Business The McDonalds Way

Paul Facella worked at McDonalds for 33 years rising from crew member to senior executive (not unusual  – 7 out of 10 McDonalds executives rose through the ranks). He published a book this year, “Everything I know about business I learned at McDonalds” which wins first prize as a statement of the obvious. It is the only place you worked Paul – the more impressive title would have been “Everything I learned about business I learned FROM McDonalds”. And of course Paul groups his learning under 7 headings which, unoriginally, he calls ‘the 7 Leadership Principles that Drive Break-Out Success’.

They cover:-
Honesty and integrity
Standards – Never be satisfied
Lead by example
Courage: Telling it like it is
Recognition (motivation through recognition of staff service)

It makes you wonder why lying, smug, dysfunctional bastards with no principles, who constantly sit back and let others do what they can’t be bothered to do while taking all the credit and none of the blame just never seem to make it in business.
This is very unfair to a book we quite liked. McDonalds is a great business and Facella’s war stories are worth reading, especially the ones about the marvelous Ray Kroc, the man who had the sense not to be the eponymous founder, preferring the brand name McDonalds which he thought sounded more homely because he liked the Scots.

McDonalds did two things brilliantly.

Firstly, they introduced assembly production to fast food (just like Henry Ford introduced it to car manufacture many years before) but instead of hiding it away at the back of the restaurant they made it totally transparent. They have that much admired obsession with quality which Kroc enforced ruthlessly (he once publicly shut down a restaurant that failed to meet his high standards on an inspection visit) but if your kitchen is completely open to view – a goldfish bowl – it gives no opportunity to drop your standards.

Secondly they put into practice ‘recognition’, the most powerful form of motivation, so powerful it can transform the most callow of youth into responsible, confident, polite citizens with a strong work ethic and ambition.

One of the most popular reprints ever from the Harvard Business Review is ‘One more time: How do you motivate Employees?’ by Frederick Herzberg. He makes this exact same point, that recognition both formal and informal (preferably both) is what really encourages people to do their best. McDonalds made it the cornerstone of their business model. To pay hamburger wages and get cordon bleu service is a very clever thing to pull off.

What McDonalds have not done so well is adapt to changing consumer attitudes and needs. They were not entirely honest and full of integrity when it came to their food’s nutritional value. Ray Kroc apparently once said that he did not know what food McDonalds would serve in the future but was certain they would be selling more of it than anyone else. He started out as a milk shake salesman (he was 52 years old when he spotted the McDonald Bothers hamburger store and had this idea about a national fast food chain) so he was not wedded to burgers. A man with his vision may have spotted the need to evolve the food at McDonald’s a little sooner than they did.

Meeting Bloody Meetings

It would fair to say that all of us regard meetings as the washing up of business – you know it has to be done but no-one enjoys doing it. “What did you do at work today?” Answer: “I was in meetings all day”. This is rarely said with a smile on the lips. Every now and again you have a ‘good meeting’ which means a) you felt it accomplished something and b) it did not seem to take too long. But that is the exception rather than the rule. Well, here is a simple approach to improving most of the meetings in which you find yourself. It addresses two of the most important things that causes meetings to be ‘bad – i.e. don’t accomplish anything, take too long.

Firstly, people talking at cross purposes; secondly, poor time management. Here’s how it works.

You can divide anything you do in a meeting into 4 headings:-

  1. Information download – someone has to let everybody know something about something e.g. the results of some recent test programme.
  2. Information receiving – someone needs to hear back from everyone about something e.g. the results in their department of some recent initiative.
  3. Problem solving – there is an issue which needs to be discussed, people need to share their views, make suggestions and in some form or another think creatively e.g. the last initiative failed, what are we going to do about it?
  4. Decision making – the meeting has to decide something e.g. whether to make a particular investment.

What goes wrong is that it is never made clear under what heading an item falls. You think you are just giving an information download. I think you want a big discussion about it and offer lots of creative suggestions about what you should do next. You have a problem that you need help with. I think you are just feeding back information. The meeting rambles on aimlessly with far too much time spent on simple/low priority items and far too little spent on more complex and/or important issues.
So the first step is to indicate clearly exactly which heading an item on the agenda falls under and allocate ownership of that item to someone.

The second step is then to agree in advance what time is required for each item. Simple information giving should not take more than 10 minutes but Problem solving will take longer. By organizing the agenda clearly and allocating time realistically you can use the time in the meeting much more productively.

This is not theory – it has been proven to work. Just try it for a few meetings and see the results. It will feel like you just bought your first dishwasher and doing the dishes will never be a chore again.

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