Learn More About Zeynep Ton
The pandemic has presented companies across the world with distinct workforce challenges. Businesses already operating online have had to quickly staff up to meet increased demand, while those in retail, hospitality and service industries have had to lay off or furlough customer-facing employees due to a lack of demand. And then there are the low-paid “essential workers” who are putting their lives at risk to keep those bad jobs.
According to Zeynep Ton, Professor of the Practice at the MIT Sloan School of Management, each of these companies is struggling because they have been using an expensive and outdated operations model.
Ton, a leading expert on organizational performance, helps companies improve operations by making systems more efficient and profitable. Her well-researched frameworks and proven strategies offer organizations a unique opportunity to gain a competitive edge while simultaneously satisfying investors, customers and employees.
“The conventional wisdom is if you want high profits and low prices, then low wage jobs are inevitable. But that is simply not true,” says Ton. “Too many companies have not invested in a long-term workforce. They have viewed employees as interchangeable parts. They were already paying a high price for that before the crisis and now they are seeing it may break them if they don’t change course.”
Earlier in her career, while working with organizations in the retail sector, Ton noticed how understaffing and employee turnover negatively affected every area of operations, resulting in unnecessary revenue losses, unhappy investors and company-wide dysfunction. After identifying the underlying causes of these problems, she developed what she calls the “Good Jobs Strategy,” which led to her acclaimed 2014 book of the same name.
“The Good Jobs Strategy: How the Smartest Companies Invest in Employees to Lower Costs and Boost Profits” draws on 15 years of research that shows the key to offering superior returns to investors, great products and services to customers and good jobs to employees is to combine investment in employees with specific operational choices that increase their productivity, contribution and motivation. Those who are implementing her strategies – including Quest Diagnostics, Mud Bay and Sam’s Club – are seeing significant results across the board. And while recent events have been devastating in many ways, Ton sees this recovery period as an opportunity for companies to reframe their business models so they can survive, and thrive, in the new economy.
“There’s a strong financial case for good jobs,” wrote Ton and her co-author in a Harvard Business Review article. “Offering good jobs lowers costs by reducing employee turnover, operational mistakes, and wasted time. It improves service, which increases sales both in the short term and — through customer loyalty — in the long term. All these improvements can more than make up for the large investments in better wages, benefits, training, and scheduling. In addition, a good jobs system makes a company more resilient and more adaptive.”
While Ton praises a handful of model companies that are getting it right – like Southwest Airlines, Toyota, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, and In-N-Out Burger, as well as retailers Costco, Mercadona, Trader Joe’s, and QuikTrip – she sees many organizations that have yet to transition and are still stuck in a vicious cycle. She urges them to leverage the Good Jobs model before competition takes over and they are left behind.
Through advisory roles, workshops, and keynotes, Ton teaches her Good Jobs Strategy to organizations in a variety of sectors, from health care, financial services and retail to manufacturing, shipping and e-commerce. She became so committed to the importance of good jobs to the economy and to society that she co-founded “The Good Jobs Institute” in 2017 with Roger Martin, a global authority on business strategy and management, and has since dedicated herself to helping companies get on board.
“A human-centered operations strategy is not only possible but highly profitable,” says Ton. “We need to create a revolution, especially in low wage service industries, not only to increase profits and customer satisfaction, but to strengthen people, societies and economies.”
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Zeynep Ton is Professor of the Practice at the MIT Sloan School of Management. Her work has been published in a variety of journals including Organization Science, Production and Operations Management and the Harvard Business Review. In addition, she has written numerous cases that explore different approaches to managing retail stores and labor.
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 cofounded the not-for-profit Good Jobs Institute to help them transform through assessments, workshops and longer-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.
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®.