How McDonald’s dealt with internal misconceptions

Alarmed by employee ignorance of your brand? Follow the lead of McDonald’s, from its revamping of the employee portal to its use of gaming. And, yes, there is milk in that milkshake.

Editor’s note: This story is taken from Ragan’s distance-learning portal The site contains hundreds of hours of case studies, video presentations, and interactive courses.

A few years back, McDonald’s Corp. leaders were paging through customer feedback, and an executive grew exasperated with the myths people believe about the company.

Jori Lawson Hume, a manager in global internal communications with McDonald’s, says someone spoke up and reminded the bosses, “How can we expect customers to know that about us when our own people don’t know that about us?”

That got the bigwigs thinking. Employees who weren’t well informed couldn’t address false rumors about the brand. (No, the sliced apples are not potatoes with apple flavoring.) It struck the leadership just how essential employee engagement is.

In the Ragan Training video, “How McDonald’s arms brand ambassadors and builds trust,” Hume reveals how the company beefed up its employee communications and cooked up sizzling engagement through an intranet, gamification, and other means.

Every day McDonald’s serves nearly 70 million customers, and it employs about 1.8 million people. “Think about how hard it is to communicate effectively to 1.8 million people, let alone aligning them, engaging them,” Hume says.

The company wanted everyone from burger-flippers to videographers to be able to answer when some guy at a party blurts out, “If your food’s so high quality, why do you charge so little for it?”

(“The answer is when your company buys nearly 2 percent of the worlds’ beef supply, you have a little bargaining power to get the price down,” Hume says.)

This video clip is taken from the Ragan Training session, “How McDonald’s arms brand ambassadors and builds trust.”

Employees worldwide

There are 34,000 McDonald’s restaurants in more than 100 countries, and the company has to communicate with all its staffers in a decentralized company. Employees are magnets for those with questions about the organization, and it was essential that staffers be able to answer the questions.

Ronald McDonald must have been crying into his milkshake over questions they hear. You don’t want your employee answering, “They don’t tell me any more than they tell you?”

Here are a few lessons from McDonald’s:

Cook up a new internal platform

The fast-food colossus began by revamping its internal platform, AccessMcD. It cut article length limits to 500 words and got rid of the press-release voice. It adopted a more conversational voice, that of a fellow employee chatting with you.

The platform supersized its array of photos and videos, and whipped up a comment capability.

Apparently, employees liked what McDonald’s was dishing up. The first year, readership shot up by 40 percent. The second year, it doubled on top of that.

Start an executive ‘Let’s Talk’ feature

In a feature called “Let’s Talk,” communicators asked four questions of someone in the company (say, an executive), and then that individual addressed a fifth question to the employees, with an invitation to comment.

One note: The higher people are in the organization, the fewer comments they get. Don’t tell your bigwigs, “You only got five comments, and Janie in the warehouse got 25 last week.” Show them the page analytics, and remind them how their wisdom is being seen by employees worldwide.

Address misconceptions

Here’s another way McDonald’s learned how hungry its staffers were for information, Hume says. Someone from the nutrition team got the idea to invite questions from the staffers on the intranet. They were hoping for maybe 20 respondents.

But the morning after it went up, the nutritionist frantically called to say, “Take it down! Take it down!” Hume recalls.

There were more than 100 questions, and fewer than half were nutrition-related. The rest were food quality questions or brand questions.

This happened “because we opened a channel for people,” Hume says. “They were craving to know about a place they could get questions answered.”

Everyone from nutritionists to bigwigs cringed at some of the questions. Three of Hume’s favorites:

  • “Are McDonald’s salads as good for you as real salads?” (Um, yes. Because they are real salads.)
  • “I heard that we can’t call our shakes ‘milkshakes’ because there’s no milk in them.” (No, no, no, NO. Check the ingredients. And thank you for your input.)
  • “I head that our apple slices are really potato slices with apple flavor in them. Is that true?” (No. Nor is anybody sneaking sliced apples into the French fries.)

Startling though such misconceptions may be, wouldn’t you rather address them internally?

Teach through gamification

McDonald’s had an outside firm create a teaching tool, “World of Good,” which provides nuggets of information, then tests people on them. Staffers get points and compete to win prizes, ranging from a $5 McDonald’s card to a $50 gift card.

The goal isn’t to tell them everything about the company in one slide, Hume says. Players are offered bite-size facts such as this: “We’re BEEF believers. McDonald’s burgers are 100% beef. The only thing we add is a dash of salt and pepper.”

There’s also a searchable database with information that can be shared through external social platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

Success? McDonald’s thinks so.

One employee posted: “This is great. I have one of those friends on Facebook that likes to post untrue articles about how McDonald’s is so terrible. Before I would just ignore but thanks to ‘World of Good’ I can counter with the truth about our food and all we do for the community.”


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