Behind the Burger

ICE Visit to McDonald's office in Singapore fires up imagination for innovation

Issue: Dec 2011

The ICE Visit to McDonald's office in Singapore gave CapitaLand staff the chance to unwrap the mystery behind the magic of the multi-national corporation
The ICE Visit to McDonald's office in Singapore gave CapitaLand staff the chance to unwrap the mystery behind the magic of the multi-national corporation

Patrons at McDonald's King Albert Park looked up from their breakfast one weekday morning to see an unusual sight – a crowd of corporate-looking executives making their way through the lobby right into the quick service restaurant's kitchen. This was no ordinary excursion, though, but another Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship (ICE) visit by CapitaLand, aimed at inspiring its staff towards, as the name of the programme suggests - innovation, creativity and entrepreneurship.

"I think it is quite an experience for people in the real estate industry to go to a restaurant chain to find out what they do to be so successful, (how they) last so long and stay in the leadership position," said Leow Siew Beng, Senior Vice President for Organisational Development and Head of the Innovation, Creativity & Entrepreneurship (ICE) programme.

Indeed, the chance to hear the secret behind the success of the multi-national corporation was what prompted most of the participants to sign up.

CapitaLand employees eager to hear all about McDonald's secret
CapitaLand employees eager to hear all about McDonald's secret

"Whenever there is an opportunity for such ICE visits and talks, I sign up to learn. I appreciate the cross pollination of ideas from other industries and the opportunities to learn and contribute (back to CapitaLand)," said Irene Lim, Assistant Vice President of Customer Relations, The Ascott Limited.

"McDonald's is one of our biggest tenants,"
said Ong Jeun Jye, Senior Manager, Regional Investment & Asset Management, CapitaMalls Asia. "I wanted to find out more about their operations and best practices and how they achieve service quality."

In fact, the McDonald's ICE visit was so popular it was over-subscribed.

"Within one hour of sending out the publicity e-mail on the event, we had to remove the e-mail because all
50 places allocated were taken up," shared Leow.

From counter to kitchen to the cool rooms behind, CapitaLand employees got  a behind-the-scenes look at McDonald's King Albert Park's operations
From counter to kitchen to the cool rooms behind, CapitaLand employees got a behind-the-scenes look at McDonald's King Albert Park's operations

Innovative Technology

One of the most interesting aspects of the ICE visit was the tour behind the restaurant counter into the kitchen. There, participants got to see McDonald's innovative and proprietary technology in action.

"Our brand heritage is Quality, Service, Cleanliness and Value. We promise to deliver simple, easy enjoyment," said Tan Kwang Cheak, Senior Director, Operations, Brand Extensions, Business Planning and Human Resource of McDonald's Singapore and the face of McDonald's Singapore for the day.

Everything in and about McDonald's is focused on delivering this brand promise, beginning with the technology. Participants got to see how orders are filled by a simple, touch-screen system that uses pictures instead of words, allowing even elderly workers who cannot read English to work it with ease. This system is linked electronically to the kitchen so that orders can be made. With this system, McDonald's was able to initiate the Made-for-You service between 2007 and 2008 which allowed patrons to customise their own burgers and still be served their personalised meals within the 25 second-target - the McDonald's standard.

CapitaLand staff being told of the technology unique to McDonald's that help them make mouth-watering meals in double-quick time
CapitaLand staff being told of the technology unique to McDonald's that help them make mouth-watering meals in double-quick time

CapitaLand staff also saw McDonald's specially designed, US-made French fry dispenser. The dispenser allows frozen fries to be dropped directly into the oil, saving the kitchen staff a trip to the freezer to thaw the fries and helps to shave off precious preparation time.
Another storeroom-to-counter product is the soft drinks that are piped in from the storage area straight to the service counter, a technology that amazed Adeline Chua, Leasing Executive from CapitaLand (RCS) Property Management Pte Ltd.

"I was impressed by their efficiency, how they customised the burgers and deal with customers because in my work I interact with customers too," said Chua.

"It was inspiring how they link people with customers and their business, while capitalising on technology," said Jocelyn Hea, Human Resource Manager of CapitaValue Homes Limited.

Innovative Systems

Going hand in hand with the technology are the innovative systems that oil the McDonald's machine. The most important of these are productivity-optimising systems which include shift management tools, staffing, scheduling and positioning of kitchen appliances for ease of use."We track productivity like a hawk," declared Tan.

Tan Kwang Cheak enthralled CapitaLand staff with a clear and thorough presentation of McDonald's success story

Tan Kwang Cheak enthralled CapitaLand staff with a clear and thorough presentation of McDonald's success story
Tan Kwang Cheak enthralled CapitaLand staff with a clear and thorough presentation of McDonald's success story

This aspect of the visit was something Lim found particularly relevant. "Productivity is something we at The Ascott want to look into as well – how to re-design processes and do things better," said Lim.

Another practice that helps McDonald's to stay innovative and creative is the open sharing of ideas, much like CapitaLand's ICE programme.

Tan shared that they hold regional meetings where people from different markets come together to pool their ideas. They are not afraid to 'steal' ideas from one another as it makes business logic to leverage on innovation and assets to grow.

Because McDonald's is all about providing quick, quality service, Tan shared the systems they have in place to track service standards and more importantly, how they viewed the results.

"At McDonald's we don't call them 'weaknesses', we call them 'opportunities'," said Tan about the findings from their tracking system. "The ideal score then would be zero which is different because usually, no one likes to get a zero."

"I appreciate their use of a different vocabulary. That kind of thinking really helps to motivate people. This is something I will try to work into at Ascott," said Lim.

Innovative Product

Every McDonald's market has the autonomy to customise their menu according to local taste. But sometimes, coming up with innovative products is also about helping the market to cultivate new tastes.

Tan shared about the use of English muffins in their breakfast meals. Until they were introduced, English muffins were not high on most Singaporeans' food list. In fact, even now, many only eat English muffins when eating a McDonald's breakfast. But the restaurant chain was not afraid to try out this new product in Singapore.

"We created the demand for English muffins by providing quality food," said Tan.

This aspect of their innovativeness captured Hea's attention. "I was quite impressed by McDonald's innovations to keep up with market changes and customer expectations. It makes them fun and creative so that they become more than just about food but they enhance the entire McDonald's experience."

Providing 24-hour service is another area in which McDonald's is leading the pack. Its considerations for where to set up 24-hour restaurants was valuable to Ong who deals with tenant needs all the time at CMA.

CapitaLand employees are shown the staff lounge where employee awards announcements and motivational sayings adorn the walls
CapitaLand employees are shown the staff lounge where employee awards announcements and motivational sayings adorn the walls

Innovative Management

Just like CapitaLand, McDonald's also focuses on people – their customers and their staff. One practice they have that sparked an interest in the participants was something called Founder's Day. On this day, the management team would go to restaurants across the island and work shoulder-to-shoulder with the rank and file.

"Founder's Day is something we might be able to adopt in some areas of The Ascott like house-keeping or helping with the luggage. It may open up new observations which we may not have seen before," said Lim. "We already do a bit of that when our senior management travel to the different countries to mingle and talk to the staff. It breaks hierarchy and barriers."

Burgers and buildings may seem worlds apart but at heart, both organisations share much in common – a tenacious focus on people and a dedication to innovation.

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