085 – What I Learned From McDonald’s About Employee Coaching
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Mentioned on Today’s Show:
The “What If” Project – 30 Days. 30 Leadership Tips. 30 Opportunities to Become a Different Kind of Leader
The “Different” Leadership Development Program – Learn More and Become a Founding Member Today!
You may not know this because I think I’ve probably only mentioned it on the podcast once or twice, but I met my wife, Christina, at McDonald’s. I still remember the first time I “noticed” her… and I only say “noticed” because I doubt it was the first time I saw her, but I do remember the first time that she stood out.
We were both hired at the same time, when a McDonald’s restaurant decided to open up in our small town of Port Perry, Ontario. We didn’t really work together at first… just the way things worked out I suppose, but I do remember one night where she was going to work the overnight shift and I was one of the closers that night and working until… maybe 10:30 I think?
She was in the crew room, waiting for her shift to start, dressed in black pants and a dark blue McDonald’s sweater. I was washing dishes that night, but I remember looking up, seeing her and thinking, “she’s cute, I hope I get to work with her sometime.:
Of course, I didn’t talk to her or anything that night, I mean, what would I say?
“Hey babe, that McDonald’s blue looks good on you” Right, that would be dumb. Instead, for some reason, I just locked that memory in my head.
It wasn’t the same for Christina.
I don’t think she “noticed” me at all, but, it would have been a couple of months later probably and Christina had already been, at that point, promoted to what’s called a “Crew Trainer” and, at the time, I was working in the grill… but now I had been selected to be cross trained on customer service.
Well, guess who was responsible for training me? Right, I got to hang out with Christina for a few shifts of intimate (my word, not hers) training on how to smile, clean the customer’s bathrooms, refill the ketchup dispenser and take someone’s order.
As I got to know Christina, I thought she was pretty cool.
As she got to know me, she probably thought I was annoying.
But I’ll fast forward for the sake of time and relevance and just say that in the end, I think I won because we’ve now been married for almost 9 years. In fact, our 9th anniversary is just around the corner… July 1st, which some of you may know is Canada day, so I like to joke that people everywhere in our country set off fireworks to celebrate us.
Anyway, at this point, you may be wondering what on earth this cheesy story has to do with leadership… hang tight, I’ll get there.
Despite the fact that my first job ever, in high school, introduced my to my future wife, I find that on late nights, when Christina and I chat about where we’ve come from and how we got to where we are today, we often come back to our time at McDonald’s, not because of the romance (and no, we weren’t that couple making out in the back of the restaurant… umm… at least, that’s the story we are telling… or not telling… pretend I didn’t say that).
Both Christina and I worked at McDonald’s for something like 5 or 6 years and we both had the opportunity to rise the ranks from crew into Management. And as a side note here, Christina is probably one of the best managers I’ve ever seen, and I’m not just saying that because she is my wife. She earned her way to 2nd Assistant Store Manager while in high school and she was therefore a boss to me for a couple years… and she was really good.
Anyway, my point is that Christina and I got to experience the highly praised training that McDonald’s is known for. Now personally, I think the food has gone downhill since we worked there, and there are times where I visit a McDonald’s restaurant and receive terrible service, so I don’t want to paint a picture that’s unrealistically rosy, but Christina and I worked for a great owner, for a great management team, and we were put through some incredible training.
So when I started to think about what to talk about on today’s episode, which by the way is part of the series I’ve been running each Monday on the Fundamentals of management… but when I started thinking about today’s topic, which is coaching, I couldn’t help but reflect back on my time at McDonald’s.
Because I still remember going through the Crew Trainer training program & training books, and I remember that it was through that training that I was first introduced to the concept of coaching.
You see, coaching is different from training. It’s different from mentoring. It’s different from managing, and it’s different from leading.
However, an effective coach is often an effective leader, an effective manager, and an effective trainer as well.
So what I want to talk about on this show is what’s the difference between each of these titles, like what exactly is a coach, why is it important, and how do you do it properly?
Let’s start with a definition. And I wish I had kept my crew trainer handbook and training material from high school, because I’d love to look back at it to just be reminded of how simple but effective those principles of, I don’t know, I don’t want to say people management, but similar to Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People, McDonald’s training was build off of the same foundation of just simply treating people well.
And here’s another side note, leadership is often overcomplicated. Whether you are a first-time manager listening right now or a senior executive, the principles of leadership NEVER stray from taking a genuine interest in the betterment of others. That’s what Dale Carnegie talked about and that’s the type of customer service that McDonald’s was built upon – taking genuine interest in the betterment of others.
If you can do that, prioritize that, commit to that… everything else kinda just falls in place.
