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The Good Jobs Strategy

Stashed in: Management, Awesome, Jobs, HBR, Bots, Management, Workforce Development, Robot Jobs

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Me personally, I can't freakin' WAIT until a robot takes my job and deals with my aging relatives and all of that tedious making stuff and buying stuff and moving stuff around. I'll just sit in the park and play my recorder and maybe grow giant pumpkins like the gentleman farmer Thomas Jefferson intended us to be. But for those of you who are still hung up on the Protestant Ethic, it might be instructive to note that in 2015 it is considered SUPER RADICAL to state in polite company that perhaps employers who treat their low-level employees like full human beings instead of worthless scum might in fact make more COLD HARD CASH.

What will you do in the meantime? Work?

Learn to program robots and grow giant pumpkins.

You could do both by learning to program robots TO grow giant pumpkins. 

The assumed trade-off between low prices and good jobs is a fallacy.

Zeynep Ton decided to search for retail companies — the same kind of companies that needed low prices to succeed — that did things differently. Sure enough, she found some.

The two companies she talks about most frequently in this regard are a Spanish grocery chain called Mercadona and QuikTrip, a Tulsa, Okla.-based chain of convenience store/gas stations that competes with the likes of the 7-Eleven chain.

What first struck her about Mercadona is that the annual turnover was an almost unheard-of 4 percent. Why do employees stay? “They get decent salaries, four weeks of training that costs the company $5,000, stable schedules … and the opportunity to thrive in front of their customers every day,” Ton said in a speech she forwarded to me. The grocery business is low margin, where every penny counts. If Mercadona couldn’t keep prices low with this strategy, it would have abandoned it long ago.

QuikTrip, an $11 billion company with 722 stores, is a prime example of what Ton means by “human-centered operations strategies.” Paying employees middle-class wages allows the company to get the most out of them. Employees are cross-trained so they can do different jobs. They can solve problems by themselves. They make merchandising decisions for their own stores. The ultimate result of the higher wages QuikTrip pays is that costs everywhere else in the operation go down. At QuikTrip, says Ton, products don’t remain in the back room, and in-store promotions always take place, as they’re supposed to.

Ton’s interest in the good jobs strategy is more than academic now; she has become a proselytizer, trying to spread the word that every company would be better served by this approach. “The assumed trade-off between low prices and good jobs is a fallacy,” she says. As we worry about where middle-class jobs are going to come from, Ton’s is a message that needs to be heard not just in Aspen but all across America.

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