Best Practice

How McDonald’s rode the business transformation roller-coaster

Sometimes it takes a return to the basics to launch into the future. Even as one of the most successful companies on the planet.

McDonald’s knew the success of its aggressive three-year growth strategy in 2017 – which involved renovating restaurants, refining menus, and updating service channels and technology (think: delivery, touch-screen kiosks, mobile ordering) – would depend on alignment with its 2,000 franchise owners who operate 14,000 restaurants across the United States.

Like any big company, it could draw on infinite sets of data, analytics, and statistics to promote agreement in the need to invest in the sweeping change… but the internal communications team had a slightly different approach to rallying the troops.

Business transformation through emotional connection – the McDonald’s recipe for successGet started

They reminded the internal teams that behind the ‘2,000 franchise owners’ statistic are real people who experience emotions. And in this case, they were up against unprecedented levels of change, at faster rates than ever. 

Speaking of unprecedented, the focus on the emotional journey as a strategy to bring the audience along this steep change curve was the brainchild of the McDonald’s internal communications team. And one that wasn’t necessarily embraced before.

The people-centric approach is close to the heart of Emily Nichols, Internal Communications Manager, who advocated the approach that was ultimately supported and spearheaded by her Senior Director, Jason Greenspan, and members of McDonald’s senior leadership.

“The most important thing for us to keep in mind was that owners are people with the same emotions as any of us,” said Nichols.

We knew intuitively that when you ask people to take on significant change, their emotions will ebb and flow. So the way we talked to them through our change journey needed to reflect their human nature — Emily Nichols.

The three-year business strategy was unveiled at a spectacular launch in Chicago, where they could literally see the future vision of the brand, which would require significant investment on all levels. It produced a measurable spike in optimism. For that moment…

“My colleagues and I knew that these people were going to come to the launch and see all this up close and be super excited about it. We also knew they would then take their ‘plane home and go, ‘Oh, my God, what did I just sign up for?!’ 

They signed up for three years of jam-packed evolution and energy investment. 

“We knew they would go through an emotional roller-coaster of highs and lows and our content would have to be tailored to support their feelings. We put ourselves in their shoes and worked our strategy back from there in a people-focused way” — Emily Nichols.

“We knew they would go through an emotional roller-coaster of highs and lows and our content would have to be tailored to support their feelings. We put ourselves in their shoes and worked our strategy back from there in a people-focused way,” said Nichols.

Greenspan quickly identified that the most important priority was to poll the sentiment of the franchise owners quarterly during the three years, distributing the polls using Poppulo’s platform.

The communication team’s content was then adjusted and enhanced according to the findings. They paired sentiment against business imperatives and the brand’s calendar of execution to create the ‘right’ content at the ‘right’ times.

This sentiment polling led to one of the most clever and creative initiatives in the successful roll-out of the business plan: the pairing of people who had successfully implemented the changes with those who were unsure or having difficulties.

“‘When we could see from the sentiment polling that folks were confused or struggling with the real nitty-gritty of implementing the changes, we paired them with people who had done it and were now ‘wiser’ about it,” said Nichols.

“It made sense, because while everyone is on the same three-year journey, they were at different emotional points along the way, and this became very clear from the sentiment polling.”

Nichols, in typical fashion, puts this in a very human context. “If you think about life, I am a younger professional who might be uncertain or unclear about my career compared to someone who’s been doing it for 25 years. So, it would be smart to pair me with someone who has been through it and can offer wise advice. That’s what we did with the owners.”

It was a successful move.

Keeping a strong and honest pulse on their audiences’ emotions, backed up by data, ensured the communications team had leadership support for their people-focused approach. Over time, the team’s focus on people could be credited for many of the surges in energy and optimism during the trying three-year journey.  

Regardless of the business metrics (of which there have been many to tout), measuring spikes and dips in sentiment allowed Greenspan, Nichols, and the communications team to say, even if just for moments at a time, that they helped make a hard journey just a smidge easier by caring about the people who were making it all happen.

Happy Meals just got a whole lot happier.

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