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McDonald’s Virtual Strategy Aids Big Business Changes

The popular restaurant chain supports large-scale business transformation using cloud-based learning technology.

E-learning concept with man holding a tablet computer

With more than 36,000 locations in more than 100 countries, McDonald’s Corp. has been one of the leading fast-food companies in the industry since 1955. Now with almost two million people in its international work system, change — particularly at an enterprisewide level — is not easy. Learning technology, however, can be an enabler for business strategy and McDonald’s is making the most of it.

McDonald’s aims to franchise 4,000 restaurants that are currently owned and operated by the company, many of them in China, with the goal to have 95 percent of restaurants overall franchised by the end of the year.

“From a capital perspective, we think our partners can invest more and they enjoy the risk return on it,” said Rob Lauber, McDonald’s chief learning officer, during an online webinar on Jan. 26. “We can focus on taking the royalties, revenues and service fees that come in and reinvesting them into things that accelerate our business growth.” However, franchise owners are responsible for training their own employees.

McDonald’s has had a brick-and-mortar training facility in Oak Brook, Illinois, for more than 50 years, and hundreds of others around the world. That won’t change, but for the past two years, the company has been developing a learning strategy with a virtual learning platform based on cloud technology. Such a platform “allows us to leverage our scale and size to be more efficient,” said Jack Sylvester, McDonald’s director of learning technologies, in a subsequent phone interview.

Specifically, that learning technology platform includes McDonald’s Campus LMS from Saba, which is in the process of being deployed around the world, and Campus Virtual, an integrated collaboration, virtual meeting and virtual classroom tool found within Campus. There’s also Fred@McD, a performance support tool named after the late Fred L. Turner, a former CEO of McDonald’s and the founder of Hamburger University.

Fred@McD is used to deliver information found in operations and training manuals, quick reference guides and to ensure consistency when managers and crew members engage in shoulder-to-shoulder training at stations within the restaurants.

With these tools at hand, the learning focus shifts to end users and how to promote efficiency based on how workers interact. The approach is “focusing on the learner first, considering the learner’s needs as well as those within the restaurant, and where the technology fits into those interactions,” said Sylvester. “The work streams are more about the ‘how’ or the approach we’re taking to implement and migrate toward a common learning technology tool set.”

Using that model allows McDonald’s to work with all of its individual markets simultaneously rather than one after another.

During the webinar, Lauber and Sylvester discussed the importance of meeting the learner’s needs online but the larger business context is never far from the learning team’s mind. “We’re simplifying the learning and technology strategy to allow the local focus to shift toward execution rather than maintaining multiple systems and designing content within each market,” Sylvester said.

That focus on efficient, adaptable and reusable learning content helps drive business at a local level and support the company’s global transformation model.

As Lauber said in a subsequent email, “We are in business to help drive the business.”

This article was updated on Feb. 17, 2017 to add additional information about McDonald’s virtual learning approach and clarify details about McDonald’s Campus LMS and Campus Virtual. The original also mislabeled Fred@McD as FRED.

Camaron Santos is an editorial intern, and Kellye Whitney is associate editorial director for Chief Learning Officer magazine. Comment below or email editor@CLOmedia.com.