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Saturday, July 15, 2006

Management Lesson from McDonalds?

My cousin brother and sister are here in Sri Lanka for a holiday from abroad. They are 5 and 8 years old respectively. Given, the kids, unlimited source of energy and hunger for hamburgers, we took them out for some playtime and ended up at McDonalds for dinner. One of the employees at the outlet was doing his routine mopping of the floor close to our table, just trying to keep the area clean. At one point while one of my cousins was running back and coming to our table he slipped on the wet floor and fell. Nothing serious, he just got up smiling and started playing again.

Now, few feet away from our table about 10 McDonalds employees, looked like they were management team (or senior staff) were sitting and probably doing some accounts, or coming up with some future strategy for the restaurant. One of the senior fellows suddenly shouted at the guy who was doing the mopping and just rudely blasted him in front of all the customers, for not having the wet floor sign there and also directed him to dry the floor immediately. The tone of his voice sounded more like the hollers of a boot camp military officer barking orders to his soldiers or even a master ordering his slave rather than professional manager of a multi national company managing a difficult situation with his employee.

What I couldn’t grasp was the style of management - not that you can call barking a style - I am not a restaurant manager, but the situation should have been better handled. A kid has slipped on a wet floor. Immediately a few things needed to be done to correct the situation.

1) Some one should first apologize to the relevant party (probably the kids parents)
2) A wet floor sign should have been brought in instantly so that adults would be careful about where their kids are playing
3) The floor should be dried immediately so that no other kid faces the same fate.

Later, the management must analyze the root cause of the situation, understand if it was for lack of process or a process violation by an individual employee. If they already have such guidelines, they should look into why in this particular instance the system failed and need to make corrective actions. I am not a restaurant safety expert and I presume that McDonalds with all its global experience and expertise would know the best practices for such a situation.

Absolutely none of the above was done, entire senior staff sat around the table and one guy just scolded the junior for his mistake. When 10 of them are just a couple of feet away from the situation, not a single person moved a finger to do any of the corrective actions listed above.

I saw this kind of treatment happening to junior staff at McDonalds quite a few times. I remember some kind of bell going off and one senior staff again sitting in one of these meetings shouting at one of the busy cashiers to open the door.

These things don’t look like management; rather it looked like some form of advanced corporate slavery. I maybe completely wrong here but for an outsider having a meal at McDonalds, that’s how the whole experience looked like.

I work for a Software Development company, and I remember in one particular situation my VP Engineering, an Irishman telling us in a meeting, “Guys I am here to help you so that you can do your job better, that’s how I would like to think of my role in this company rather than thinking of you all working here to help me”. Now that’s management. I have also read that a good manager removes obstacles for the staff under him and then steps aside so that they can do their job properly.

Where I work, if there is a job that needs to be done, however small, big, or boring, if resources are available, whoever it may be, the job gets done. Recently in a project I was fixing some software bugs and I noticed that our Director Engineering, despite his busy schedule has started fixing some of them too. Now that is managing by example. No work is too small or dirty for a senior staff. If it needs to get done, it gets done.

We all know that McDonalds is one of the most successful food chains in the world, but so is Walmart when it comes to supermarkets. However the image that Walmart has built in certain markets is that they are evil and very unfair to their employees. Is that the kind of management image McDonalds wants to create in Sri Lanka? I would hate to see the junior staff develop under this kind of dictatorial management style and then themselves become poor managers one day in some other organization where they too advocate a similar approach to handling employee situations - sitting in one place and shouting at people, because that’s how their managers managed them.

Now having said all this, the situation at McDonalds could have a single isolated incident, and we certainly hope that this was the case, and the management team are able to look back and learn from this.

The company I work for and McDonalds are two different organizations, and maybe it is incorrectly simplistic to compare styles of management between the two of them, but even if we put skill levels aside, there is an element of dignity and respect that every employee deserves…that every human deserves. You don’t need to go to Business School to learn that.

posted by 88Pro / Saturday, July 15, 2006

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