It's not all about burgers for the youthful staff at McDonald's — there's a lot of learning happening along the way.

Armed with a graduate degree, Aditya Kharwa joined the ‘crew' at the first McDonald's outlet opened by HardCastle Restaurants (the second in India) in Bandra, Mumbai, back in 1996. Today, he heads the Restaurant Solutions Group (RSG), one of four divisions within the key, 13-member People Resources team at HardCastle. Along the way, he has completed a PGDBM from Welingkar's Institute of Management, Mumbai.

There are others like him at McDonald's, in India and abroad, who have grown from within the ranks. Among them is Global CEO and Vice-Chairman, Jim Skinner, who leads the ‘world's largest food service company with 33,000 restaurants in 118 countries'. After a 10-year stint in the US Navy, he joined McDonald's as a trainee restaurant manager in Illinois in 1971. When his performance review comes up, one of the KRAs evaluated is ‘people resources'.

No wonder then that HardCastle is happy to showcase Kharwa as an example of McDonald's' approach to talent. Its employee value proposition is ‘fun, flexibility & future', and at the back of every visiting card is written: ‘First Choice for the Future'.

Big Mac's Big Numbers

HardCastle runs 116 McDonald's restaurants in the South and West, employing 5,100 people. As with retail establishments, the people resources are concentrated in the outlets. While 150 people are employed at the corporate office and 550 at the restaurant-/ store-manager-levels, 4,400 work under store managers, ensuring that you enjoy your McDonald's meal. Almost all of these foot soldiers are in their first jobs, and 60 to 70 per cent are part-timers.

If that isn't challenging enough, between 3,500 and 4,000 people are hired each year at the crew level, and the chain hopes to expand to 250 outlets by 2014. Of those hired, 2,000 will replace those who have left. But the heavy turnover is in synch with the business model, which is designed to help part-timers and the company.

The People Resources team under Director, Seema Arora Nambiar, handles RSG (the Restaurant Solutions Group), HR, Training, and the Leadership and Development teams, enhancing the brand within and outside the organisation. And though it can fall back on McDonald's' experience handling a 17-lakh-plus workforce worldwide, there are some challenges that are peculiar to India.

Nambiar, who joined McDonald's (HardCastle) in 1999 as a trainee executive, says much more than the modern systems, processes and technology, it is the staff who are central to the business, as is evident from the people focus of the top management — be it the global CEO or the McDonald's India Vice-Chairman (West & South), Amit Jatia. When HardCastle prepared the ground for McDonald's in '96, the first person hired by Jatia was in the HR function. Today, 20 per cent of every manager's goals is related to team development and 10 per cent to his or her own development. “My involvement in talent-related initiatives takes up 15 to 20 per cent of my time. I see this moving up to 30 per cent shortly,” notes Jatia.

This is in line with how Jatia's performance will be evaluated: 30 per cent weightage will be given to the people scorecard, including all HR-related goals for the organisation. Another sub-head on his score card is retention.

Part-Time Play

Nambiar and co believe that people resources should have an understanding of every aspect of the business. So it helps that she has spent over three years handling strategic planning and studying consumer business insights at McDonald's. Especially since most positions at the top of the outlets — and at the corporate level — are filled by employees groomed from within the system.

Within each restaurant, the ladder looks like this: Trainee Crew – Crew – Trainee Supervisor – Floor Manager – Floor Manager 2 – Second Assistant – First Assistant – Restaurant Manager. And it is the Restaurant Manager who handles all hiring in keeping with the prescribed processes of the People Resources team, which is guided by McDonald's global guidelines.

Promoting people from within has its advantages — attrition at the top end of the store has reduced by 12 per cent in the last two years, claims Nambiar. At the entry level, the average tenure of staffers is 18 to 24 months.

“More and more people want to study. Typically, 30 per cent of the staff comprises students and we urge them to continue studying by working part-time. Around 30 per cent of the staff would comprise people who aren't studying or have stopped studying. We urge them to go back to education, and help facilitate it,” says Nambiar.

When HardCastle conducted a study to assess itself as an employer brand a few years back, what came out was an uncomfortable revelation: It didn't have an image as an employer. That had to change.

Changing Perception With Reality

Two-and-a-half years ago, Nambiar and her team hit college campuses, communicating to students that working at McDonald's wasn't about cleaning tables or the restaurant business — rather, it was about ‘getting skills for life'.

Walking the talk, HardCastle has tied up with Welingkar's Institute, which recognises training imparted to staff at McDonald's for their PGDBM curriculum. So, from 100 mandatory days of class sessions, the specified number of days comes down to 70. HardCastle also allows staffers pursuing the course five additional days off every month. Staff have also taken up courses at the Symbiosis Institute for Distance Learning (PGDBA) and an IGNOU course in association with RAI (Retailers' Association of India), says the People head.

The company has also tied up with NGOs such as the Kotak and Reddy Foundations, to train and employ youth from the rural areas. It is in talks with Everonn, for similar vocational training and employment of talent at its food retail outlets. In the last four years, around 400 rural youth have been hired through their association with NGOs.

HardCastle is also pushing the pedal on the flexibility front — one can choose to work on different days of the week every week, or weekdays on one week and weekends on the next to match their academic needs. Parents of staffers are invited to ‘Family Nights' to demonstrate how the job can help their children kids educate themselves, besides learning life skills.

Training, Incentives, Fun

Though the challenges of managing churn remain, thanks to its large pool of part-time staff, people are encouraged to continue in the system, getting an education alongside, and having fun flexibly. Employers needing customer-facing personnel, including BPOs and banks, consider trained McDonald's staffers as ‘good to poach', admit HardCastle officials, with a touch of pride. Poaching is a smaller concern. There are other macro challenges to contend with.

“Part-time work as a culture is non-existent in India. In the next two to three years, we would like to work with the industry to change this. Two-job options don't exist either. We are working with multiple stakeholders on this,” notes Nambiar. Training, incentives and fun are all on the People Resources team's agenda. On average, employees have between 15 to 20 days of training in a year, encompassing classroom, on-floor training and coaching. This is besides on-the-job training. The number increases with the level at which employees function.

Performance rewards are based on a CSO (Customer Satisfaction Opportunity) index. Mystery Shopper programmes are run across outlets, and the agency's identity is not known to the top brass at HardCastle even, claims Nambiar. Results of the global index are published internally. Rewards ranging from a month's salary to two months' salary have been paid out as bonus. Even otherwise, at HardCastle, employees are happiest in peak business situations, it was found in internal studies.

With a workforce that is just out of school (or junior college), fun has to be part of the agenda for the People team. A ‘Voice of McDonald's contest' — a global singing talent hunt for McDonald's' employees — will see Prajitha Annedath from Bangalore, winner of the India leg, travel to Orlando in April 2012 for the finals. If she wins, she will get $25,000 and a chance to shoot her music album. She, for one, is lovin' it.

(This article was published on August 21, 2011)
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