Webinar Recap: Employer Branding and the Alumni Opportunity with McDonald’s

by Alumni Content in Alumni Leaders Podcast, Video   |    Last Edited: 02nd May 2022

Thank you to our guest speakers: Kieran Layton, Director of Employer Brand Strategy at McDonald’s and Harriet Minter, Journalist and Author of “WFH (Working From Home).”


Five Things We Learned About Why Alumni Are Great For Employer Branding

Alumni can be great brand advocates …

“You would hope that your alumni population would be great brand advocates. If you make the exit stage moment a positive one, you are setting yourself up for success in both the customer and employee realms …”

Kieran Layton

Alumni can be more reliable than current employees …

“You can’t expect an employee reliant on their salary for their rent and bills to give entirely honest answers. Once they’ve left, they tend to be much more honest …”

Harriet Minter

Alumni add extra weight to the views of your current employees …

“It’s just as important to listen to your former employees as it is your current ones. There overlap then means you have a broader group to design for …”

Kieran Layton

Feedback from alumni helps you spot trends …

“Feedback is one person’s opinion. If it’s 10 people’s opinion, then it’s a trend. Asking feedback isn’t dangerous, but it can be brave, because sometimes ignorance is bliss …”

Harriet Minter

McDonald’s desperately need their own formal alumni network!

“An official McDonald’s alumni network would be a huge opportunity for us. McDonald’s has always drawn clear lines to create the best people practices, the highest guest counts, and highest sales. It’s pretty clear that we would see similar results if we were to focus on alumni …”

Kieran Layton


Q&A

What does employee experience mean for you? 

Kieran: The pandemic blurred the lines between all our personal and work lives. But for those employees in frontline roles who weren’t able to work remotely, even the thought of the next shift could cause unease and stress. Employee experience has a significant mental impact both inside and outside of work. So building the best employee experience relies on casting a wide net in a river rather than standing in a pond – to use an old fishing analogy.

How does McDonald’s utilise employee experience when it employs such a varied age group?

Kieran: McDonald’s hire across the spectrum, but Gen Z are quickly taking over the corporate workforce. 43% of our crew and managers here at McDonalds in the US are Gen Z. So if you don’t have direct access to the Gen Z perspective via your current workforce, there are many great Gen Z consultant agencies – such as Trndsttrs – who can specifically help big companies like McDonald’s and small companies best design their employee experience.

How can you consider employee experience when some homeworkers haven’t even met their employer?

Harriet: The pandemic really highlighted the difference between employers who did and didn’t understand employee experience. How is our mental health impacted when we are not in the office? How do we collaborate when we’re not all in the same space? How do we create fairness in a hybrid world? All these need to be considered when you are building a relationship with your employees.

How do things differ when the bulk of employees are required on site, like at McDonald’s?

Kieran: For many years, we assumed we knew what was best for our employees. The pandemic has helped us to take a step back and say: how do we put people at the forefront? So we started actively listening through surveys and focus groups.

McDonald’s has almost a million workers across the US, so there is no one-size-fits-all approach. McDonald’s is a franchise company – we only own 7% of the 14,000 restaurants in the US – which makes large-scale initiatives difficult. So we’ve used McDonald’s EVP [employee value proposition] initiative to build the program hand-in-hand with the franchise owners.

What are employees looking for in employer brand?

Harriet: I always hesitate to put a whole generation of bracket, but let’s do it anyway, because it’s fun! Gen Z care about ethics, sustainability and how you treat people. But Gen Z are not getting their information about your company from you. They are gathering their information from social media, forums and their peers. They will have formed opinions about your company before they have even applied to work with you. Employers really have to think about what people are saying about you when you’re not in the room. Like dating, there’s a company out there for everyone. But that also means your company is not right for everyone, and not everyone is right for your company, and that’s okay. 

How do you ensure your employer brands attract the right people?

