June 01, 1998
Meetings & Conventions: Golden Tools - June 1998 Current Issue
June 1998
Golden Tools

McDonald's tailors its teachings to everyone, from front-line burger-flippers to the Big Cheese


McDonald'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 learner?
Patricia Crull: 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 seen?
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 restaurant?
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 planning process.

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 meetings?
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 mind?
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 Conference 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 answers.
  • 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."


    Campus Tour:
    Inside Hamburger University
    International influence: Rafik Manksarious 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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