As one of the most recognized brands in the world, McDonald’s has a reputation to uphold. Since 1955, the company has grown from one Illinois hamburger restaurant to a global chain with more than 30,000 locations, but the standards of quality preached by founder Ray Kroc half a century ago still apply today. From Boston to Budapest, McDonald’s customers know that when they see the Golden Arches, a good burger is close at hand.
Standardizing the operations, service and values of restaurants in 119 countries, however, is not an easy task. Aligning the practices of franchisees, store managers and crew members around the world requires a dedicated global training staff and an integrated international curriculum. To meet these needs and protect its brand, McDonald’s has established seven Hamburger Universities around the world, which have graduated 275,000 employees since 1961.
In Oak Brook, Ill., the corporate home of McDonald’s USA, the American branch of Hamburger University provides a wide range of experiences that help store managers, franchisees and executives ensure their customers are getting quality service. The high academic standards of these courses even led the American Council of Education (ACE) to recommend the university’s curriculum for college credit.
Yet, being the only restaurant organization to receive ACE credit recommendations has not made McDonald’s complacent. The company is dedicated to using part of its $1 billion annual training budget to find new ways to leverage technology and improve learning programs.
The institution’s most innovative tools include two interactive labs in which students can practice management principles in a real-world environment. In the Quality Lab, students prepare products and use their senses to determine what they did right and what might have gone wrong.
This process helps managers be more conscious of quality issues and teaches them to be better troubleshooters, said Randy Vest, senior director of U.S. training, learning and development.
“It’s an opportunity for our students to get more experience with what they’re already familiar with but look at it from a different vantage point,” Vest said. “It heightens their quality awareness.”
In the Service Lab, students use action experiential learning techniques to simulate the problems an unprepared crew can face during a lunch or dinner rush. Split into groups of crew members, customers and observers, both professors and students can see what happens to a restaurantï¿½s sales when the necessary success factors arenï¿½t in place.
After looking at the sales from the first shift, where these pieces were lacking, students put the missing factors back where they belong and run the shift again. The totals from the second shift always are much higher, said Diana Thomas, dean of Hamburger University and vice president of U.S. training, learning and development.
ï¿½They have the potential to increase their sales by 40 to 50 percent just by making those changes,ï¿½ she said. ï¿½Talk about believability. What theyï¿½ve just learned in the classroom theyï¿½ve been able to apply, so they leave really motivated to make the changes in their restaurants.ï¿½
McDonaldï¿½s takes this interactive learning style into its classes, as well, where lecture halls have given way to multimedia classrooms that encourage visual learning and competitive interaction. In these rooms, students often are broken into teams that compete against one another in many learning games and projects.
These friendly rivalries are then channeled into the Hot Hamburgers competition, which takes place on the studentsï¿½ last day at Hamburger University. Using a game-show format, this contest reinforces the curriculum by testing students on subjects covered during the week of training.
Vest said despite its light-hearted nature, students take this competition very seriously.
ï¿½They study hard in preparation while theyï¿½re studying for the final assessment thatï¿½s done on Friday ï¿½ we see them gathering together in their teams, coming in early in the mornings and working through the week,ï¿½ he said. ï¿½They recognize the value, they take it seriously, and they love the competition.ï¿½
As the students go home at the end of the week, the dorms might empty, but the learning doesnï¿½t end. McDonaldï¿½s promotes continual learning for its employees and expects every worker to go through 40 hours of development each year.
This expectation reaches all the way to the top, where even Thomas and Vest must decide which skills they would like to improve for themselves. Thomas said she sees this requirement as an opportunity to continue to learn and grow in her position and beyond.
ï¿½Even at the level Iï¿½m at, with access to all this training, I look at what will help me be a better training leader and business professional in the future ï¿½ what piece will I play in developing myself this year?ï¿½ she said. ï¿½Those conversations happen at every level of the organization. It goes back to not being complacent. Weï¿½re focused on how we can continuously improve to meet tomorrowï¿½s challenges.ï¿½
ï¿½ Tegan Jones, firstname.lastname@example.org
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