Sept. 27, 2016 | by Shelly Whitehead

The sprawling, multi-national McDonald’s restaurant chain has a problem not unfamiliar to anyone in food service: It has lots of employees who not only rarely sit at a desk, but for the most part, have no actual physical space they can refer to as their “office.” That fact means it can be difficult to nearly impossible to communicate with these employees in any verifiable, interactive, engaging or rapid way. And that, of course, can be a nightmare in this business. , 
That has had quite a few deleterious effects on business, including less effective, up-to-date and even verifiable training, less engaged franchisees, poorer overall brand management and uniformity and even lower employee engagement, retention and customer service. 

“With desk-bound workers, the process would be much easier as they could provide standard operating procedures that could be accessed on PCs,” said Inkling Founder and CEO Mat MacInnis, whose company McDonald’s consulted about the problem. 

"We are seeing it takes about 10 hours less for people to get up to speed, compared to our previous methods for training. In a business with our scale, that is significant."

“They didn’t have that luxury with the desk-less worker, as it’s too costly and impractical to provide PC access to every person in every store, so they ended up printing and shipping binders … to all of their global stores. Needless to say, they spent hundreds of hours creating and updating the material and there was always concern around whether stores were reading the latest and greatest version of operations materials, and updating the materials across all stores was a huge challenge.” 

Enter Inkling, with a cloud-based solution that managed to address all those issues simultaneously by giving so-called “desk-less” workers, franchisees and restaurant management a way to essentially put training and communication with employees in their back pockets. Now, not only can training, policies and procedures be updated instantly chain-wide,  but it’s much easier to reach employees on the job with the kind and engaging information, videos and simulations that they need to stay on the knife’s edge when it comes to the latest company initiatives related to their jobs, their career progress and overall performance at the chain.

“Inkling’s solution – internally referred to at McDonald’s as Fred@McD – is a key element of the global learning technology platform and infrastructure,” said McDonald’s Directing of Learning Technology Development Jack Sylvester in an interview with QSRweb.com. “Fred@McD includes learning and reference materials to offer digitally enabled, shoulder-to-shoulder crew training, operations and training procedures, as well as a quick reference guide for operational consistency.”

Fred@McD proves to be real whiz kid

Fred is hard at work at company-owned McDonald’s stores and available as an opt-in program for franchisees. Sylvester said that although some franchisees have tapped into the program via desktop computer, most franchisees are considering or in the process of moving to using tablets to use the platform, particularly since that approach allows that on-the-job, shoulder-to-shoulder training that the chain has said makes a noticeable difference when onboarding and  even updating employees. 

And that difference is already being measured in the limited span of time the new product has been available and in use at the chain, according to Sylvester. In fact, the early progress reports regarding the overall effects of Fred@McD communication and training might even be considered game-changing for day-to-day operations at the chain. 

“The difference in using this training program is significant,” Sylvester said. “The crew development program alone is bringing the crew training experience out of a back-office crew room and into the restaurant and shoulder to shoulder with a crew trainer, using videos and highly interactive materials, rather than text-based and  aging content. 

“Our ability to update materials in real-time, and nearly instantly deploy to participating restaurants in the U.S. system, is a quantum leap forward for our deployment speed.”

MacInnis agreed and said even the early measurements indicate unequivocal success with the platform. 

“One of the clearest benefits was the time that franchises were spending educating new employees on McDonald’s brand standards,” he said. “They were able to reduce onboarding time by 66 percent using Inkling, which translated to real dollars saved by the franchise owner that could be reinvested to buy tablets for the stores. 

“Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Crew members find it much easier to understand a process when the process is accompanied by a video. Interactive simulations make it much easier for people to practice a task before actually perfoming the task. It’s never been easier for McDonald’s to push out updates to policies and procedures and track the adoption across their workforce.”

Looking forward and beyond

For all those reasons, measurement will be particularly important for McDonald’s Fred@McD program going forward. As you heard, some of that has already begun, but you can bet if the needle keeps moving in the positive direction that it has thus far, this is one platform that will see many more uses and extensions within this huge quick-service chain, not to mention with new clients at other restaurant chains dealing with the dilemma of the desk-less worker. 

“The difference in the approach itself is seen immediately in the experience, where learning can take place on the floor and the interaction between new crew and crew trainers through shoulder-to-shoulder training on tablets,” said Sylvester. “We are getting positives responses from end-users, as well as getting great feedback to the continued opportunities to maintain the materials and design approach. We aggregate adoption and usage information and metrics, building insights, providing them internally. 

“Videos are accessed most often. Tablet usage is increasing. We can also look at efficiency from our previous methods. We are seeing it takes about 10 hours less for people to get up to speed, compared to our previous methods for training. In a business with our scale, that is significant.”


Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Human Resources, Operations Management, Professional Services, Staffing & Training, Workforce Management


Shelly Whitehead / Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of Pizzamarketplace.com and QSRweb.com after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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