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McDonald's top recipe for loyalty

Published on Tuesday, 21 Jun 2011
Now a managing director after working with McDonald’s for 13 years, Randy Lai says she’s proof of how the company awards loyalty.
Photo: Berton Chang

Fast food restaurant chain McDonald's has 14,000 employees in Hong Kong.

"The key thing for McDonald's is talking about fun, because we are a fun-loving brand," says Randy Lai, managing director of McDonald's Hong Kong. "I believe this is one of the reasons why we [are] one of the winners, because we are not only providing a competitive package to our employees, we also provide them with a fun-loving environment, an opportunity to learn and grow, plus a real chance to develop a real career - a great career - at McDonald's."Lai says the company's recipe for strengthening employee engagement in the notoriously high-turnover food and beverage industry is based on three elements: creating a fun environment, embracing diversity and offering career growth opportunities.

The fun environment is a key differentiator for the company, says Lai. "If we don't have a happy group of restaurant people, how can we deliver a happy experience to our customers? So it is always our belief not only to make our customers happy, but also to make our people happy and make them feel like we are working together as a family, and we support each other with respect and care. This is very unique compared with other companies."

Activities organised around this concept include a very popular singing contest inspired by hit-show American Idol, annual conventions for assistant managers and an internal mini-Olympics.

About 80 per cent of McDonald's employees are from Generation Y - those born in the late 80s and early 90s. In fact, many are still at school. According to Lai, the young staff want flexible working hours and are easily bored. However, McDonald's job rotation policy makes them feel like they can learn something new every day, she adds.

Keeping this age group with the company is particularly difficult, adds Vincent Tam, general counsel and senior director of people resources.

"One of the biggest reasons why Gen Y people leave their jobs is because they don't connect with people in the company," he says. "We play right into it because we're a company that's fun and we want people to have connections with each other in the restaurant. If you see the crew working, you can feel the energy and see the fun that they're having," Tam adds.

"Based on the demographics of our crew, I think that it works really well for us. Wages and benefits everybody can give, but in terms of the working environment, that sense of belonging to a company, of being recognised as a group of people, and the team work - that's something unique about McDonald's."

Diversity is the second pillar of its people strategy. Last year, it set up a women's leadership network to help female staff connect and achieve a work-life balance. Its management profile lives up to the plan, with women accounting for 44 per cent of all store managers.

Development, training and career growth make up the third pillar. "About 90 per cent of our current store management team started as crew members," says Lai, who has been with the company in various roles for 13 years. "We also provide a very holistic and comprehensive training programme for them, to help them grow not only on the technical side, but also on the leadership side."

Training for young crew members includes building trust and respect, and being a good leader and coach.

"McDonald's believes in people-oriented management and considers our well-trained staff members to be our most important assets," Lai says. "Therefore, we offer a comprehensive programme, which includes a stint at McDonald's Hamburger University and on-the-job training."

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