CSR is critical to McDonald’s employee communication

A look at how the fast-food giant tells employees about corporate social responsibility. Video

A look at how the fast-food giant tells employees about corporate social responsibility

Take a few moments to imagine McDonald’s.

What came to mind: french fries and hamburgers, Happy Meals and Ronald McDonald, Fast Food Nation and Supersize Me? What about corporate social responsibility (CSR)?

Last year, Fortune magazine ranked McDonald’s No. 1 for CSR among the “most admired food service companies.” The company ranked fourth among all industries. With such accolades it is little surprise that McDonald’s boasts a stand-alone CSR department of seven people, where communication is a priority.

“The CEO said we need to improve our brand performance, our trust performance,” Bob Langert, vice president in charge of CSR, told Ragan.com. “Our business is doing phenomenal … but our brand performance is not performing at the same level. So we have a mandate from our CEO to tell our [CSR] story better.”

Langert believes telling that story starts inside the company.

“Our internal communications is more important than our external,” Langert explained. “Our first task is to get everyone inside McDonald’s understanding what [CSR] is—what our values are, what we stand for—because the more they know … the more they’ll be motivated to do more.”

Here’s a look inside McDonald’s CSR department and how this massive global corporation is communicating its efforts.

Benefit to society and good business

Bob Langert and Brian Kramer talk more about McDonald’s CSR program.

Integrating social responsibility into the business practices of each of the 1.6 million McDonald’s employees and suppliers is the CSR department’s main role, Langert said.

If employees are onboard with CSR “you have the whole system behind an engine that wants to be a benefit to society and still run a good business,” he explained. “Our department is to keep that alive, to meet with management teams, do reporting and integrate [CSR] into everyone’s thinking and department.”

Communication, or what Langert calls “CSR outreach,” is one of his department’s four primary roles. The other three are the environment, issues management and supply chain.

Here’s an example of the CSR department in action. Brian Kramer, a senior manager in the CSR department, is revamping the company’s packaging scorecard. McDonald’s grades new packages—think about all those sandwich wrappers and cartons—on their functionality in restaurants, operational constraints and cost. Soon that scorecard will grade the sustainability of packages.

This project required extensive communication with employees in the United States and Europe, as well as outside organizations, to both develop the scorecard and inform other employees about it.

Kramer, a former corporate communicator at McDonald’s, said the CSR department adopts a range of communication methods from intimate—e-mail, phone calls—to broad messaging, like Web conferences and intranet updates.

“We’re really looking at any method to effectively reach [audiences], whether that’s an individual, department or broader organization within the company,” he explained.

More and more, Langert added, those methods involve digital communications: intranet, e-mail alerts, video vignettes and social media.

The next step: Blog

Speaking of social media, Langert has written a blog dedicated to CSR for the past two and a half years; guest bloggers from his department and across the company also contribute posts.

“If you’re going to have a discussion about CSR—which we are in, whether we like it or not, at McDonald’s—why not be engaged?” He remarked. The blog is titled Open for Discussion. Langert said he writes about one post per week on topics that are current and relevant to the audience.

For instance, he penned an Aug. 5 post about the Olympics, three days before the games started in China. The post does more than comment on current events; it reveals McDonald’s embrace of both CSR and open dialogue.

“Greenpeace just released a report that assesses how well environmental issues are being addressed at the Beijing Games,” Langert wrote. “McDonald’s is listed in the ‘missed opportunity’ category because we are in the testing phase with a limited amount of equipment that uses non-HFC refrigerants.

“Greenpeace believes we can do more. So do we, but being green is not always easy!”

The dialogue and transparency has created external engagement—readers often comments and also affected employees.

“Unbelievable to me is the internal benefit,” Langert said. “I think it’s an avenue for our own people to get how certain people think; we get the good, the bad and the ugly with comments … it helps us to understand what we’re doing more and how we impact society.”

What does internal success look like?

Turns out the more visible CSR becomes, the more employees want to help out. “It’s amazing,” Langert explained. “This is not something you have to twist someone’s arm on. Our own people want to work for a socially responsible company; they want to take part in green initiatives. People left and right want to come up with ideas.”

He said internal success looks like this: A department head communicates CSR to his or her people and explains how it applies to the specific department.

“I think communication is critical to CSR,” Kramer added. Whether it’s working with a subject matter expert, gaining feedback [from an outside organization] or having that open dialogue so we can better ourselves and our company, communication is really critical.

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