My McDonald's career from trainee manager to HR director

Lucy Clough reflects on her career progression at McDonald's, how she was supported to learn about management and HR, and how graduates can be successful.
I decided to join McDonald's as a graduate because there was a clear ladder up to board level.

I began working part time at McDonald’s when I was 16 and continued to do so through college and university to fund my car and holidays. I decided to join full time after graduating because I’d seen the career opportunities within the business: there was a clear ladder up to board level. I thought I’d give it two years and if it didn’t work I’d go back to my ‘plan B’, which was to be a PE teacher. As you can see, it did work out and I‘ve never left!

Moving into management

As a crew member, I got involved in all the roles required to run a restaurant: serving customers, preparing food and so on. I loved my colleagues, the fast pace and the variety. I soon progressed to assistant manager and then to business manager (aka restaurant manager). I was next promoted to be an operations consultant (aka area manager), overseeing eight restaurants and about 700 people.

Working as a crew member gave me a practical understanding that has since enhanced my management abilities and informed my HR decisions. To manage our restaurants, you need to thrive in a fastpaced, often-changing environment and be able to make decisions ‘in the grey’ – that is, to make the best decision with the available facts, even if you don’t have that ‘black and white certainty’ of knowing everything you would like to.

As a manager, you need to help your teams to acquire the skills and behaviours that will maximise their performance. You learn that individuals require different approaches. Some will want reassurance, for example, while others will require you to pass on knowledge.  As you take on new roles yourself, however, it’s important to refresh your own skills and knowledge, whether that is through coaching or just asking for advice. I’ve learned that it is better to say ‘I don’t know’ than to be left wondering.

Moving into HR

It’s standard practice to offer members of our operations team secondments into other areas of the business. It enables skill development and builds better relationships throughout the business, as well as ensuring departments benefit from new thinking. I was offered a secondment into HR, a career I’d never considered before but really enjoyed. I began in a general role, before taking my love of learning into a specialist learning and development role. Now, as HR director, I oversee everything that is people-related at McDonald’s, including the policies and procedures.

One of my best moments so far has been when I won the McDonald’s President Award in 2012. This is a prestigious award that only one per cent of McDonald’s global employees receive annually and in recognition of their work. We all wait eagerly for the email announcing who they are. I think I received it in part for my efforts over the last three years, as well as for my work over the previous 12–18 months, managing the business through a reorganisation while improving our brand and employee reputation.

Getting the most from training

McDonald’s invests a lot in training. The company supported me through my masters once I’d decided to stay in HR permanently, which was brilliant because it cemented my existing knowledge. It also allowed me to learn from my course mates and to expand my network. I’ve really benefited from having a network of wise people around me. There are two senior managers at McDonald’s whom I call my work mum and dad. They never tell me the solutions to my concerns, but do give me good counsel.

Taking part in the company’s Women’s Leadership Development Programme in 2005 was a personal turning point for me, as it enabled me to reflect on my own strengths and weaknesses. It encouraged me to take ownership of my career, to truly understand that I had the power and ability to define my goals and to make them happen. It’s important to identify the traits that will help you to succeed and your potential blockers to success. For example, I think my inner-grit and desire to do well at whatever task I’m given has helped me to succeed, but I’ve also got to ensure that I don’t come across as driven to achieve my goal at the expense of all else!

How to be an impressive graduate employee

It impresses me if graduates in my team take the initiative over their own development, for example by saying ‘Can I get involved with X project? It would be good for me to meet people from across the business and develop my skills in Y.’’

Choosing a company

Before applying to a company, research its culture and values. If your values aren’t aligned, you are unlikely to be happy, nor to reach your potential. In McDonald’s I have found a place in which there is no ceiling on development and a place where I can fly; I believe that others will find the same. Talk to our teams at university careers events and go into restaurants to speak to our staff. Don’t dismiss a company’s opportunities without some investigation.

Exclusive content for The Guardian UK 300 2017/18. Copyright of all material written by TARGETjobs lies solely with GTI Media.

View The Guardian UK 300.