What Running a $92B Company at 17 Can Teach You About Your Business

How Systems are more important than Skills

Monday afternoon, 3:33pm, I walk through the doors of the golden arches seeking iced coffee and wifi. The feeling hasn’t changed much from 5 years previous when I walked into this place wearing a Mc-uniform. Like many teens, my first job was landed at a McDonald’s when I needed to pay for a graduating trip to Costa Rica. I spent 3 years as a manager learning the systems of one of the most successful franchises in the world. Now running my own Marketing firm, I am writing out the top lessons that any small business can put into practice.

To fully integrate back into the energy of the business, I sit in the restaurant with my iced coffee to see how things have progressed and maintained. The magic of the mac sauce lies in their ability to create systems for every detail from bathroom cleaning to launching a new campaign (the Monopoly campaign which is running as I write this, for example).

As a small business, let’s look at some of the things McDonald’s is doing that you can bring into your practice:


There is a checklist for everything from bathroom maintenance and preparing cloth buckets to the making of a perfect Mac, with digital training and visual process cards for all of it.

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#2. Track EVERYTHING –

McDonald’s measures the ROI on everything imaginable, something we encourage and respect here at Full Circle. The labour is tracked every minute of every day, including market trends so they can staff a Monday in November knowing exactly how many orders there were on this day at this hour last year. Every item brought in and wasted, from cones to paper cups are tracked for profit and loss, even when it is worth just pennies.

#3. Take the Training Wheels Off

You may be hesitant to releasing control and trusting the process of certain duties and tasks being completed for fear of them not being done up to your standard in your own practice. Although, this level of micro-managing is not effective for massive success. There cannot be growth from this state and there must be acceptance that things will be messed up, and more than once. The difference between a typical small business and McDonald’s is that there can be a 16 year old running almost any aspect of this operation with no hesitation of maintaining control over such things, including scheduling and inventory. If you want to scale – take the training wheels off, give autonomy and ditch that superman syndrome.

#4. Know Your Target –

There goes the saying,

“If you want to be everything to everybody, you’ll end up being nothing to nobody.”

McDonald’s is very in tune with who they target and therefore, very successful at targeting them. They appeal to kids and therefore get the parents. Everything they do is designed for their demographic, from the characters, the play place, the kids toys and colours. Their advertising will not be found in luxury magazines, and even with their entrance into the coffee market – they know how to steal market share from the big competitors (free coffee week just started here).

#5. Brand Recognition – Be Consistent-

The Mc-Brand can be recognized anywhere in the world. Even if the menu changes for cultural tastes, there will be similarities worldwide. The golden arches will be their flagship colour, standing tall in the most prime real estate that they can get and as close to a highway as possible. If you were to open a 2nd location you would want to make your branding and layout look as similar as possible, but you can also use this concept in your online presence. Match your cover photos, profile images, and colour branding on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Google Plus, and anywhere else you can create an online presence.

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#6. “Look After The Customers And The Business Will Take Care Of Itself”

This was a famous Ray Kroc quote and one that is amplified daily in their business. The customer experience is measured, managed and improved in every chance possible. A car in drive thru needs to have their order taken, money paid, and food in hand within 160 seconds with every store in a designated region competing to get the lowest drive thru average. The mystery shopper scores are taken with extreme measure and each store is ranked on this every month. An employee will have all the autonomy needed to make an experience better for a customer from letting a child build their own cone to offering coupons and free dessert to orders that had to wait too long. How can you continually enhance the experience for your customers? Perhaps consider a mystery shopper in your practice.


#7. Career vs Job Focused –

There is a major mental mindset shift needed to get from the job mentality to career mentality. Although McDonald’s is mostly a starter job or an in-between position for most, they do an amazing job at painting the vision of a career versus just the job. They have an unlimited ceiling of possible positions and the only way to be in corporate McDonald’s is by starting at the bottom. Therefore, even if you foresee a one year job with the company, the vision of being in head office working the fun marketing campaigns for the city is made available. They spot talent and pitch advancement very quickly by giving someone with winning character and work ethic the chance to become a “Crew Trainer”, which gives them a higher hourly wage and allows the company to create as many leaders as possible.

““If we are going to go anywhere, we’ve got to have talent. And, I’m going to put my money in talent.” – Ray Kroc

McDonald’s was the first restaurant to ever create a Global Training Centre and it’s called Hamburger University. This alone makes morale much higher as people can see advancement and therefore give their role purpose and reason for growth. Even if you are in an office/practice with no advancement, you can paint the vision of what is possible as revenues grow by sharing in the income growth, daily, weekly, monthly incentives and even year long contests for a major prize. Are you creating leaders in your practice?

Next time you walk into this place, take a second to look around and find the things that have made them successful. Watch how they take your order with consistency, listen for the upsell, and notice how the point of sale at the counter will reflect new promotions and campaigns. Better yet, watch how conflict is resolved and how young some of the most influential people in the restaurant are. There are a lot of lessons to be learned just by observing the world around us.

Your CHA(s) are a great opportunity to help you document your systems in your practice. Expect more from your team, and reward them accordingly. You can take this quiz to see how your team scores!

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