One bite of a McDonald’s french fry tantalizes the taste buds and makes it impossible to eat just one. But how do McDonald’s restaurants from Belgium to Egypt manage to produce the same tasty treat?
In partnership with NogginLabs, McDonald’s deployed an e-learning module globally to teach employees how to create that perfect fry. This was part of a greater strategy to develop consistent global training. To determine what should be standardized, NogginLabs met with McDonald’s leaders in early 2007 and identified french fries and the roles of crew trainer — members of the crew who teach others — and drive-thru for consistent, global training.
“There are a variety of reasons each one was selected. But french fries [were selected] because that is the most consistent product across the enterprise. It’s really the gold standard of McDonald’s,” said Brian Knudson, CEO of NogginLabs. “The goals of the initiative were to have a consistent global message, reduce the seat time [and] decrease the time to competency.”
After this consensus was reached, a performance-based e-learning module was developed, in which employees were able to practice the actual cooking process. Similar modules were developed for crew trainer and drive-thru.
“Think of it as an electronic flight simulator for making french fries,” Knudson said. “You’re actually moving the baskets in and out and going through the different steps. We had simulated experts that would pop in, so [if] you made a mistake, an expert would give you a story about what’s appropriate at that point in time.”
Because McDonald’s has a complex audience in terms of age groups, it was important that the french fry e-learning program appeal to everyone. So a module that had a “deep respect” for workers was created. Learners were given a brief, to-the-point overview instead of an elaborate one, and then participants practiced in a fail-safe environment.
“You’re allowed to make mistakes [and] do things out of order,” Knudson said. “You’re getting consistent coaching as you make those mistakes. [And] it reduces the time to competency in that you’re not out there learning [from] your mistakes over days. In just a half-hour, folks [are] given what they need to go on the floor and make fries.”
Knudson believes an investment in e-learning should ultimately be an investment in behavior change.
“If it’s not changing behaviors, it’s not learning — it’s a communication piece,” he explained. “If it’s a sales course, have sales actually improved? If they haven’t changed, then I would evaluate the type of e-learning that’s being built.”
McDonald’s did an extensive Kirkpatrick Level 3 analysis, and at a high level, it found that the e-learning modules worked and behavior was changing.
“Part of this project was [asking], ‘What is possible in e-learning? How far can we get people in a very short period of time?’” Knudson said. “We were really pushing the envelope on performance.”
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