Meetings & Conventions: Golden Tools - June 1998
McDonald's tailors its teachings to everyone, from
front-line burger-flippers to the Big Cheese
BY DANA NIGROM
cDonald's doesn't just serve billions of
hamburgers. The $31 billion corporation employs - and trains -
about a million people at 23,000 restaurants in 109 countries and
at its corporate branches. While the burger itself hasn't changed
much since the corporation was founded in 1955, the process of
training those employees has evolved dramatically, particularly in
the past three years, since McDonald's hired Patricia M. Crull as
vice president of training, learning and development. A dynamic,
intelligent woman, Crull oversees all the training at McDonald's,
from the initiation of new shake makers to the continuing education
of the managers and executives who proudly claim to have ketchup in
their veins. Many of her philosophies can be applied to almost any
meeting or training program.
Making sure that the more than 38 million customers who buy food
at a McDonald's every day get reliable service is just one of her
education goals, and Crull has focused on streamlining that
process. A new way of training staff at the restaurants, called the
Crew Development Program, was introduced companywide in January.
The program, which reduces training time by up to 50 percent,
emphasizes hands-on learning while working. Operating instructions
at each work station use illustrations and easy instructions; the
station guides also discuss safety and customer expectations. As
employees complete training tasks, they must show that they have
learned the correct procedure, for which they earn colored icons
that fit in their name badges and mark their progress.
To learn more about the company's educational culture,
Meetings & Conventions caught up with Crull at
Hamburger University, the conference centerlike management training
facility at the company's headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill.
Surrounded by the chattering of students from around the globe, we
discussed the world of training at McDonald's.
M&C: How do you describe the adult
We know that adult learners learn best when they see the reason for
it. Unlike when we were in school and we would learn for learning's
sake, adult learners need to see a usefulness that they can take
from it. We also know that adult learners want to use what they
bring into the learning situation, they want to be involved.
Sitting passively in a lecture mode doesn't fit for them.
M&C: Is that a change that you've
Crull: I'm not so sure that it's a change
or if we are simply understanding more of the principles of adult
learning. What we certainly know is new, is if you look at the
generation that we are training today - many refer to it as
Generation X - they are very pragmatic. Many today have grown up in
such an information age that they are impatient unless you get
quickly to the point. They also are much more visual than they are
literary. They are certainly amazingly technoliterate. All of those
characteristics - not wanting to be passive, needing to be
involved, needing to use the learning, not wanting to sit and read
a lot - we put into our materials.
M&C: Was there something within
the training process that alerted you to the fact that you needed
to redefine how employees are being taught?
Crull: We began to work even more
conscientiously from needs analyses and from a discipline and a
rigor of designing. And that's where we began to identify the
change in our students and the need to train people quickly, maybe
more quickly than ever before.
M&C: Is that because you're not
getting their attention as long or is it because you just want to
finish the process sooner?
Crull: I think we are simply more
knowledgeable in how to do it than we've ever been before, and we
recognize that there are ways to train quicker and more
efficiently, with more appeal. In our restaurants, we knew we
wanted shoulder-to-shoulder training. It didn't make as much sense
to take someone off the floor for long periods of time, put them
back in a crew room, have them sit passively and read, sit
passively and watch videos, sit and do any interactive material off
the floor. Let's put them right there where we have someone model
the learning for them, we have them practice it, they get instant
feedback, they get recognition for it and they move on. It's much
more appealing to this generation of learners.
M&C: The age range of people
training throughout McDonald's is huge - from teenagers to seniors.
Are these newer principles of learning adaptable to people like you
and me who grew up learning the old-fashioned way?
Crull: I was trained using it. Like
everybody in McDonald's, I spent time in the restaurant. I can do
fries pretty well and I'm pretty good at the grill. [The new system
is] structured so I had very clear and precise directions, and they
remain at the station as a reminder for me. Whether I'm 25 or 55 or
16, if somebody walks by and sees me doing it not the right way,
it's very easy to point it out. The system utilizes the best of
coaching, it utilizes the best of modeling, it's practical - and
that appeals to all adult learners.
M&C: Are those principles applied
to programs at Hamburger University?
Crull: Absolutely. While there is some
lecture, it's very minimal. We use role-play, computer simulations,
problem-solving and case studies. We are drawing from the learnings
of each other. The expertise that they bring is shared, it's
respected. We spend a lot of time learning about best practices
from around the world in the classroom. Students take tests all
along the way, because we can take no chances.
M&C: Do you have a way of
verifying that what they learn here is being applied at the
Crull: Yes. First of all, every single
person gives us feedback, and we watch the trends so that we know
about the quality of the learning and we know the students'
perception of how applicable it is going to be. Second, we verify
learning that happens here, using pretests and post-tests. We also
sample. We do not do it for every student in every class - it's not
cost-feasible - but we sample verify that the information is used
once the individual is back on the job. Everybody completes a
post-class action plan. This gets returned to us after a certain
period of time, signed off by their manager or their supervisor. In
addition, we spot-check by phone and by visits.
M&C: How do you keep the training
program growing and changing?
Crull: We keep the curriculum and
training tools fresh through that ongoing process of evaluating and
doing needs analyses. It relies very much on feedback and the
M&C: Do you have a direction in
which you are trying to steer the company?
Crull: I know that everything we do must
help drive our business. We have an obligation to our stockholders
to make sure that we provide the most efficient and effective and
cost-effective training that we can. We have an obligation to our
franchisees to provide them with the right kind of managers and
crew. We have an obligation to our managers and middle-managers to
continue to help them grow. My commitment is to lifelong learning
for our employees.
