When an organization serves 64 million customers a day at 33,000 restaurants in 117 countries, smooth operation and seamless business execution are paramount.
At Hamburger University (HU) in Oak Brook, Ill., the nerve center of McDonald’s training operations since 1961, the company’s USA Training, Learning and Development (TLD) team brings that same focus to employee development.
“Consistency of execution will always be one of our biggest focus areas,” said Diana Thomas, the company’s vice president of U.S. training. “We look at what we have established as our standards in HU … and we are now ensuring that each of our regional training groups deliver consistently the same curriculum.”
That focus on execution paid off with a move up the Chief Learning Officer LearningElite rankings from No. 9 in 2011 to No. 5 this year. McDonald’s USA also was recognized with the 2012 Editor’s Choice award for Learning Execution. Thomas credits the surge in part to a greater focus on strategy and execution aligned to measurement.
“We were always passionate about learning, but we’re even more focused on those key things we need to do to drive learning and training to the next level, which has to do a lot with being able to measure the feedback that you’re getting,” she said.
McDonald’s learning strategy is aligned with Plan to Win, its three-year business strategy that encompasses five business priorities: people, products, place, price and promotion. Thomas said the key to her team’s execution of that plan is being customer centered, keeping close tabs on how customers rate the restaurant experience and developing ways to support restaurant operations.
“We’re constantly looking not only at what do our learners want but what does the business need and making sure that we’re meeting that need,” she said.
Thomas said close alignment of employee development with leadership and business strategy goes deep into the company’s history, back to the days of McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc.
“When you have to do a great job at execution, it has to be embedded in everything you do from your top leader down to that shift manager to make sure they have the latest, greatest information, whether it’s promotions or changes in the menu,” she said.
The focus on two critical audiences — external customers and internal employees — is the recipe to McDonald’s approach to employee development, and the platforms for delivering it are a critical bridge between the two. Thomas said the TLD team can adapt and deliver learning to the restaurant level on a daily basis if necessary.
“We continue to ensure the strong standards we have for delivery are throughout all of the company … and make sure that consistency of training goes down to every crew person,” she said. “We’re constantly looking at who our learners are and making sure that our curriculum, training and performance tools are the most relevant for that audience.”
In the last couple of years that has meant a shift away from traditional training to performance support, getting employees the learning they need at that point of need. As a case in point, a few years ago Thomas and the TLD team slimmed down the company’s e-learning modules from 40 minutes to 20 minutes. Learner feedback and studies have led to further adaptations.
“Now what we’re seeing is they want a quick snippet,” she said. “When I need to know this, show me it quickly. Their attention span continues to be given in chunks based on when [they] need it.”
Learner feedback also has led to a focus on collaboration. “They love to learn together,” Thomas said. “We’re looking at the crew room of the future in our restaurants to see how we make it more collaborative. Even though it will only be one or two people at a time working on individual learning modules, there’s this desire and need to bring more people together.”
Future priorities for the TLD team include the continued evolution of learning measurement strategy, expanding development offerings to mid-level managers and restaurant owner-operators as well as continuing to develop and implement new ways to design and deliver learning. The company debuted its first mobile application for learning in April.
Relentless attention to internal and external customers inspires the TLD team to continued success, Thomas said.
“When you bring in top talent … it’s easy to get them excited about a common purpose or a vision. That’s what we focus on: We want to ensure that our people have the best training so they can most appropriately meet their customer needs.
“I am most proud about my team and the reputation they have — internally and externally — in regards to who they are and what they do.”