7 years - 7 lessons
Today is my last day at McDonald’s. I would like to take the opportunity to share 7 lessons that I have learned during 7 wonderful years that I will never forget.
1. Be humble
Every McDonald’s employee starts in the restaurant, at least for two weeks. This simple introduction measure has many benefits. It creates understanding and respect for the hard working restaurant managers and crew members. It further fosters a humble and down-to-earth company culture. McDonald’s is about serving, efficiency and results. Arrogant HQ people have a tough stand and do not get far in the organization. Especially marketing people should never forget that it is only real if it happens in the restaurants. That is why we spend at least 3 days a year in the restaurants working as a crew member on the grill, fryer, front counter or in the lobby. Why other service companies do not adapt this simple and efficient on-boarding approach?
2. Focus on results
The annual McDonald’s “Plan-to-Win” is not longer than 1 page. Having clearly defined target groups, priorities and objectives makes everything much easier. I could have not imagined how effective Management by Objectives can be to create strong system alignment and commitment before I have entered McDonald’s. Every employee and business partner has individual objectives aligned with the overall company goals. McDonald’s is deadly serious about defining its operations, setting basic standards of achievement, and monitoring suppliers and operators to determine whether standards were met. It is a constant search for improvement to gain efficiencies in the entire value chain and the ultimate base for being a successful system gastronomy operator.
3. Give meaning and purpose
No other marketing factor has been more important in distinguishing McDonald’s as the leader in fast food than its early decision to appeal to children through advertising. Migros and Coop have not been able to weaken the loyalty of children to McDonald’s thanks to a holistic marketing approach including the Happy Meal program, Playlands, Birthday Parties, Ronald shows and many other kids’ activities. But what McDonald’s really sets apart is the Ronald McDonald House Charity (RMHC) foundation. The support that the RMHC provides to families with hospitalized children gives the McDonald’s brand a human and caring face. Helping ill or injured children is highly emotional. Families who went through tough times will not forget the help and care they received. Positive word-of-mouth and a long-lasting relationship make the investment in the foundation a source of differentiation and sustainable value creation. Last but not least, charity work gives meaning and pride to the employees of the company and the franchisees.
4. Think long-term
Act as a retailer, think as a brand. McDonald’s is about daily sales but also about long-term commitment. It might sound surprising but the franchisees system forces the company to have a long-term vision. The owner-operators have a long-term contract. They want the McDonald’s brand to be appealing now but also in five and more years. Furthermore, McDonald’s is too busy to waste time looking for bargains by suppliers from week to week. It is better to rely on a few loyal suppliers and partners who understand the business and depend on it for their own growth. Partners who understand that it is better to have a small piece of a large and growing cake than a large piece of a small and shrinking cake.
5. Invest in marketing
Before I worked at McDonald’s I did have some doubts about the effectiveness of advertising (I should not say this, I worked in an ad agency). Now, after nearly 100 closely tracked mass media campaign (sometimes you love the daily sales figures, sometimes you hate them) I am certain that advertising works; at least under two conditions. Firstly, the message has to be relevant for the target audience. This can be easily forgotten if you spend too much time with working on your products and not enough time with your consumers. Secondly, the media investment must reflect the ambition. Under and overspending are both a waste of money. I see too many companies in Switzerland running advertisement with clearly not enough media power. Less is more. Focus the limited budget on fewer activities to get them seen and heard.
6. Be respectful and involve your partners
One of the least understood characteristics of the McDonald’s system is that its fascination with uniformity exists side by side with its lesser known but equally strong respect for the creativity and judgement of the local markets. McDonald’s Switzerland is more Swiss than Swisscom or any state-owned company. Marketing decisions are not made by the company board but by a local committee of five representatives, two from the company (the Managing Director and the Director of Operations) and three franchisees. Minorities are protected. All national marketing activities must equally benefit all restaurants and there is always at least one franchisee from the French or Italian speaking part. This carefully designed checks and balances governance system is both a burden and an opportunity. You have to fight hard with facts, figures and passion to reach system alignment. But once a decision has been taken you can count on a high engagement to realize the plans.
7. Challenge proven strategies and methods
Past success is not a guarantee for future success. On the contrary, it can be a hurdle to change directions. McDonald’s has missed some trends and growth opportunities that new competitors are exploiting cleverly. I must admit that I experienced some frustration being part of global projects that did not advance at the speed that is required nowadays. Klaus Schwab is right, “In the new world it is not the big fish that eats the small fish, it is the fast fish that eats the slow fish”. Organizational changes are needed to make the big McDonald’s ship more agile. I am confident that the company will successfully adapt to new market conditions. I will therefore not sell my McDonald’s stocks. Trust me; I am in banking as of tomorrow.