Kieran: Our main goal was to create a compelling and authentic recruitment campaign that spoke to the talent we’re hoping to attract in a very real way that also felt true to the McDonald’s brand.

Harriet: It’s important to invest the time and money to make sure employees feel really valued. I remember a recruitment campaign for McDonald’s in the UK that said: we teach you leadership and we teach you teamwork. It was saying: if you’re ambitious and you’ve got discipline, we can help you go places. And this was great.

How has the employment lifecycle changed over the years?

Harriet: Back in 1940, 1950s, you would come into work after national service in your mid 20s, aiming to retire around 50 and probably work at the same place your entire career. Now, most of us work for 50 years, in which time you could potentially go from entry level to CEO in two or three different industries, two or three times. Millennials are four times more likely to move jobs than Gen X. People are constantly moving, for promotion, money and experience. If you enjoy your job, why wouldn’t you come back to the same company at a higher level?

How do you keep track? 

Kieran: Right now, we don’t! McDonald’s is one of the largest employers in the world, so there is a massive alumni group that we are not currently engaging with as much as we should. You would hope that your alumni population would be great brand advocates, so it’s really important that employee experience is carefully curated at the exit stage. If you make the exit stage moment a positive one, you are setting yourself up for success in both the customer and employee realms. 

How do employees and alumni best interact with company brand?

Kieran: Through listening to not just your current employees, but to your former employees as well. There will likely be some overlap, which means you have a broader group to design for.

Harriet: Getting a wider viewpoint is so important. You can’t expect an employee who is reliant on their salary for their rent and bills to give entirely honest answers. Once they’ve left, they tend to be much honest. Human nature means we love community, so having to leave any community can be heart breaking, even if we’re going onto greater things. You might not be sad to be leaving your boss, but you might be sad to be leaving John you had lunch with every Wednesday! Keeping community alive keeps that feeling of warmth.

Does moving to a hybrid workplace environment have a positive or negative impact on employee brand?

Harriet: Hybrid environments certainly present an opportunity to positively impact your employee brand. We certainly know that flexibility is a now a crucial factor when people are talking about leaving or finding a new job, because they’ve got so used to it over the pandemic. Research says that that 10% of people want to be permanently remote, 10% of people want to work permanently in the office, but 80% of people want some form of hybrid. Investing time and effort in understanding what that looks like for your business and is going to be a huge draw when it comes to attracting and retraining talent.

Kieran: Our challenge at McDonalds is for our frontline workers who aren’t able to work remotely, and how best can we make their work environment somewhere they enjoy. This starts with simply making sure everything works! If something’s not working, that’s going to put more stress on that particular restaurant crew. So how can we make our frontline workers feel like their jobs are a little bit easier?

Are there any dangers of asking alumni for feedback?

Harriet: It’s not dangerous to ask for feedback. It’s only dangerous to rely on one person’s experience. Feedback is one person’s opinion. If it’s 10 people’s opinion, then it’s a trend. So you should be looking for trends. Asking feedback can be brave, because sometimes ignorance is bliss. But if you want to be a successful, you have to be brave.

Kieran: It’s not dangerous so long as you are prepared to act on any feedback. Nothing is worse than asking for feedback and then not acting on it. If you say: “I’m listening to you,” you also need to say, “here’s what I’m going to do about it” so people feel heard and listened to.

How do McDonald’s cope without a formal alumni network?

Kieran: There are currently nearly a millions McDonald’s restaurant workers in the US. The QSR industry has such a high turnover that an official McDonald’s alumni network would definitely be a huge opportunity for us. McDonald’s has always drawn clear lines to create the best people practices, the highest guest counts, and highest sales. I think it’s pretty clear that we would see similar results if we were to put a focus on alumni.

Presenters:

Kieran Layton, Director of Employer Brand Strategy at McDonald’s

Harriet Minter, Journalist and Author of “WFH (Working From Home)”

Emma Sinclair MBE, CEO at EnterpriseAlumni