Technical communication

User documentation at McDonald’s

In 2003 I spent six months working at the local drive-through McDonald’s restaurant. My daily work ranged from flipping burgers to taking orders from both walk-in and drive-through customers. The job was stressful, painful and a great experience: I learned first hand about the activities in the incredible value chain that keeps the McWorld in motion – from the distribution process of the raw materials to the process of transforming this input to finished products, moving even further from the outbound logistics – the distribution of the finished products – to marketing, sales and service.

McDonald’s does not just process raw materials to finished burger in record time, they also process employees at a pace even a world-class sprinter would find stressful. At McDonald’s the daily work is monotonous and there are little or no viable possibilities for advancement (sure there are different titles – but they entail the same work and have the same pay).

McDonald’s value statement is summarised into  the abbreviation QSCV: Quality, Services, Cleanliness and Value. The main goal is to keep the customer experience at the core of everything they do.

The question now is – how do you run a global corporation with a single value statement and how to you plant a single global company culture? There is in my mind no doubt that growing a sound culture is key to running a succesful business. Of course you can implement fancy Japanese production and management methods (5S, Kaizen and Lean), but if you fail to create a culture that embeds and embraces these methods they won’t work.

That is why McDonald’s work very hard at instilling “The McDonald’s way” of doing things. When I worked my McJob my manager worked very hard at learning me the core of the value statement (translated to real actions that I could take my daily work).

The instructions I got were incredibly specific and seemed to have been honed over the decades. The knowledge was transferred through “user” manuals – given to each new employee (and then handed down to every new generation of workers). I even had weekly quizzes with my manager, and I had to memorize exact cooking times  (did you e.g. know that a Quarter Pounder needs to fry for 70 seconds?!) for Big Macs and Big Tastys as well as McDonald’s internal production methods (“90 second tray interval” and “120 second tray interval”).

I discovered that McDonald’s convey their company culture to every employee with user manuals, checklists, courses at “McDonald’s business school” as well as indoctrinating trips to the Hamburger University in Illinois.

User manuals can actually be a very useful tool for introducing new employees to the company culture. Conveying a positive company culture is a positive thing also manuals mainly aimed at external users – as it is hardly negative to give the impression of a smoothly running operation with happy workers all adhering to an inspiring and efficient way of working.

My call to arms is: – If you have a great company culture, let it shine brightly in your user manuals! 

I would love to hear from you , and if you have any thoughts about my ramblings, just go ahead and leave a comment!

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