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How McDonald’s® ensures its leaders live their values

This is a transcript of a live Leadership Conversation between Jostle CEO Brad Palmer and Len Jillard, Chief People Officer for McDonald’s Canada. This is part 2 of a 9 part series.

“I think culture is simply a reflection of leadership beliefs.”

Brad: [In Part 1 of this interview, you set down a really good foundation on how McDonald’s uses seven clear values to align employees, owner/operators and suppliers.] I guess that really is the foundation of your culture. How would you define your culture? What is culture?

Len: I think culture is simply a reflection of leadership beliefs -- their value system and then the behaviours that reflect that. You’re going to always behave the way you believe. Sooner or later… You might be able to mask it for little while, but sooner or later your behaviours are going to reflect what you truly believe.

“That’s why I think for a healthy culture you need to be so transparent and clear as to what the values are and what the expected behaviors are. Otherwise you run that risk of getting results with some pretty significant collateral damage potentially, or you’ve created an environment where it’s results at any cost.”


As a leader, you’ve got to really start at the top and say okay, what do I envision my company looking like and how do I want my employees to interact? When you’re small it’s easy because you have the direct contact and your own behaviours will reflect the culture you are creating. You don’t need to verbalize them at that point -- your behaviors are going to reflect what it is that you believe and what the values are.

As you grow and expand, how do you now translate that? In Canada, for example, across to 80,000 employees, I can’t be in every store. Our president, John Betts, can’t be in every restaurant to talk to the staff. So that’s where you need to deploy your values down into the organization. To say here are the values, here are the expectations in terms of the behaviors. If an individual’s behaviors don’t reflect those values, it doesn’t matter what your results are, you’re not going to grow to the degree that you want to within the company.

Brad: That makes sense. How… just at a store level… how do you coach leadership in terms of recognizing and reinforcing those values and those aspects of your culture on a day-by-day, hour-by-hour basis?

Len: Well to me, and that’s a great question Brad, it really is the same. Whether it’s at the restaurant level, or corporately within the leadership team here, or with our owner/operators, it really does come down to day-to-day behaviors. Are your behaviors reflecting our values?

A critical piece, too, is when you see behavior that is not in line with the values, it needs to be addressed; you talk to the individual about it. There’s a climate where within my leadership peer group, if someone’s having a bad day and does something out of whack, it’s perfectly normal for us to call each other on it - 99.9 per cent of the time they’ll go back and apologize, because sometimes they didn’t even realize their action had been interpreted in that way.

So, day-to-day behavior is one piece. Focus groups and surveys are another piece, because it’s important to continuously work at your culture. We encourage ongoing training and development, and leadership development, as part of this.

“Key to all this is how the messaging all ties back. When we give leadership messages for the extended team, be it at meetings, or conventions, or whatever, often we will refer directly to a particular value. Certainly the inference is always there in terms of what it is that we talked about.”


Today was a good example, since we had our summer staff barbecue here. There, we rewarded and recognized and celebrated those right behaviors; we tied these awards in with the results that we were looking for. So at the staff meeting today we gave out awards. I must have been up there for 20 minutes reading the bios of the people who were recognized. We do that at every staff meeting. We do it for all owner/operators at conventions and at business meetings at the end of the year. We do it with our suppliers when we have our Suppliers Summit.

Again, you create that environment really consciously, but we also do it because it’s natural for us to celebrate and recognize those people that are really delivering the results, and doing it the right way in terms of the behaviors.

The last piece that I would share with you is, and this is important if you’re trying to change our culture, is how you go about driving your culture. You need to start by reflecting back on your organization and you say okay, right from the top, how do I want to define what the culture is? What does our culture look like today? What should it look like in the future? Then map this to the values that define this desired culture and the desired behaviors that will reflect them. Finally, tie it into your performance system.

At McDonald’s, people are evaluated on a combination of both their results achieved, because you still have to deliver results, and their behaviors, which we measure. One of the things that we found effective, to help that assessment of the behaviors, was to provide leaders with behaviors that are acceptable. Here are examples of behaviors that we’re looking for, but here are examples of behaviors that aren’t quite so good.

That helped people really start to assess employees a lot more accurately, because you can get so easily influenced by just the results being achieved that you’re not paying attention to, as I said before, the possible collateral damage that may be out there. I think you’ve got to tie it back into the performance, because that ties back into their reward, and obviously the financial benefit, as well as the career growth that will follow.

Leadership Conversations publishes each Monday and Wednesday in the Jostle Blog. Subscribe to make sure you do not miss the next episode.

About Len Jillard

Len began his career with the company in 1972 in London, Ontario as a crew person. He has worked in a number of mid and senior management positions throughout the Canadian operation. Len also spent three years, from 1995 to 1997, with McDonald’s Mexico as the Senior Director of Operations.

In January 2002, Len became Vice President of the Western Canada Region, overseeing all aspects of the Western Canadian operation. In 2005, Len was named to his current role as Senior Vice President, People Resources and Chief People Officer, in which he is responsible for carrying out the McDonald’s People Promise to value each and every employee across the country.

Len has always made it a priority to dedicate his time and expertise to McDonald’s charitable efforts, serving on the board of Ronald McDonald House in London, Ontario for more than seven years and as a member of the Society for Ronald McDonald House Vancouver.

About Leadership Conversations

At Jostle we recognize the importance of people-focused leadership. In fact, we are so passionate about how leaders engage employees, drive culture and catalyze collaboration that we seek out top people-oriented leaders to explore these topics with us through our Leadership Conversations series in the Jostle Blog. If you know a people oriented leader you feel should be included in this series, please contact us at leaders@jostle.me. There is no requirement that they are using the Jostle People Engagement® platform.



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