Podcast #228 – Zeynep Ton, “The Good Jobs Strategy”


Labor Day is Monday, so maybe it's appropriate that my guest for episode #228 of the podcast is Zeynep Ton, an Adjunct Associate Professor of Operations Management at the MIT Sloan School of Management. You may have recently seen her being interviewed by Fareed Zakaria on CNN. Read her full bio here.

She is author of the 2014 book The Good Jobs Strategy: How the Smartest Companies Invest in Employees to Lower Costs and Boost Profits.


I saw Ton give a lecture at an MIT alumni event back in June and immediately bought and read the book (read my blog post about the book and parallels to Lean and healthcare). I highly recommend it and I wish more hospitals and health systems would pursue this “good jobs strategy” instead of being so focused on cutting labor costs. As Ton explains in the book and our discussion, this strategy is not about being kind or nice — it's just good business that drives better long-term results for all.

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In the podcast, we talk about:

  • How she transitioned from industrial engineering and supply chain management to studying retail companies.
  • In the vicious cycle of the “bad jobs strategy, ” why is this considered conventional wisdom that the way to maximize profits in a low-margin industry is to offer minimal pay, training, and hours?
  • What are the components (and system) of “the good jobs strategy?”
  • What connections do you draw between the good jobs strategy and Toyota or Lean?
  • Do the companies or founders that have a good jobs strategy sort of naturally embrace it?
  • Of the “good jobs” components, is it most difficult to help people see that 100% utilization is often very harmful and that “slack” is necessary?
  • Is it easier for privately held companies to pursue the good jobs strategy having less quarterly financial pressure?
  • Any thoughts on why society focuses so much on wages, while seemingly ignoring other aspects of workplace conditions that need to be improved?

For a link to this episode, refer people to www.leanblog.org/228.

For earlier episodes of my podcast, visit the main Podcast page, which includes information on how to subscribe via RSS, through Android appsor via Apple Podcasts.  You can also subscribe and listen via Stitcher.

Video of Zeynep Ton

TedX Cambridge:

Aspen Institute:

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Here is another podcast with Prof. Ton via MIT Sloan.

    At about 18:00 in, she talks about apply The Good Jobs Strategy within a call center at Quest Diagnostics, a big laboratory testing company – a departure from retail. They had great results and intend on spreading this to other parts of the company. Quest has supposedly used Lean for a long time, so I hope that’s all a helpful combination.

    What they did:
    Increased pay
    Changed job design to be more empowered
    Standardized processes and cross trained

    Their results:
    Turnover was cut in half
    Customer Satisfaction and cost decreased


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