In 1961, Fred Turner, McDonald’s former senior chairman and Ray Kroc’s first grill man, founded Hamburger University (HU) in the basement of a McDonald’s restaurant in Elk Grove Village, IL. As the first restaurant organization to open a full-time training center, we’re proud to say we ourselves have been good students over the last 50 years. That is to say, we have learned a lot along the way, and continually adapt our approach to today’s learners. Following are a few of the key lessons learned from our own successes … from others through benchmarking … and yes, even through some less-than-totally-successful trials … all of which partly explain why HU has continued to thrive.
Lesson #1: You must have top-down support. From the beginning, McDonald’s training and development has enjoyed the full support of top management. As Ray Kroc said, “If we are going to go anywhere, we have to have talent. And I’m going to put my money in talent.” We continue to uphold and honor Ray’s philosophy on training, development, and talent. In fact, the first area of focus in our corporate Strategic Plan is PEOPLE—indicative of the level of priority our CEO and top leaders place on people development.
Over the years, we also have learned the importance of attracting and hiring quality restaurant crew from Day 1. After all, the most successful training and development builds on inherent talent. We know our crew comprise the talent that will someday run—if not own—our multi-million dollar restaurants ($2.5 million on average), and ensure the long-term success of the global McDonald’s system. Indeed, 40 percent of our senior leadership started as crew in our restaurants.
Lesson #2: You must be and remain customer-centric. You must understand the needs of both your internal and external customers … and recognize and adapt to their changing needs.
We have always kept our curriculum updated, and are particularly proud of our new Restaurant Department Management Curriculum. It is designed around allowing learners of all generations and learning styles to find ways to learn, reinforce that learning, and apply it in real-time. We use e-learning coupled with shoulder-to-shoulder coaching to improve retention and apply learnings. In addition, periodic instructor-led virtual courses allow for peer collaboration and expert coaching in a virtual realm. And we still use the tried-and-true instructor-led courses to reinforce tradition and inspire our students through top-notch training delivery.
In addition, we are changing the way we train in the classroom, moving from facilitation to simulation, allowing students to control their experiences and receive coaching and support from their peers and their facilitator. These experiences allow them to apply their learning in a safe environment.
The new manager curriculum is more effective and efficient at providing the necessary training and knowledge to build the operational and leadership skills that drive sales and profitability at our restaurants.
Lesson #3: You must leverage innovation. The pace of change is too rapid to not leverage innovation and technology to keep up with changing customer needs. Every year we invest money in our HU Global center of excellence to ensure the building stays relevant and meets the needs of our evolving learners. Over the last 50 years, we have modernized HU by moving from small classroom learning in the basement of a McDonald’s restaurant to large-scale lecture style teaching to facilitated group learning and now toward simulated learning for our students.
Our future space will be more collaborative and employ technology as a learning enabler to connect with our students. Over the next 18 months, we will invest more than $3 million in enhancing our classrooms to be even more modern, innovative, and connected.
In 1961, 14 students graduated from HU, achieving the first Bachelor of Hamburgerology degrees. In the last 50 years, more than 90,000 restaurant managers, mid-managers, and owner/operators have graduated from our corporate facility. We’ve continued to evolve the building and the way we teach to meet the needs of our learners—which now number 5,000 annually. We have done this through being innovative in the layout of our learning space and the curriculum we design and deliver to ensure we are helping our people improve their performance on the job and drive improved business results. HU also extends its reach to 22 regions across the country, touching thousands of current and future leaders throughout the company, as well as franchisee organizations.