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Live from Internal Branding: Leveraging employees to rewrite the dictionary

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This post is by SmartBrief contributing editor Robert Jones, who is reporting from the 5th Annual Internal Branding & Employee Engagement conference.

For McDonald’s, earning an entry in Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary in 2003 was not exactly a marketing coup. The word was “McJob,” and Webster’s defined it as, “a low-paying job that requires little skill and provides little opportunity for advancement.”

The company thought that was unfair, and it set out to change its employment brand in the minds of consumers, if not in the pages of the dictionary.

By surveying its 1.6 million employees worldwide, McDonald’s found that job-satisfaction levels topped 80% in most parts of the world — but public perception lagged internal perceptions by 40 percentage points or more.

“It was incredibly clear that our employees like their gig,” says Mike Balaka, McDonald’s director of Global HR Design, but the public wasn’t getting that message. To turn things around, the company again surveyed tens of thousands of employees, this time with a single question: “What do you love most about working at McDonald’s?”

Three themes emerged from these surveys. Workers said they loved the company’s people and its culture; they appreciated the variety of work and the options available; and they valued the opportunities to develop their skills and get ahead. Boiling it down, McDonald’s came up with three “Fs” that defined what it could offer to employees beyond a paycheck:

  • Friends & family
  • Flexibility
  • Future

Those Fs became the basis of the company’s Employee Value Proposition, or “what the employees value most about the job. We see it as McDonald’s part of the employment deal — what we offer in exchange for loyalty and hard work.”

Though the alliteration is handy and memorable, Balaka is quick to stress that the EVP was defined “in the crew room, not the boardroom.” Rather than “sitting around the office thinking, ‘What do we want to be?’ ” Balaka says, the goal was “to mine the value that employees already feel.”

McDonald’s is barely a year into its concerted global effort to translate those survey findings in actionable communications with employees and customers, but already, turnover rates are down and customer counts are up. In more than 40 countries around the world, McDonald’s has been recognized as one of the “Best Place to Work,” and even though “McJob” hasn’t been dropped from the dictionary, Balaka says he believes the perception gap is beginning to narrow.

Balaka acknowledges that the process is a marathon rather than a sprint, but he says he has learned one major lesson already: “If your employees like working for you, you already have an Employee Value Proposition.”

All that’s left for HR to do is “identify and leverage those strengths,” he says.

Image Credit: LeggNet, via iStock Photo