My guest today is Zeynep Ton. Zeynep is an adjunct associate professor in Operations Management at MIT Sloan School of Management and cofounder of the nonprofit Good Jobs Institute (GJI). Before MIT Sloan, Zeynep spent seven years on the faculty at Harvard Business School.
Zeynep’s research explores how companies can design and manage their operations in a way that satisfies customers, employees, and investors simultaneously. In 2014, Zeynep published her findings in a book, The Good Jobs Strategy: How the Smartest Companies Invest in Employees to Lower Costs and Boost Profits.
I wanted to speak to Zeynep because while cultivating healthy and adaptive cultures requires focus on issues such as purpose, mission and vision, behaviors. and skills, it also calls for something that we don’t talk about enough in the context of culture - making the right operational choices.
Zeynep shares her expertise, experience, and examples in this interview and gives us a lot of useful ideas on how to build the supporting architecture for better cultures.
In this interview, Zeynep and I discuss:
- Why bad jobs put companies in a vicious cycle of poor service, low profits, and low employee engagement
- How better operational choices can lead to reversing that cycle and creating superior value for employees, customers, and investors
- The 4 operational choices that drive performance and continuous improvement: Focus & Simplify, Standardize & Empower, Cross-train, and Operate with Slack
- What the right balance between standardization and empowerment might look like
- Why empowerment often doesn’t work and what companies who got it right do differently
- How one company saved 1.2 million just by giving their frontline employees an opportunity to contribute and make improvements to processes and solving issues
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More about Zeynep Ton
Zeynep’s research has been published in managerial and scholarly journals, including Harvard Business Review, California Management Review, and Organization Science, and featured widely in the media, including The Atlantic, The New Yorker, The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN, PBS, and NPR. At MIT, Zeynep teaches MBA and executive education courses in operations management, service operations, sustainability, and operations strategy. She received several awards for excellence in teaching both at HBS 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.
Zeynep lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts with her husband and four children. A native of Turkey, she first came to the US on a volleyball scholarship from the Pennsylvania State University. She received her BS in Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering there and her DBA from the Harvard Business School.
Books mentioned in this episode:
The Good Jobs Strategy: How the Smartest Companies Invest in Employees to Lower Costs and Boost Profits by Zeynep Ton
The Human Side of Enterprise by Douglas McGregor
Higher Ambition: How Great Leaders Create Economic and Social Value by Michael Beer, et. al.
High Commitment, High Performance: How to Build a Resilient Organization for Sustained Advantage by Michael Beer
The Critical Path to Corporate Renewal by Michael Beers
Audio production by James Ede, Be Heard