M&C: Do you make sure the learning
principles cross over to other types of meetings, like sales
Crull: Yes. For example, we run meetings
for all of our restaurant managers across the U.S. and around the
world. We get them for two and a half days, so the learning is very
focused. [We determine] what messages we want to get across, what
learnings are needed this year, what we have learned as a result of
those needs analyses of where we might be [deficient] - and we
deliver it in a fast-paced, entertaining, interactive mode.
M&C: Was there a particular
problem that you were faced with when you came on board?
Crull: I think there is a recognition in
McDonald's that we have done a lot of things right. But we did it
sort of intuitively right. If there's anything I bring, it's that
instructional design and discipline, that more rigorous training
approach, in terms of needs analysis and evaluation and the
emphasis on rigorous instructional design.
M&C: Are you seeing success?
Crull: Absolutely. I think in some ways
we have raised the bar in terms of the effectiveness of our
learning. We can point to efficiencies that we might not have had
before; we can point to some innovative approaches that we might
not have used before.
M&C: Do any specifics come to
Crull: We are doing a sophisticated
computer simulation for our mid-managers. It's a decision-making
class; as they make decisions, the computer gives them specific
feedback on what would happen in their particular region as a
result of those decisions.
M&C: Coming back to the Generation
Xers - it's been said they have no respect for titles unless
they're clearly earned. Do you agree?
Crull: I think you often hear that as a
criticism leveled against this generation. They very much respect
authority if it is earned, they very much respect decisions if you
have earned the right to make those decisions. Did you see the
movie Jerry Maguire? You know when Cuba Gooding Jr.'s character
says, "Show me the money"? That wasn't about money. That was, "Show
me you deserve to be my agent."
This is a generation of problem-solvers. They are highly
creative, they are very independent thinkers. Those are marvelous
characteristics, aren't they? Appeal to them, use that
problem-solving, use the creativity, use the independence.
I would suggest something else: Many people say that this
generation has a short attention span. I don't know if it's so much
that they have a short attention span as that they have learned to
be very selective. That's a good challenge for us in training,
isn't it? We've got to be able to appeal to that. That old
stand-up, you be passive and I lecture, doesn't work. They'll just
grab the remote control.The Interactive
The main ingredient in
McDonald's adult learning philosophy - interactivity - is liberally
sprinkled into the meetings the company holds around the world. The
annual operations conventions for restaurant managers, taking place
in five cities each summer and reaching about 8,000 people, offer a
number of hands-on and role-playing events, according to Dan
Brouwer, a director of learning and development.
This year's conventions will introduce the new Made For
You operations systems. Coming soon to a restaurant down the
street, your burger will be made fresh to order, instead of
prepared ahead of time. Among the ways the managers will learn
about the new process:A working kitchen will allow attendees to taste the
made-to-order burgers.A theater presentation will show how the new process is
quicker than current procedures.An exhibit area will feature purveyors demonstrating the
equipment.A seminar for up to 1,000 people will deliver the
specifics by making the learning process a game. Up to 10 people
will be at each table, and everyone will be able to win cash. To
keep everyone on the same playing field, McDonald's will capture
answers with a small computer device much like a Palm Pilot.
Problem-solving lessons will involve scenarios with 10 possible
solutions. Each table will be able to pick only four
Says Brouwer: "The more we can do to get [the managers]
involved in the messages, the better chance we have of them going
back to the restaurants and taking some action."
Inside Hamburger University
McDonald's claims to be the largest training organization in the
nation, but the atmosphere at Hamburger University on a swath of
green in Oak Brook, Ill., is hardly rigid. The low-slung brick
building is filled with wood and windows and lots of original art.
It's here that future restaurant managers and franchisees complete
the six-day Advanced Operations Course (AOC).
The school was founded in 1961 in the basement of a
McDonald's. Since then, more than 60,000 people have taken this
final step to becoming restaurant managers. The 25 professors are
exceptional trainers picked from the ranks who sign on for two- to
three-year teaching stints. H.U. has four other branches - in
Australia, Japan, England and Germany. Still, 80 percent of AOC
training takes place in Oak Brook.
The new guy on campus is Rafik Mankarious, an Australian
recruit who was born in Egypt and will spend two years as H.U.'s
first international dean. His global views are needed: More than 50
percent of the students are from overseas. "Having the
international perspective on how we service those students is
increasingly important, right down to how we greet them," he says.
And they are greeted - and treated - quite well. Students who speak
no English are met at the hotel by interpreters, who are available
for all functions, both educational and social. Classes are taught
in English, but interpreter booths in the rooms allow the courses
to be translated into 26 languages (two per classroom). The
interpreters stay on campus with the students in a hotel run by
Hyatt, so international attendees won't miss out on informal
mingling after hours.
Students are split up into homerooms; color xerox signs
outside the doors indicate the nationalities represented inside.
Classrooms are equipped with audience response keypads, for quick
checks on the learning. Breakout rooms host discussion sessions,
where much of the role-playing takes place.
"The idea of this experience is not just the educational
one, it's also role-modeling our standards," says Mankarious. "This
benchmarking for these young managers - young not in age but young
from the point of view of experience - is a way of showing them
that they're very important to McDonald's."
Standing in the hall as class breaks, Mankarious is
approached excitedly by another Egyptian, also named Rafik, who he
had met on a recent visit to a McDonald's in his native land. "I'll
see you someday at Hamburger University," the student had promised.
The two enthusiastically exchange greetings and set up a time when
they can share coffee and a chat.
Over the next two years, Mankarious wants to continue to
enrich the six days the students spend on campus. Doubling the
number of international instructors - from the current five to 10 -
by the time he leaves will help achieve that goal.
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