As has been the true for so many others, the golden arches of McDonald’s represented a gateway to opportunity to me as a young emigrant from Pakistan in the early 1980s. My job at McDonald’s was one of my first. Little did I know that it would provide me with lessons that I employ to this day in my franchise business, Edible Arrangements.
There are concrete reasons for that, however. The leadership that has kept McDonald’s at the top of the fast-food industry for years has aimed to put customer desires first. “Look after the customers and the business will take care of itself” is a famous quote from Ray Kroc and one of the first lessons I learned during my tenure at McDonald’s.
Here are the others lessons I gleaned from this employer early in my career:
1. Treat each job, however small, as a stepping stone to something greater. I began by cleaning restrooms: I was promised a move behind the counter if I could maintain the highest standards of cleanliness.
As a boy, I had been taught to clean at home by my mother who could see dust a mile away. I asked her for advice and to “critique” my skills so that I could realize my goal of earning my first promotion. I mastered the art of bathroom cleaning (and even grew to enjoy it) and before long I had achieved a coveted spot behind the register.
In so doing, I realized the value and the pleasure in perfectly executing a simple task. I have used this personal experience to instill in my employees pride in a job well done and the rewards that follow.
2. Never underestimate the power of a common language. Visitors to its stores may have noticed that McDonald’s has its own language. Some of it has made its way into the popular vernacular (does McMansion ring a bell?). While working for the company, I was constantly instructed about the importance of using the friendly, memorable “Mc” language that has become part of American culture.
As a person who learned English as a second language, this “McSpeak” leveled the playing field for me and all employees and helped foster teamwork as well.
In adopting proprietary company terms of my own, I have passed this sense of belonging along to my employees at Edible Arrangements. I see the adoption of a “company language” paying dividends in streamlining meetings and memos and improving employees' ability to communicate with customers.
3. Ensure that the customer experience is the same in each location. I always was in awe of McDonald’s ability to deliver the same quality and customer experience from outlet to outlet. I discovered this was less a result of restaurant design and menu than of having strong systems in place and effective employee training.
Indeed, studies show that employee training can increase worker productivity. In 2006, I put this idea into practice by changing my company's training program from an unsustainable binder with inserts to more high-tech solution (that also wouldn't allow for leaks of proprietary franchise information): A secure terminal with a touch screen offers short video instruction on everything from selling products to keeping the store clean.
4. Accept and expect nothing less than the best from employees. The top managers at McDonald’s work hard to motivate staff. Some of the smartest mentors I ever had were McDonald's managers. This can be attributed to the pride that the company tries to instill in every employee. Each of my bosses took the time to ask me about my day, every day. They wanted to know what had gone well, where I had encountered any problems and, most important, what suggestions I might have for the company.
This simple gesture was very empowering to a young man. I went out of my way to think of small recommendations I could make and was rewarded a few times by seeing my words translated into action.
At my company, I have instituted similar employee engagement programs to foster an open exchange of ideas. My company's culture committee meets monthly to discuss employee ideas, interests and recommendations for improving the workplace. The result has been the introduction of worthwhile initiatives, such as the Above and Beyond the Call of Duty Award to recognize employees whose actions regularly extend l beyond what's expected.
5. Spot and foster talent among the ranks. Forty percent of McDonald's executives started their careers as hourly workers. McDonald’s has really bottled this kind of loyalty. When I went into business, I vowed to do the same. Consequently, I have always worked closely with employees directly and through human resources to discover any “hidden talents” or attributes that could position an employee for greater things.
At my company, I have observed traits that were not obvious or on a resume but that turned out to be key indicators of a motivated employee with a great future. Today my company has employees who have grown right along with the business because they demonstrated a commitment to the corporate vision and an eagerness to learn new skills that enabled them to rise through the ranks.
Probably the most important lesson I learned at McDonald’s is invaluable for companies and individuals alike: Observe and absorb all the business knowledge at any job. No one business strategy can serve every company. Take the learnings from previous positions and find the formula that works best.
Correction: This post has been updated to reflect that McDonald's was one of the first jobs of Tariq Farid.