McDonalds Consistency Begins with an Education at Hamburger University

By Irwin Speizer

May. 22, 2006

When the sun rises over Oak Brook, Illinois., so do the flags outside Hamburger University. The training campus of McDonald’s Corp. hoists national flags each morning coinciding with the nationalities of those inside learning the company’s ways.

    McDonald’s flies a lot of flags. The company operates in 118 countries, and any one of them might be represented in classes at Hamburger U. on any given day. In the age of globalization, few brands are as well known as McDonald’s, and few corporations have gone as far in their training and development programs to accommodate associates from around the world. The company has the ability to give instruction in 28 languages.

    “We do very little outsourcing,” Maura Havenga, senior vice president of the restaurant solutions group. “Our ability to train leaders in a global environment is something we are looking to make part of our core competency.”

    McDonald’s goal is fairly straightforward: to give customers a similar dining experience anywhere in the world, and to maintain high standards of service of quality. There may be regional differences in menus or manners, but ultimately a McDonald’s should be consistently the same for the customers regardless of whether it’s in the United States or the United Arab Emirates.

    The company localizes for particular parts of the word, Havenga says. But always, the service standard is the same: “Fast, accurate and friendly.”

    The heart of the system is Hamburger University, which is where 5,000 to 7,000 store managers are trained each year. Hamburger U. is housed in a 130,000-square-foot building at the corporate headquarters in Oak Brook. Built in 1983, it is in a tranquil setting on 80 acres, complete with two man-made lakes. Inside are four theater-style classrooms, a 300-person auditorium, 20 seminar rooms, three working restaurant labs and various offices. Translation booths are at the back of classrooms.

    There is a staff of 19 “professors” who teach the essential elements of running and managing restaurants. More in-depth business training comes from outside instructors.

    Many of the foreign visitors to Oak Brook are there for advanced management training. The basics are often taught through satellite operations using curriculum crafted in Oak Brook and customized as needed for local consumption. McDonald’s operates six satellite universities around the world.

   The universities, in turn, are backed by another 139 regional country training centers scattered about the globe where other new employees get initial training.

    McDonald’s keeps tabs through a series of tracking methods. It begins with basic bookkeeping measures: how many people have taken training, what classes they took and whether every shift manager is certified in safety.

    Tracking then moves up in sophistication as McDonald’s seeks to measure the results of its training. Students take competency tests after completing classes. Participants and bosses give feedback on how the training worked. Finally, review teams visit and evaluate restaurants. The process includes “mystery shoppers” who drop in unidentified at stores around the globe.

    One of the first things store personnel learn is to greet each customer in a friendly, welcoming way. Initial attendance records will tell whether an employee received the training. The mystery shopper can then determine whether the training took.

While the greeting method may be slightly different in Tokyo—a respectful bow instead of an informal howdy—the end result should be the same. It’s the job of Hamburger University to ensure that those results get replicated each day in every country where McDonald’s operates.

    “As the world continues to evolve, we need to focus on those things that made us successful,” says Diana Thomas, U.S. vice president of training and the dean of Hamburger University. “We need to continue to invest in our people.”

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