Whole Foods CEO’s poor excuse for poor performance – Jose Alvarez and Zeynep Ton

Harvard Business School Senior Lecturer Jose Alvarez

At a town hall meeting announcing Amazon’s purchase of Whole Foods, a Whole Foods employee had this question for CEO John Mackey:

“I have a question about Whole Foods’s commitment to those win-win-win-win partnerships with our suppliers, with our team members— and how that’s going to live on once this merger is complete.”

Mackey’s response was curious, to say the least:

MIT Sloan Adjunct Associate Professor Zeynep Ton

MIT Sloan Adjunct Associate Professor Zeynep Ton

“I think, sometimes, our company’s gone a little bit too much team-member focus at the expense of our customers. And that’s one definite evolution that’s gonna happen. I love the passion these guys [Amazon] have around the customer. They put the customer first in everything they do and think backwards. And— we— we’re gonna be the same way.”

If Mackey thinks that investing in people is part of the reason for Whole Foods’s poor performance, he’s wrong. From what we see, the real problem is a lack of operational excellence. Whole Foods may be paying its employees more than competitors do, but it has not created an operating system that leverages that investment. You can’t put premium gas in a clogged-up engine and expect to win a race.

Whole Foods strikes us as an organization that doesn’t standardize where it needs to and doesn’t empower where it needs to. Five stores within a city may have five different people purchasing from the same local farm in five different ways. Their information systems are mediocre at best.  John Mackey’s own words about Whole Foods technology are useful here: “So I think that we can expect that we’ll go to the front of the class, eventually, in the grocery business, from … the class dunce to… the class valedictorian.”

Poor systems and lack of appropriate standardization mean lower labor productivity and higher costs. At the same time, frontline team members appear to have little empowerment to satisfy customers. One of us recently wanted to return a $3 Whole Foods reusable shopping bag that had broken the first time it was used.  You would expect the cashier to just exchange the bag for a new one.  Instead, she called for her manager to resolve the problem.  It was a waste of time for all, including the other customers waiting in line. Paying team members more than competitors do won’t pay off if you don’t empower them to make a $3 decision! Lack of empowerment reduces not only motivation but also customer service.

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Flipping the office telepresence model – Peter Hirst

MIT Sloan Executive Director of Executive Education Peter Hirst

MIT Sloan Executive Director of Executive Education Peter Hirst

From TechCrunch

What if I told you that you could visit three continents in one day without leaving your office and truly feel like you were there in person? That you could move down a hallway or across a stage, make eye contact and feel, well, more like a human being than just a face on a screen?

Earlier this year, Paul McDonagh-Smith — my coworker at MIT Sloan Executive Education who is based in London — did just that with the help of “telepresence robotics.” First thing in the morning, he co-presented at a conference in Singapore alongside our colleague Cyndi Chan, then had a business meeting in Cape Town, South Africa and later that afternoon met with me and other team members on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

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How ride-hailing apps like Uber continue cab industry’s history of racial discrimination – Christopher Knittel

MIT Sloan Professor Christopher Knittel

MIT Sloan Professor Christopher Knittel

From The Conversation

From hailing taxis that won’t stop for them to being forced to ride at the back of buses, African-Americans have long endured discrimination within the transportation industry.

Many have hoped the emergence of a technology-driven “new economy,” providing greater information and transparency and buoyed by an avowed idealism, would help us break from our history of systemic discrimination against minorities.

Unfortunately, our research shows that the new economy has brought along some old baggage, suggesting that it takes more than just new technologies to transform attitudes and behavior.

Our new paper, “Racial and Gender Discrimination in Transportation Network Companies,” found patterns of discrimination in how some drivers using ride-hailing platforms, such as Uber and Lyft, treat African-American passengers and women. Our results are based on extensive field studies in Seattle and Boston, both considered liberal-minded cities, and provide stark evidence of discrimination.

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Shopping online probably won’t save you money — Alberto Cavallo

MIT Sloan Asst. Prof. Alberto Cavallo

MIT Sloan Assistant Professor Alberto Cavallo

From MarketWatch

If you’re a bargain hunter, it’s common to spend time researching prices before making purchases. After all, you wouldn’t want to buy a washing machine at your local Lowes store only to find a lower price offered on Lowes.com. However, I found in a recent study that retailers’ offline and online prices are the same more than 70% of the time.

That’s good news for consumers, who don’t need to worry about price comparisons when deciding whether to use a retailer’s website or visit a local store. They can choose instead based on other factors like convenience and product availability.

This finding is important for economists too. Online prices are increasingly being used in measurement and research applications, including studies of pricing behaviors, price stickiness, international relative prices, and exchange-rate dynamics. Many national statistical offices are even considering the use of online data in official consumer price Indexes.

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The rise of data-driven decision making is real but uneven — Kristina McElheran and Erik Brynjolfsson

Kristina McElheran, MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy Visiting Scholar

Kristina McElheran, MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy Visiting Scholar

 

 Professor of Information Technology, Director, The MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy


Professor of Information Technology,
Director, The MIT Initiative on the Digital Economy

From Harvard Business Review

Growing opportunities to collect and leverage digital information have led many managers to change how they make decisions – relying less on intuition and more on data. As Jim Barksdale, the former CEO of Netscape quipped, “If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have are opinions, let’s go with mine.” Following pathbreakers such as Caesar’s CEO Gary Loveman – who attributes his firm’s success to the use of databases and cutting-edge analytical tools – managers at many levels are now consuming data and analytical output in unprecedented ways.

This should come as no surprise. At their most fundamental level, all organizations can be thought of as “information processors” that rely on the technologies of hierarchy, specialization, and human perception to collect, disseminate, and act on insights. Therefore, it’s only natural that technologies delivering faster, cheaper, more accurate information create opportunities to re-invent the managerial machinery.

At the same time, large corporations are not always nimble creatures. How quickly are managers actually making the investments and process changes required to embrace decision-making practices rooted in objective data? And should all firms jump on this latest managerial bandwagon?

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