McDonald’s turns up the heat

Head of training Lynn Phillips explains why the rebranding of food
phenomenon McDonald’s brings a massive skills programme in its wake

Walk into a McDonald’s this month and you should notice a difference. Ronald
McDonald is still going strong and so too are the burgers and fries, but now
customers can choose from a menu that includes chicken, fish, a choice of
salads and possibly low-fat yoghurt. What’s more, it’s all being served with a
smile.

This rebranding, which comes with the slogan ‘I’m lovin’ it’, is part of a
worldwide initiative to get the fast-food giant back on track.

At the end of last year and for the first time in its history the firm went
into the red, hit by food scares and changing tastes in family eating. So
worried was the US firm by its falling sales that it wooed its former company
president Jim Cantalupo back from retirement to help turn the firm around.

In addition to its changing menus, McDonald’s is refurbishing its
restaurants and has launched a global advertising campaign aimed at winning
back customers. But such a massive rebranding campaign can not happen without
input from the training and HR function. As a result a massive hospitality
training programme is about to sweep through the firm’s 1,231 restaurants in
the UK.

This is where head of HR and training Lynn Phillips (right), who has been
with the firm for more than 20 years, comes in. "The fast food industry is
now a completely different place from when I started working here," she
says. "The whole pattern of people eating out has changed. Perhaps what we
have seen recently at McDonald’s is the result of us not changing quickly
enough."

Phillips started working as a part-time crew member in her local McDonald’s
while still at school. She continued during her gap year between school and
university, rising to a first-line supervisor. When she finished her degree in
modern languages she went back to McDonald’s as a management trainee.

"I started out in restaurant management, but I had already said that I
was interested in moving to personnel. It was a very small department then, but
after three or four years McDonald’s found me a job in the personnel team and
I’ve been here ever since."

Phillips moved up the ranks until 1995 when she took over as head of HR. Two
years later she was given responsibility for customer services as well, and
earlier this year she became head of training too, reporting to the UK’s chief
operating officer.

"It’s a fantastic opportunity to work closely with the operations part
of the business," Phillips says. "I know that training is a strength
for us, but I want to see it translated into business results."

McDonald’s decision to bring HR and training under one person meant Phillips
could be intimately involved with early rebranding plans in the UK. "This
sort of global exercise is a first for us although each country does have the
autonomy to adapt the global framework to its own needs," Phillips says.

She and her colleagues worked closely with the communications team in the
build-up to the rebranding, especially when it came to talking to restaurant
managers about what was happening. "We’ve helped with the content of these
sessions and made sure they were relevant to the management audience," she
says.

In addition they have been pulling together the hospitality training
programme that, by the end of this year, will have cascaded down to the 68,000
crew members working in McDonald’s wholly owned and franchised restaurants in
the UK. According to Phillips, the development work really started a year ago
when McDonald’s began rolling out a training programme for restaurant staff
called ‘out to make you smile’.

"From each restaurant we brought together the core team of managers and
key staff into one of our training centres and went through things like customer
profiles, what customers are looking for and the barriers to good service.

"The aim was for all these teams to take this information and develop
their own mission statement to take back to their restaurants and instil it in
other crew members."

It has proved a highly successful programme, Phillips says. "We’ve used
a mystery shopper exercise to measure it and found that the restaurants that
received the training were scoring between 3 and 5 per cent higher on service
than the national and regional averages."

Next generation

On the back of this programme, McDonald’s is now running what Phillips
describes as the next generation of hospitality training. Called ‘Friendliness
First’, the programme will take restaurant management teams off-site to one of
the firm’s seven regional training centres.

There will of course be a video to bring home the purpose and processes of
the rebranding, but teams will also be encouraged to thrash out the principles
of hospitality, the importance of how they interact with customers and how both
of these apply to the new face of McDonald’s. They will then return to their
restaurants with a package of training materials to use with crew members and,
by the end of 2003, all restaurant employees will have completed Friendliness
First.

When it comes to what people see in a restaurant, hospitality training is
key, but it’s not just about reinforcing the rebranding, it’s about ratcheting
up McDonald’s level of service overall. "The challenge of continually
improving service levels has always been there, but our competitors have got
better and we have not moved on as fast," Phillips says.

Hospitality

It comes back to changes in the fast food business. McDonald’s has built its
success on the back of an emphasis on speed and functionality. But what people
want now is hospitality, not just service. Hence the current stress on
friendliness and smiling.

As well as restoring the fast-food giant’s fortunes, Phillips is hoping that
the ‘I’m lovin’ it’ rebranding will finally put paid to snide, clichéd remarks
about ‘McJobs’. It’s not a concept that she has ever recognised or understood
because, as far as she is concerned, McDonald’s offers some great career
opportunities.

"Fifty per cent of our senior managers have been promoted from within
and 75 per cent of our restaurant managers have come up from crew members. This
is a better track record than any other restaurant chain in the UK,"
Phillips says.

What’s more McDonald’s in now 29th in the Times Top 100 Graduate Employers.
Graduates come for training but often stay because the career opportunities are
so good. "We have never aimed to be the highest payer. Our salaries and
benefits are competitive but beyond that it’s about the work we offer,"
Phillips says.

She blames the McJobs label on the snobbish UK press. "There’s still a
big stigma in this country attached to working in the catering or service
sector," she says. Research from the Work Foundation earlier this year,
backs Phillips’ view. It described McDonald’s as one of the "unsung heavy
lifters at work in the UK economy… who dig deepest into some of the country’s
most difficult and marginalised labour markets." And it praised the firm’s
training and development for taking unskilled workers and turning them into
high-skilled employees.

