McDonald’s Corp: Inside a fast-evolving culture

McDonald's Corp has been deliberately evolving its internal culture, as global director of HR Analytics Derek Berube explains.
By: | September 2, 2019

These days, it’s not enough for McDonald’s to be focused on customer service—that needs to be redefined to customer obsession, says its global Chief People Officer.

“That’s a strong thing to aspire to,” David Fairhurst told HR Executive magazine in an exclusive interview this month.

When current McDonald’s Corp CEO Steve Easterbrook arrived, he began pushing franchisees to try new things, such as all-day breakfast. “This was something consumers said they wanted,” says Derek Berube, the company’s director of HR analytics.

By working closely with franchisees and mandating that they upgrade and remodel their stores, the company has ensured that the customer experience at McDonald’s reflects the speed and efficiency they’ve come to expect while they also enjoy new perks, such as digital menus and tableside delivery.

These changes have been helped along by a reshaping of McDonald’s corporate culture, says Berube.

“Historically, you were considered a very good performer here if you were able to influence others, kept your budget down and supported the market, but there wasn’t really an emphasis on driving anything,” he says.

In order for the company to continue innovating, the culture had to change, he says.

Working with Ulrich, Fairhurst created the slogan “Better Together” to emphasise collaboration over competition among the company’s various global markets. Rather than compete with one another, they were encouraged to share ideas, says Berube.

“One of my favorite parts about the whole culture piece is that we’re very clear on what we don’t do anymore,”he says. “We’re not going to obsess about operational gains over customer gains, for example, which we used to do.”

Managers all the way down to the store level are encouraged to lead and be innovative, he adds.

“Every country would go out and create their own trainings, spending lots of money on the same training that was being duplicated elsewhere”

Derek Berube, Director of HR Analytics, McDonald’s Corp.

Meanwhile, the centralised reporting relationship with the various global markets has helped McDonald’s avoid duplicative efforts, says Berube.

“We had this horrible problem of creating the same thing 14 times over,”he says. “Every country would go out and create their own trainings, spending lots of money on the same training that was being duplicated elsewhere.”

Thanks to the centralised relationship, that sort of duplication no longer happens—instead, frameworks are adopted companywide and tweaked to fit individual markets, says Berube.

The corporate HQ move to downtown Chicago is emblematic of McDonald’s changing culture, says Fairhurst. The new building features outdoor terraces, an employee café with stadium seating and a layout that features a mix of huddle rooms, communal seating, private workstations and private phone rooms.

“It’s designed in such a way to encourage collaboration,” he says. The company is recruiting heavily on college campuses, which had not been a priority before.

Meanwhile, at least 650 various company processes have been challenged — if they don’t have a good business case for existing, then out they go, says Fairhurst.

The employee experience has also been prioritised, he says. “Attracting talent is just one element of this. It’s also vital that people have a great employee experience, and we continue to innovate to ensure we’re an engaging and enjoyable place to work.”

Ulrich says that, while Silicon Valley companies tend to get the lion’s share of attention these days, older companies offer valuable stories of reinvention.

“People often point to exciting HR organisations at places like Facebook or Tencent, but those are relatively new companies,” says Ulrich. “McDonald’s is an older company in an industry that has huge headwinds against it, but they’re turning it around.”