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Jamie Lawrence


Insights Director

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Interview: Jez Langhorn, VP People, McDonald’s


Jez Langhorn, McDonald's UK VP of People, talks to us about employee engagement and how it works at the fast food giant. McDonald's recently placed on the Great Place to Work list of the top workplaces across the UK for its commitment to building a culture of trust and unity.

1.What does employee engagement truly mean at McDonald’s?

As a fast-paced, customer-led business, our people are our greatest asset and are an absolute priority – they are fundamental to McDonald’s success, as we need them to deliver consistent, high-quality customer service in our restaurants.  When our people are engaged, they are more motivated, which in turn enhances the customer experience.

At the heart of our engagement strategy is our commitment to training and developing our people.  Over the last seven years, we’ve been on a journey to offer our people access to nationally recognised qualifications.  We have developed a ‘learning ladder’, providing a clear progression path, transferable skills and the chance to obtain qualifications along the way.  All our people now have the opportunity to gain a whole range of qualifications from adult certificates in maths and English right through to the Foundation Degree we offer our restaurant managers. 

We are also committed to empowering our employees so that they can act as effective brand ambassadors. The more you communicate to them, engage with them, seek their thoughts and opinions, the greater the feeling of being part of one team working collectively towards the same goals.

Many of our restaurants employees in particular play an integral role in our company-wide initiatives whether that be as the designated restaurant Planet Champion working on key environment programmes or by taking part in our now well-established apprenticeship scheme.

2.Does having such a recognised, powerful brand (and such a large organisation) make employee engagement easier or harder?

I think ultimately the challenge of making sure you have the right communication channels open to employees is the same regardless of the size of your business and the strength of the brand in question. It’s just about ensuring every employee has access to information appropriate for their role and/or level.

We have 91,000 employees and the majority work in one of our 1,200 restaurants which span the width and breadth of the UK. To ensure we maintain a continuous dialogue with our people we have a dedicated employee extranet called ourlounge. Available to everyone who works at McDonald’s, it enables our people to keep up to date with their personal development and shift patterns and is also where some of the online learning takes place. It is regularly updated with company news and videos, competitions and discounts, as well as providing an opportunity for people to submit their own comments and articles via forums.

3.McDonalds is known for the diversity of its workforce. To what extent does this diversity make employee engagement harder, for example having to create initiatives that target very different personalities?

We’ve known that our flexible working environment appeals to a wide range of people of different ages. The flexibility of our restaurant jobs allows students to work around their studies, parents to work around childcare commitments and means grandparents can earn a little extra cash to spend on their grandchildren. We’re proud to offer all of our people the opportunity to develop and grow personally to enable them to fulfil their potential at McDonald’s and beyond. Whilst the vast majority of our employees are under 30, we’ve found that it’s good for our people and good for our business to have a diverse workforce.

However, this diversity does create a need to tailor employee engagement channels taking into account the tone, style and ways of delivering the communication. We understand that some of the older workers within our organisation may not be as comfortable with digital technologies as some of the teenagers or twenty-somethings working for us and we will always ensure we are using methods of communication that are accessible to everyone, however, we also need to keep pace with developing technologies to ensure we remain relevant and appealing for our younger employees. One example of this is the recent introduction of gamification on ourlounge to help embed operational changes such as new product launches.

4.Your engagement strategy has been commended before for being tied in with business strategy. To what extent does this tie-in encourage engagement strategies to succeed?

Employee engagement is integral to our business plan and plays a vital role in our overarching strategy. When employee motivation and engagement are considered a business priority and have buy in from everyone within the organisation, including the senior management team, they play a key part in perfecting a successful ‘business as usual’ standard. A more engaged workforce means a more motivated workforce who are geared to deliver first class customer experience, create happy customers and help us build overall business performance.

5.Engagement often requires buy-in from senior leaders. How does McDonald’s ensure its senior executives throw their weight behind employee engagement initiatives?

The senior management team at McDonald’s recognises the value of employee engagement at all levels and regards it as being absolutely essential for business success. Over the years the facts speak for themselves – you only have to look at the steady growth of our business over the course of the last six years and see it directly correlates to the increase in pride, commitment and retention levels of our employees. This in turn links to our increased focus on employee engagement whether that be through the introduction of new communication channels such as ourlounge or the development of new qualifications and skills on offer to employees.

There is a regular stream of communication which comes from various Executive Team members including: a monthly ‘Town Hall’ meeting for all office staff; a fortnightly email from the CEO to all office staff, field staff, franchisees and restaurant managers; regular podcasts headed up by our COO, various conferences and events aimed at different audiences within the McDonald’s family headed up by senior personnel and regular ‘Executive Road Shows’. In addition to these examples, there is a well-structured operations hierarchy ensuring company news and urgent pieces of communication are channelled smoothly through the whole business as well as a twice yearly shoulder-to-shoulder training programme which starts from the Executive Team and cascades all the way down to hourly paid restaurant employees meaning that everyone within the company receives the same operational training.

6.Trust is recognised as one of the drivers of engagement. What does ‘trust’ mean for McDonalds? How do you go about delivering it?

We’ve been a part of Britain for nearly 40 years now and during this time people’s expectations of us have changed very little – they want us to provide good food and good service at great value, look after our people, behave responsibly and give back to the communities we’re part of. We’re very proud of what we have achieved and have done this by always putting our customers first, being challenged by ourselves and others to act responsibly, making changes and improvements where necessary and basing all of our business decisions on integrity and what feels right for us. 

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Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence

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