Alright, so while I don’t have my original training materials from, I don’t know, 14-15 years ago when I started at McDonald’s, I did find a website that had posted a few things from the Crew Trainer training program in 2014, and lo and behold, it included a definition of coaching!
And it’s brilliant, spot on, and aligned with any other definition of coaching you’ll find anywhere.
The content reads, “What is your role as a coach?”
And the answer is, “Encourage and support trainees, correct behaviors outside of training, complimenting good behaviors, and encouraging the crew to smile.”
So we’ve got encouragement, support, feedback… both corrective and affirming, and a responsibility to reset focus.
For the sake of time, I’m not going to dive too deep into comparisons between managing, training, coaching, and leading, but I’m going to define them each really quickly.
Managing is about results, performance, measurement, and evaluation. Training is about sharing knowledge, explaining why, showing how, and monitoring for consistent execution. Coaching, as I’ll talk about further in a moment, is about helping others execute on what they already know so that they can reach their potential… and I’ll define leading, at least in this context because I’ve got to be careful how I define leadership since I’ve already mentioned how complicated it can be… but leading is about decision making in harmony with training, managing, and coaching.
As I said, I’m taking the McDonald’s definition I just shared and simplifying it to say that a Coach is someone who helps others execute on what they already know so that they can reach their potential.
I’m going to give two examples here and then we’ll talk about why this is so important.
First of all, if you’ve already joined the “What If” project, this is exactly the message I am sharing and this is exactly the purpose of the “Different” program that I’m building… and I’ll take 20 seconds here to remind you that the price for “Different” is continuing to go up by $10 a day, so if you haven’t joined yet
But as I was saying, both the “What If” project and the “Different” program are designed to provide not just training, but more importantly, coaching. If you are listening today, you likely already have the knowledge and the pieces required to be a great leader. You don’t need me to tell you that you should care about people. You don’t need me to tell you that you shouldn’t avoid tough conversations but you should rather embrace them as opportunities to make a difference and improve performance. You don’t need me to tell you that goal setting with your employees can be incredibly powerful.
The “What If” project is about making little tiny changes, every day, so that executing on those types of responsibilities can be easier or more natural, because “What If” managers actually did the things they know they should do?
That’s the “What If” project, and “Different” is the same concept.
I’m not teaching anything new through this leadership development program. I’m being a coach. I’m building a program that will help the members, the students, if you will, execute on the things they already know!
Which is why time management and productivity are going to be a heavy component to the program. That’s also why performance management, like correcting behavior and having tough conversations is also going to be a heavy component.
Because we all know what needs to get done and we all know when a tough conversation is warranted, so if those are areas where you want to get better… you don’t need a trainer, you don’t need a manager, you don’t need a leader… you need a coach. You need someone or something to help you executive on the right behaviors. To help you find the time or find the courage to be the leader you know you can be.
Now, a coach does still train, they do still manage or monitor performance, and they do still lead. Which is why I consider coaching to be a manager fundamental. Because if you want to become a leader, you need to be a good manager… and being able to train your people, like I talked about last week, and being able to coach your people like we’re talking about today are important skills to learn and apply in conjunction with all the other attributes that make the foundation of great leadership.
And the second example I’m going to share is in reference to a book written by Timothy Gallwey called “The Inner Game of Tennis: The Classic Guide to the Mental Side of Peak Performance”, which although I have not read, you probably know as well as I do that the concept of mastering the “inner game” is highly praised and become almost commonplace in sports coaching.
In fact, Gallwey has written a number of books now on the topic including The Inner Game of Work, The Inner Game of Stress, The Inner Game of Golf, and The Inner Game of Music.
The concept is this. The biggest obstacles to obtaining peak performance is internal, not external. That if you can master the inner game, the self-talk components of how we operate, then you can translate that internal performance to external performance.
The original Tennis example talks about how a Tennis player might be thinking too much during a game. During every swing, after every play, just thinking. Thinking about body positioning, thinking about the different angles, thinking about small movements in the wrists, or the hips, or weight transfer… I’m not a tennis player, but I’ve played many sports and I get it.
Golf is another great example actually because I’ve played golf, so it makes more sense to me. There are many times where I will be in the middle of my backswing and I notice that my feet may not be perfectly positioned.
And what do you think happens in that moment? Both distraction and hesitation, often resulting in a poor shot.
But here’s the thing, for me at least. I’ve been playing golf since I was little. I’ve taken lessons, and because I started young, I have a great swing. I don’t play often enough or well enough to be really competitive, but I know what I’m doing.
And if I just swing the club, rather than think about what I’m doing, I’m more likely to make a good shot because of muscle memory and repetition.
And so while a trainer may teach a tennis player or a golfer how to swing the racket or how to swing the golf club, a coach helps a player to execute on what they already know how to do.
