giving workers more power at this last step, Ton emphasizes that organizations can bridge the gap between a company’s desire for efficiency and the need for human-centered operations. This presents an opportunity to regain worker trust and build a strongly motivated team while increasing profits at the same time.
“Stores with higher employee turnover, that were understaffed and undertrained, had more problems,” observes Ton, whose research also reveals how to navigate the impact of massive layoffs, which often leave companies worse off financially, competitively and ethically.
“When you look at companies like Costco, Four Seasons Hotels, Progressive Insurance, these companies have always created great jobs and are very customer-centric. And when you’re customer-centric, you must be front line-centric. They’re the ones who are providing the service. If you’re understaffed, or if your employees make such low wages that their minds can’t be on their jobs, or if they aren’t allowed to make decisions, how can you be customer-centric?”
Empowering Organizations and Leaders to Make a Positive Change
For decision-makers, Ton points out how the rewards of the Good Jobs Strategy don’t just go one way – leaders also find incredible benefits to their own well-being when they put their workers at the center.
“It’s not just about winning with customers or having an amazing company, but it’s also meaningful for the leaders who make these decisions because they change the lives of their employees,” she elaborates. “It’s incredibly meaningful for leaders to make so much of an impact, and in workshop after workshop, I hear how energized leaders are by the Good Jobs Strategy and how much they want to do this. We could have a much better society with a stronger middle class if more companies could adopt this approach that so many people want.”
With her innovative mindset and value-adding frameworks, Ton challenges companies to redefine how they view labor and operational efficiency. By partnering with Ton, leaders and executives learn to apply her principles and foster an environment where both employees and businesses flourish.
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Zeynep Ton is Professor of the Practice at the MIT Sloan School of Management and President of nonprofit Good Jobs Institute. Her work has been published in a variety of journals including Organization Science, Production and Operations Management and Harvard Business Review. In addition, she has written numerous cases that explore different approaches to managing operations and people.
Ton’s earlier research focused on the critical role of store operations in retail supply chains. After publishing the findings in “The Good Jobs Strategy,” retail leaders started reaching out to her to understand how to implement the Good Jobs Strategy in their organizations. In response, she co-founded the not-for-profit Good Jobs Institute to help them transform through assessments, workshops and long-term partnerships.
Prior to joining MIT Sloan, Ton spent seven years as an assistant professor in the technology and operations management area at Harvard Business School. She has received several awards for teaching excellence both at Harvard Business School and MIT Sloan. She was also named one of the World’s 40 Best Business School Professors Under the Age of 40 by Poets & Quants. In 2023, she received the Thinkers50 Talent Award and was named among the top 50 management thinkers in the world.
Ton received her Bachelor of Science in industrial and manufacturing engineering from the Pennsylvania State University and her Doctorate in Business Administration from Harvard Business School.
Zeynep Ton is available to advise your organization via virtual and in-person consulting meetings, interactive workshops and customized keynotes through the exclusive representation of Stern Speakers & Advisors, a division of Stern Strategy Group®.