Focus on Quality Improvement and Innovation: The McDonald’s Story

McDonald’s has been a paragon of quality, consistency, and efficiency at least since Ray Kroc purchased the company from the McDonald brothers, Dick and Mac, in 1961. Not saying Dick and Mac didn’t already have a great product – Mr. Kroc wouldn’t have made an offer for the business, otherwise – but he expanded the business and vowed to ensure quality and consistency throughout the company. Kroc made “Quality, Service, Cleanliness, and Value” an organizational mantra. Hamburger University, another Kroc invention, quickly proved to be a model leadership training program for all of corporate America.

McDonald’s is a quality management system and for most of its existence, has been a very good one. Kroc’s single-minded dedication to consistency and efficiency in operations made sure of that. When I traveled frequently by car in my younger days, I looked for the Golden Arches because I knew what to expect. Whether I was in St. Louis, Chicago, or Billings[1], when I ordered the Quarter Pounder (sans cheese, the standard in those days) I got the same burger in each location. They and Anheuser-Busch were models of consistency and conformity, not just in my mind but in the minds of a majority of American consumers.

Why is this man smiling? (Getty Images)

                                              So why is this man smiling? (Getty Images)

However, the McDonald’s quality management system (not to be confused with ISO 9001) has not been properly maintained. I suspect that’s due in large part to the loss of Ray Kroc: his passion for uniformly high quality would be hard to duplicate. Lacking Kroc’s sense of purpose and direction, as well as his eagerness to innovate – to change rather than be changed – corporate management could have become complacent over time.

For a system to be successful for any length of time, it has to be motivated to change from within. If you’re to be successful in the long term, your organizational culture has to welcome, encourage, and seek out change. Accepting the status quo – or “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” – is unacceptable.

Which is what seems to have happened at McDonald’s. How else to explain the recent numerous complaints by employees about sub-optimal working conditions and training?[2] Or the growing consumer disenchantment with the fast-food behemoth?[3]

Innovate means “change something by introducing a new method, idea, or feature”. Innovate doesn’t mean “throw out the old and start fresh”. Often, innovation is an incremental improvement over the old and established – a small step in the right direction. McDonald’s has forsaken its innovative ways, quality and safety[4] are no longer a top priority, and consumers, employees, and even investors[5] are paying the price. Can McDonald’s right itself?

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[1] Billings is where I also had my one and only “McFeast” (which, as far as I know, never made it outisde of a few test markets). Too big and sloppy for my taste.

[2] Choi, Candice, “McDonald’s Workers Detail Burns, Job Hazards”, March 16, 2015 –

[3] Consumer Reports, “McDonald’s Burgers Named Worst in America in Consumer Reports’ New Fast-Food Survey”, July 2, 2014 –

[4] Fujikawa, Megumi, “McDonald’s Japan Faces Fresh Problem With Chicken Nuggets”, JapanRealTime blog, Jan. 5, 2015 –

[5] Taylor, Kate, “McDonald’s Goes 12 Months Without U.S. Sales Growth; Execs Promise Customization and ‘Convenient’ Payments”, Entrepreneur, Nov. 10, 2014 –


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Posted in Change management, consistent, consumer value, predictable, product innovation, Quality improvement

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