Zeynep Ton is an Adjunct Associate Professor of Operations Management at MIT Sloan. Her research focuses on the nexus of business operations and labor management in the retail sector. She teaches the elective courses Management of Services and Operations Strategy, for which she was awarded an Outstanding Teacher of the Year award in 2013.
Ton’s research has focused on the retail sector, beginning in the 1990’s with the Borders Group. She was looking through the lens of operations at basic business challenges, but discovered strong interactions between labor management strategies and operational practices. A “vicious cycle” exists when companies think of labor as only a cost to be minimized. This leads to a cascade of problems caused by understaffing and unmotivated workers. There is, however, a better way. Companies can invest in their employees – treating them with dignity and creating work schedules and compensation packages that allow workers to have a decent livelihood. They can see positive results in terms of employee retention, customer service, and also operational innovation and efficiency from workers who are motivated to work for the good of the company, and put ingenuity and dedication into their jobs. The key to success in companies like Quiktrip, Costco, Mercadona, and Trader Joes is a combination of operational innovation and genuinely valuing people.
If the tools we use in operations optimize only on shareholder returns without awareness of other impacts, we need to rethink the assumptions in our tools and models. If necessary, we need to create new ones.
In Professor Ton’s research and her Management of Services class, she demonstrates how a strong sense of values and ethics can and should inform what is often considered an analytic, quantitative side of business management. “I am a strong believer that a deep understanding of operations will enable students to make a positive impact in their future companies and industries. We need to teach students that the tools they learn in business school can be used to make things better for companies, investors, employees, the environment, and for customers.”
Zeynep Ton has recently completed a book based on her years of research into good jobs and how they benefit corporations, investors, society, and the environment. The Good Jobs Strategy: How the Smartest Companies Invest in Employees to Lower Costs and Boost Profits makes the case that creating and investing in “good jobs” will benefit corporations more than the short term cost reductions that may be achieved by common labor management practices. Not just a strategy for high-end or niche shops, Ton demonstrates successful strategies that low cost retailers have used to improve their profits, customer satisfaction, and their business operations.