6 ways McDonald’s internal comms is proving its value

Can you clearly demonstrate that your communications have value, inspiring innovation or productivity? McDonald’s is embarking on a journey to do just that.

McDonalds comms tips

Surveying internal communication at McDonald’s, you might think the global corporation has it all figured out.

Talk to the driving force behind the effort, however, and Rodney Jordan—who is senior director of global executive and internal communications at the fast-food colossus—describes his work as a journey toward an as yet unrealized goal.

Jordan’s team is on a journey toward connecting the performance of masses of individuals to the communications they consume. Did comms make them work harder, do things better, achieve results?

“We’ve been on a journey here to try and crack that code,” says Jordan. “I would not say we’ve cracked the code. I would say we’ve put a nice dent in it.”

A dapper man with a blue and white striped handkerchief in the breast pocket of his gray blazer, Jordan describes his journey with the passion of a Columbus trying to persuade Ferdinand and Isabella to back his journey to the New World.

We meet in McDonald’s spiffy new headquarters on Chicago’s bustling near West Loop, in a space that is a corporate meeting hall that also includes a McDonald’s restaurant. McDonald’s holds town halls here on the tiered seats facing multistory windows that look out on rooftops and high-rises.

Jordan communicates with a broader McDonald’s “family” that includes more than 10,000 employees, several thousand franchisees, hundreds of suppliers, and those franchises’ workforce of 1.4 million.

For Jordan, cracking the code means determining the value of what internal comms does in an environment where budgets are constrained, resources are challenged, and departments must justify their impact.

Jordan isn’t talking about counting “likes” on intranet articles, nor even views of that new CEO video (though those can be useful). He’s certainly not seeking ways to, say, claim credit for a bump in earnings that just happened to coincide with an internal campaign.

Here are tips from McDonald’s for launching your own journey:

1. Determine your goals.

In order to determine what to measure, you must know what you’re setting out to achieve. You can’t slap a measurement system into place. You must say you are trying to drive a certain outcome through a given action or campaign.

Whether sending an email or sponsoring a town hall, McDonald’s internal communications group works to achieve four goals:

  • Alignment: Understanding the strategy of the organization and what it is trying to achieve so that your audience can get behind it.
  • Engagement: Connecting and committing not only to each other but to the McDonald’s brand.
  • Pride: Being excited about the work the company is doing and one’s position in the organization. In other words, “wearing the T-shirt or the French fry socks,” Jordan says.
  • Advocacy: Using one’s voice for influence to help other people to understand what McDonald’s is doing.

Engaged employees—those who feel connected to an organization—have better business results, Jordan says. They go out of their way to deliver “delicious, feel-good moments.” The way they feel about the organization will be the way they treat the customer. They are more likely to stay on the job, rather than moving on and saddling the company with the cost of recruiting and training a new employee.

2. Measure what matters.

Understanding the relationship connecting individual pieces of communication and performance is a big data problem, Jordan says. Mapping performance against individual messages, you must start by capturing the data for communications consumed by vast groups of employees and others in your communication system.

What videos did people watch? Which articles did they read? What town halls did they attend? And which of these did they skip or ignore?

After determining all that, the hard part begins. How did these communications affect job performance, especially compared against a control group who didn’t watch the videos or read the article?

“Then you look at performance,” Jordan says. “Did you create a new product? Did you create a change in a business process?” Basically, how can you quantify what the message did for the for the company?

3. Get help.

“For those who want to go on the measurement journey, you can’t go it alone,” Jordan says.

Given the big data problem, measurement extends beyond your department. It raises a series of questions, and you must partner with those who can get you the answers—a strategic convoy of sorts.

“Who knows what the bottom line is? That’s finance,” Jordan says. “I’m now dealing with data privacy issues. Data. I’m dealing with performance data. HR. I’m dealing with systems. IT. I’m probably going to have to add analytical to my team, dealing with consumer insight. I’m dealing with five people I need to bring in to understand what it is I’m trying to do and be a part of that journey.”

This is no different from what HR departments and indeed entire businesses are doing when they have multiple data sources, Jordan says. Everyone is trying to figure out, “How do I make all this sea of information make sense and tell a story that I can do something with,” he says.

You must solve that problem within a partnership. Yet with this work, communications can establish itself as a driver of business, Jordan says. “In order for that conversation to happen, who’s going to start it?” he says.

4. Present your data.

McDonald’s has designed a dashboard that shows how the communications team is performing with regard to any of its four goals.

In a perfect world, Jordan would prove a correlation between engagement on these points and performance, showing that the higher the former numbers go, the higher performance goes. Although the company is not there yet, McDonald’s is drawing interesting parallels.

“In terms of being connected strategically to what our organization is trying to do, and being something we as practitioners can use to put our own charts or data in front of leaders [and] executives and talk in terms they understand, there’s some really good stuff,” he says.

5. Connect it to strategy.

There is a good deal of information that might be helpful but doesn’t contribute to this understanding of communications and performance.

Many communicators think that if they do a survey or an audit, they’re measuring. Jordan says not so. Likewise, measuring email open rates, or “likes” and shares, doesn’t answer the deeper questions about the effect of communications.

For example, certain information may help Jordan to better advise the CEO, but it won’t make a difference in understanding the four goals and performance. For example, if the big boss wants to do a video for a product being launched next week, and the communicator knows that such an approach didn’t work in the past, data helps make the argument.

“You may believe that video works, but I should have data that says, ‘Well, we tried that with these certain types of messages,’” Jordan says. “‘Here’s what we’ve learned. We’ve learned that this type of thing should be shared from this type of person at this day and time through this means.’”

Before you dispatch a camera crew, it’s essential to articulate why. Establish how this relates to your top goals above. If the CEO wants to talk about a product under development—why?

“Are we trying to foster more alignment?” Jordan says. “Is this a tangible example of a strategy we’re trying to drive as an organization? Is it going to help people feel more connected to each other or to that strategy or to our brand? Is it going to bolster some pride? … What is it going to do?”

If you communicated about a new product, and employees shared it with thousands of other people, who then bought the product, you were successful. Likewise, if you shared a strategy that made your workforce more confident, and performance of those people on those teams skyrocketed, that’s a victory.

Data will help you know whether your strategy is working and, if so, what to do next.

6. Recognize that journeys take time.

You’re not likely to crack this code in six months, Jordan says. It’s probably a multiyear effort to get where you can prove your impact.

“If that’s the journey you’re trying to start, the chances are, your organization isn’t there yet,” Jordan says. “You’ve definitely got to commit to a long journey.”

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