As a 20-year old I worked in McDonald’s for almost two years. When I reflect on that period of my life, I amusingly realize that as an employee I exhibited combination of great potential and utter incompetence.
Nowadays, when I see such kid on an interview – (s)he is usually unable to pass the initial stage, let alone be offered an employment opportunity. Interestingly enough, most of the 20-something I interviewed in few past years are light years ahead of me when I was that age, and I can only imagine what kind of career path lies ahead of them.
It wasn’t until years afterwards that lessons from McDonald’s started to fit into the big picture, and I started to get a grasp of how important that experience was.
In my mind McDonald’s is a prototype of deprecated 20-century style organization and management which doesn’t share much with vibrant and dynamic high-tech companies nowadays. Even so, there are three things in my mind which they nailed exceptionally well that everyone involved in early-stage business should pay very close attention to.
#1 – Importance of processes
McDonald’s does not leave any room for improvisation. Instead of building a business that relies on skill, talents and improvisation from (exceptional) individuals, their competitive advantage is modeled around equipment, tools and machinery which people are operating within a rigid set of procedures.
You may think that flipping a burger is something that goes along the lines of “when a patty gets brown – flip it”. Absolutely not. Daily calibrated double-sided grill takes care of optimal cooking for a maximum of 4×3 patties. What you need to do is season each respective patty with a single stroke of a salt shaker, take a spatula with your left hand, place it in front of the patty at a 45 degree angle, and scrape a burger in a single, decisive move, holding it gently with your right hand, two patties at once.
Now, you may think this kind of paradigm applies to blue collar jobs only?
Then re-think commercial aviation. There are no good and/or great pilots. Just trained professionals who follow clear and detailed procedure for every (im)possible scenario.
Of course, in a 100% problem-solving environment which is not comprised of repetitive tasks (such as start-ups), procedures obviously don’t apply – but processes absolutely do. Every other small and medium-sized business usually has a combination of both – i.e. in SaaS/technology company support, customer acquisition, marketing, and operations may well have clear procedures.
#2 – Managing expectations
There’s one thing that management in McDonald’s does exceptionally well. They communicate and give feedback very clearly.
There’s no way one gets lost in not knowing what they need to improve, how well they perform and in which direction to keep moving. Of course, their feedback mechanism is 100% about giving, instead of it being bi-directional – but that’s just the way their org structure works.
McDonald’s operates after the three C’s: Cooperation, communication and coordination. Insisting on those three C’s throughout the organization makes each and every individual exceptionally well oriented and focused to performing on optimal level, which in turn is paramount for company scaling and individual career development.
#3 – Design for scalability
Processes (or procedures where needed), and clear expectations that develop well oriented employees are two hallmarks that make McDonald’s business scaling possible in the first place.
For a second, imagine being their Executive Chef and VP, Culinary Innovation who tries to introduce a new item to the menu – such as a simple shake, cherry pie or fish sandwich. You need to think not only how it will affect 68 million customers, but what kind of operational and logistic is needed to introduce a new ingredient in 35,000 outlets/restaurants worldwide! You need to think about controllable supply of quality product that can be guaranteed to restaurants, different taste buds of vast variety of millions of people, and so on and so forth.
Everything McDonald’s does today is designed with very high scalability in mind, that goes without saying, but designing with scalability in mind when they didn’t need it – as a young and small venture – is what made their business possible in the first place!
If you start thinking how your business is going to scale once it needs to get scaling – you’re way too late. Design for scalability from day #1.
Introducing processes as a counter-measure for every problem that occurs, always communicating clear expectations and designing with scalability in mind are the three pillars around which successful company grows. When I started my first company – I didn’t develop any of those, nor I understood how much I need them. I guess that’s one of the main reasons that in spite of a good product and pretty decent revenue – the company itself failed.