They encourage and support, they correct behaviors… which gives the idea of reminders, not instruction (instruction would be training while reminders or corrections would be coaching), they compliment good behaviors, and they encourage the crew to smile… oh wait, maybe that only applies to customer service.
Although, wouldn’t it be really funny if athletes smiled constantly? I don’t know, I think that’d be really entertaining!
No, the coach encourages the player or the coachee to put on the fundamental confidence that produces good results. For the athlete, it’s an encouragement to have fun, remove distractions, and trust his or her body. For the customer support professional, it’s to smile.
But the point is that when you, as a coach, can shift an employee’s mind from what’s distracting, to something helpful… something that reinforces good behavior and leads to proper execution… that’s when you will be effective.
This is so good right?
That’s because this type of coaching can be so powerful. It’s about meeting your employees where they are at. It’s about trust and confidence. It’s about influence, not forcing your will.
And I think the “why” part of this discussion is quite obvious.
Why should managers develop coaching skills?
Because sometimes that’s what your employees need.
Sometimes they need training. Sometimes they need to be told what to do, when to do it, why to do it, and how to do it. That’s training. That’s what we covered last week.
Sometimes they need management. Sometimes they need to be pushed to produce results. Sometimes they need to be evaluated and told where they stand. Sometimes they need direction… they need work to be delegated to them, they need metrics, they need …yeah… management.
Sometimes they need to be lead. Sometimes they need someone to show them the way, to take them somewhere they haven’t been before. Someone to make decisions, open doors and either, walk them to the door, walk them through the door, or push them through the door.
And sometimes, they need coaching. They need encouragement. They need support. They need corrective reminders. They need to be told they are doing a good job, and they need to be refocused to what’s important… whether that’s to smile, to have fun, or to trust their gut.
But the difficult part to all of this is… well, to actually put on the right hat in the right situation.h
There are so many different hats we put on as managers and often the coaching hat is left hanging in the locker room.
If you listened to episode 66 with Lolly Daskal, you may remember that one of the archetypes she describes in her new book, The Leadership Gap, is the Navigator. A Navigator is someone who is a good problem solver, someone who understands what needs to be done, and where to go next.
However, every Navigator has a gap… which is the fixer.
And this is extremely common among managers. Most managers are problem solvers. They know how to do things properly, they are good at the day to day tasks, they’re high performers… that’s why they are managers in the first place. That’s why you are a manager. Because you are good at your job.
But since you are good at your job, isn’t it tempting to step in and fix things rather than let one of your employees figure it out on their own? Right.
But the act of coaching involves very little movement from the manager, it’s not about stepping in and taking over, it’s about getting other people to make those moves.
Now, I’m not going to think for a second that in the few minutes that remain on today’s episode that I’ll be able to teach you how to recognize the right opportunities to coach and show you how to properly coach your people… I mean, that’s why leadership coaching exists, that’s why I do what I do, that’s why I teach my Shoulder-to-Shoulder philosophy, that’s why I’m developing the “Different” program… because becoming a true leader isn’t about quick fixes, it’s about operating differently than most managers currently are and that can be difficult.
That being said, I’ve got some good news to share with you and before I do that, I have a really simple suggestion that can make this whole coaching thing easier. Become an inquisitive manager. The best leaders are those who ask great questions, and I’ve actually got a mini e-book on this subject that you can download from my website if you are interested, called The Inquisitive Manager: 10 Questions That Will Make You A Better Leader, Instantly.
The point is that the more questions you ask, scratch that, the more intentional you are with the questions you ask, the easier it will be to assess where your employees are at when it comes to confidence & competence on a given task. And this is something I talked about on Day 2 of the “What If” project, but the clearer you are on the development level of your employees on the tasks they have been given, the easier it is to assess when it’s time to put on that trainer cap and get back to basics or put on that coach hat and give them the encouragement, support, and feedback they need to execute on what they already know.
And here is the good news I promised. Despite the challenges of knowing how to lead in each situation… knowing when to teach, when to manage, when to coach, when to direct… this is the good news and the final word of encouragement I want to give you today.
This is good news for you, someone who wants to be a better leader, and this is good news for the employees you lead.
The good news is that although leadership is hard, it doesn’t have to be as complicated as we make it, and you are capable. You have it in you… the mere fact that you are listening to a leadership podcast right now tells me that in most circumstances you know what to do and in most cases you already know how to do it. I’ve been your trainer on a few things over the past 20-ish minutes or so, but as your coach now, I want to leave you with this. Just have fun, and as I’ve already mentioned, if you can take a genuine interest in the betterment of others. If you can do that, prioritize that, commit to that… everything else kinda just falls in place.