Jack Sylvester

Director, Learning Technologies, McDonald’s

Supernova Award Category: 

Future of Work: Human Capital Management

The Company: 

McDonald’s is one of the world’s largest quick-serve restaurant chains, serving 69+ million customers daily at 37,000 locations in 100+ countries. As one of the world's most recognizable brands, it feeds 1% of the global population every day. After 60+ years of growth and expansion, over 90% of their restaurants are franchised. McDonald’s hires one million crew members every year in the U.S. alone.

No matter which McDonald’s location is visited, crew members are expected to provide quick service, convenience, and delicious food to guests. Consistency is at the heart of the McDonald’s brand, which means their world famous French fries taste the same around the world. Properly trained crew members are essential for upholding the brand promise.

The Problem: 

McDonald’s faced a unique set of challenges with their large, distributed workforce. How do leaders ensure all locations use up-to-date training, adhere to brand standards, engage and retain employees, and provide consistent customer service?

For years, McDonald’s relied on a variety of tactics to communicate standard operating procedures to worldwide restaurants in local languages, including:

  • Printed three-inch binders with operations protocols and compliance requirements
  • Weekly emails with policy, procedure, and operational updates
  • PDF guidelines on how to train new crew members
  • Printed pocket guides as reference tools, updated quarterly

To make matters more challenging, onboarding was conducted in restaurant back offices on a desktop computer with 35-40-minute courses and long videos, as well as printed materials at each station. With a young incoming workforce, these training methods were outdated, ineffective, and un-engaging. They did not reflect McDonald’s spirit of innovation.

The Solution: 

With hundreds of thousands employees representing its brand, McDonald’s sought ways to empower its workforce. Three needs were identified: restaurant operation unification, onboarding process transformation, and increased content engagement by crew members/managers. McDonald’s didn’t want to settle for a digital PDF of operation manuals; they required an innovative content solution with easy distribution, worldwide accessibility, and responsive-rendering on tablets.

By adopting Inkling’s smart content system, McDonald’s can now:

  • Provide faster and more natural shoulder-to-shoulder training for new crew members
  • Modernize store operations with accurate, searchable, and mobile SOPs and job aids
  • Update content in real-time through a single accessible version so all crew members have access to the most up-to-date information
  • Leverage interactive content-short videos, checklists, and annotated images to make more interesting and engaging
The Results: 

Internally branded as Fred@McD’s, Inkling was initially launched at McDonald’s restaurants in order to move new crew member onboarding and training out of the back room and into the kitchen at restaurant stations. On restaurant-supplied tablets, new crew members now watch short one-minute videos in the context of the kitchen and its equipment, alongside their trainers and other crew members. This shoulder-to-shoulder style training has decreased the amount of time it takes for crew members to learn a new skill and has improved the lines of communication between managers and peers.

In addition, the digital reference guides that managers rely on are quick and easy to use when equipment malfunctions or other kitchen challenges arise. The built-in search capabilities allow managers to find the exact information needed in a 100+ page booklet, which increases response time, quality control, and operational consistency across locations.

Currently available in 12 languages, content can now be updated at any time with one-click publishing, which eliminates the need for version control and prevents crew members from accidentally using outdated information. At all times, crew members have access to and view the most up-to-date and accurate information, which brings peace of mind to franchisees and crew members alike.


McDonald’s is experiencing a 10-hour reduction in onboarding time per crew member. Given that more than one million new employees are hired annually in the U.S. alone, estimated labor cost savings is nearly $30 million per year.

At a franchise level, a big benefit is the reduction in time spent educating new crew members on McDonald’s brand standards. With Inkling, this 66% reduction translates to real dollars saved by the franchise owner. That money can now be reinvested into the business to buy new tablets for the store.

Crew members’ feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, as they find it much easier to understand recipes, processes, and procedures when accompanied by a video, which is the asset type accessed most often. Interactive simulations also make it easier for crew members to practice a task before performing the task. With all the info needed to do their jobs at their fingertips, crew members showed signs of increased engagement that is anticipated to turn into better retention.

Additionally, McDonald’s no longer waits to update their materials four times a year but instead pushes out instantaneous changes. This capability ensures operational consistency and minimizes opportunities for error, not to mention saves $250,000 on printing and shipping materials. With data and analytics built in, operational leaders can track content usage and ensure that locations and even individual crew members are utilizing the materials.

The Technology: 

Inkling (www.inkling.com)

Disruptive Factor: 

One challenge is Wi-Fi bandwidth. While originally set up for guests in dining areas, Wi-Fi isn't commonly available behind the counter. Since McDonald’s doesn't mandate franchise technology use, this hurdle is addressed at individual restaurants for the Inkling implementation. Some allow new crew members to use tablets in the restaurant area for initial training, which moves training out of the back office.

On the whole, adopting a smart content system revolutionized the McDonald’s crew member experience. Like many service-oriented jobs where employees lack access to a desk and computer, crew members didn't benefit previously from modern technology at work. By replacing paper-based resources and back office training with a mobile enablement tool, crew members are now empowered to learn in the context of the kitchen. They can search for and access the exact operational materials needed to do their job without relying on memory, paper-based recipes, a manager, or back office computers.

McDonald’s use of interactive microlearning (bite-sized learning) materials for shoulder-to-shoulder training also boasts up to 90% more knowledge retention and 50% more engagement with materials, which means McDonald’s provides a better learning experience for crew members.

With mobile enablement, McDonald’s has proven to be a leader in advocating for better employee experiences that focus on productivity and employee engagement.

Shining Moment: 

To celebrate the Big Mac’s 50th anniversary, McDonald’s added two limited-edition menu items: the Mac Junior and Grand Mac. Due to their onboarding success with Inkling, McDonald’s utilized it for all training content with the two items. The results were so positive that Inkling was used next for the limited-edition Shamrock Shake. These promotions created recognition of Inkling’s benefits and an impressive uptick in daily users on in-store mobile devices.

About McDonald’s

McDonald's is the world's leading global foodservice retailer with over 37,000 locations in over 100 countries. Over 90% of McDonald's restaurants worldwide are owned and operated by independent local business men and women.