Food, Folks & Focus

You know the smell, you know the taste, and you know the golden arches. And Len Jillard—he knows the business. He’s been with McDonald’s for over four decades, and as senior VP of people resources and chief people officer for the 73-year-old brand—which employs more than 82,000 people in Canada alone—he believes people are the company’s greatest asset. Here, he explains what this means and how it works.

McDonald’s has a long history and is one of the most successful franchises in the world. What keeps the machine so well oiled?
McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc used a three-legged stool to illustrate how the system works. The idea is that all three legs need to be strong in order for the stool to remain standing, because if you remove one, it will tip over. The legs are owner-operators—obviously important in a franchise system—and then suppliers and corporate employees. We are very proud of how collaboratively we work with our owner-operators and suppliers, and really how everyone has a role to play within the business, but also [how they] contribute to the success of the business.

How does this translate to the company’s internal structure?
When you drill down further and talk about the employees as they relate to success, I believe we’re successful because of our people. It comes down to the employment value proposition (EVP). Whether you’re a corporate employee, an employee in a restaurant, or an owner-operator, I believe everyone fits, in terms of what we have to offer them. No matter who you are—whether you’re a frontline crew person, or an owner-operator, or you’re a corporate employee, like me—within that EVP, you’re going to have that opportunity to grow and be successful.

What has kept you with McDonald’s for so long?
I started at McDonald’s when I was still in high school, in grade 11. That was 41 years ago. People sometimes ask if I’ve gotten bored being with one company for such a long time. It’s unusual in today’s world. But I always say I’ve had a number of successful jobs, or careers, within one big career. That’s one of the great things about McDonald’s: it provides a number of opportunities to do different things for different departments. That’s been a lot of fun. And the other thing keeping me here is the people. We’ve all grown up together and continue to be successful together.

Len Jillard lists the top initiatives for job satisfaction and retention at McDonald’s

•    Platinum Card, a national discount program of retailers across Canada.
•    Incentive programs for both national and individual restaurants, with various prizes.
•    For youth, the ability to map out a career path.
•    Recognition programs, Outstanding Manager of the Year, President’s Award winners, and cross-functional team awards.

McDonald’s, in many ways, is a name that sells itself. What strategy is necessary for continuing to develop the brand?
First and foremost, it has been focusing on and listening to the customer. If you remain static to cultural changes in the broader community, or customer needs, you’ll be a bygone before too long. You need to listen and be tuned in, and you need to continue to evolve. If you don’t, you’ll be irrelevant. And that’s what’s unique about McDonald’s—we listen to the customer.

What are some ways you have tried to attract new talent?
One aspect is being aware that one size doesn’t necessarily fit all. For the first time ever, I think, within business today, we’re dealing with four different generations of employees. Again, our focus is on the EVP; no matter what generation you’re from, if you choose to come to work at McDonald’s, from a friends-and-family perspective, from a future perspective, from a flexibility perspective, whatever those needs are that fit into those areas, we can meet them. Say, for example, the young kid who has hockey practice and school, like I did—he can have flexibility. If you’re a mom and the kids are now going to school and you want to work for a few hours during the day, we can do that as well. If you’re looking for flexibility coming from the university, you can build a career around that. If you’re going to be here for a year, or for your career, we’re going to be a great job for you.

Are there aspects of your experience that you are trying to re-create for future McDonald’s corporate employees?
We certainly celebrate the successes of our employees, and we do that publicly, but we also do it internally, with our various rewards and recognition programs. My story here isn’t unique at McDonald’s. It’s very common, in fact. The majority of our leadership began their careers in the restaurant, and the same with our owner-operators. That also means telling our story, like when I talk to magazines like Advantage, or visit colleges and universities, or industry groups; when we talk about McDonald’s, we talk about our people and how important they are to our success.