"We took part in the research because we knew we had good things to say
about ourselves as an employer. We weren’t surprised by the findings but we
were encouraged to see that what we do is valuable," Phillips says.

She believes the key to McDonald’s training strength lies in the fact that
unit managers are so hands-on.

"We say that training is everyone’s job, every day – that’s the
training department’s mission statement," Phillips says.

Blended approach

So as well as delivering most of the initial training for new recruits,
managers will be there on the floor ready to provide coaching when it’s needed.
More experienced crew members are also encouraged to take on the role of buddy
or mentor to new and more junior staff. At the same time there is a form of
curriculum for crew members. So there are check lists of tasks they must
complete and standards they should reach, there are work books to plough
through and NVQs to work towards. It’s a blended approach that works well for
McDonald’s.

As a result the training department is relatively small with only 30 people,
including regional training managers. What is more internal trainers have had
operational experience with many coming on secondment from the front line for two
or three years. It all adds to the department’s success and credibility.
"We want our trainers to be able to speak from a position of
knowledge," Phillips says.

As head of both training and HR she sees her role as one of co-ordinator or
facilitator. In many ways she is the glue between McDonald’s people strategy
and operations. "My role is about making sure training is working to
support the business, working with the regions and with other strategic areas.
It’s about co-ordinating people and activities," she says.

After 20 years with the firm she cannot imagine being anywhere else.
"The thing about this company is that every time I think I’ve got
something under my belt they find me a new challenge." For the next few
months at least, that challenge will be getting managers and crew members in
the restaurants geared up for the rebranding and convincing them that ‘I’m
lovin’ it’ is really worth it.

rials to use with crew members and, by the end of 2003, all restaurant
employees will have completed Friendliness First.

When it comes to what people see in a restaurant, hospitality training is
key, but it’s not just about reinforcing the rebranding, it’s about ratcheting
up McDonald’s level of service overall. "The challenge of continually
improving service levels has always been there, but our competitors have got
better and we have not moved on as fast," Phillips says.

Hospitality

It comes back to changes in the fast food business. McDonald’s has built its
success on the back of an emphasis on speed and functionality. But what people
want now is hospitality, not just service. Hence the current stress on
friendliness and smiling.

As well as restoring the fast-food giant’s fortunes, Phillips is hoping that
the ‘I’m lovin’ it’ rebranding will finally put paid to snide, clichéd remarks
about ‘McJobs’. It’s not a concept that she has ever recognised or understood
because, as far as she is concerned, McDonald’s offers some great career
opportunities.

"Fifty per cent of our senior managers have been promoted from within
and 75 per cent of our restaurant managers have come up from crew members. This
is a better track record than any other restaurant chain in the UK,"
Phillips says.

What’s more McDonald’s in now 29th in the Times Top 100 Graduate Employers.
Graduates come for training but often stay because the career opportunities are
so good. "We have never aimed to be the highest payer. Our salaries and
benefits are competitive but beyond that it’s about the work we offer,"
Phillips says.

She blames the McJobs label on the snobbish UK press. "There’s still a
big stigma in this country attached to working in the catering or service
sector," she says. Research from the Work Foundation earlier this year,
backs Phillips’ view. It described McDonald’s as one of the "unsung heavy
lifters at work in the UK economy… who dig deepest into some of the country’s
most difficult and marginalised labour markets." And it praised the firm’s
training and development for taking unskilled workers and turning them into
high-skilled employees.

"We took part in the research because we knew we had good things to say
about ourselves as an employer. We weren’t surprised by the findings but we
were encouraged to see that what we do is valuable," Phillips says.

She believes the key to McDonald’s training strength lies in the fact that
unit managers are so hands-on.

"We say that training is everyone’s job, every day – that’s the
training department’s mission statement," Phillips says.

Blended approach

So as well as delivering most of the initial training for new recruits,
managers will be there on the floor ready to provide coaching when it’s needed.
More experienced crew members are also encouraged to take on the role of buddy
or mentor to new and more junior staff. At the same time there is a form of
curriculum for crew members. So there are check lists of tasks they must
complete and standards they should reach, there are work books to plough
through and NVQs to work towards. It’s a blended approach that works well for
McDonald’s.

As a result the training department is relatively small with only 30 people,
including regional training managers. What is more internal trainers have had
operational experience with many coming on secondment from the front line for
two or three years. It all adds to the department’s success and credibility.
"We want our trainers to be able to speak from a position of
knowledge," Phillips says.

As head of both training and HR she sees her role as one of co-ordinator or
facilitator. In many ways she is the glue between McDonald’s people strategy
and operations. "My role is about making sure training is working to
support the business, working with the regions and with other strategic areas.
It’s about co-ordinating people and activities," she says.

After 20 years with the firm she cannot imagine being anywhere else.
"The thing about this company is that every time I think I’ve got
something under my belt they find me a new challenge." For the next few
months at least, that challenge will be getting managers and crew members in
the restaurants geared up for the rebranding and convincing them that ‘I’m
lovin’ it’ is really worth it.

CV
Lynn Philips

May 03            Head of
HR and training (and customer services)
May 97            Head of HR and customer
services
Aug 95             Head
of HR
Apr 94             London HR and training
manager
Apr 90             Regional
personnel manager
Mar 87             Field
personnel officer
Oct 83             Joins
McDonald’s as a graduate trainee manager

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