retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Michael Sansolo

One week from today, McDonald’s is firing a shot that, if successful, could alter the competitive landscape of food sales for quite a while to come. The sad thing is that McDonald’s is doing something any other company could do, but most have neglected to even try.

As recently reported here on MNB, on April 19th, McDonald’s is hoping to recruit 50,000 workers in a single day. Now it’s easy to dismiss this effort, because given the history of fast food jobs it is entirely possible that all 50,000 will quit in short order. McDonalds jobs are so lightly regarded that even the Urban Dictionary defines any form of menial work as a McJob.

And that is the exact reputation McDonald’s is challenging. In announcing the recruiting day, McDonald’s even used the McJob name, but in a completely different light. The company talked about all the opportunity that comes with working at McDonald’s and the huge percentage of franchisees, managers and company executives who began their careers essentially asking, “Do you want fries with that?”

But here’s the genius in the idea. McDonald’s is staging the effort at a time when unemployment is still extremely high and finding workers is unusually easy. In other words, it is a clear counterintuitive move, which is why it bears watching.

The reality is that we still have a demographic tidal wave approaching that we tend to forget about because of the problems of the recession. Sure, workers are in easy supply now, but the coming retirement of the Baby Boom generation is still an unavoidable reality. That means we are only years away from a time when scarcity will replace surplus among workers.

You have to believe that’s a big part of the opportunity McDonald’s is hoping to create. Recruiting and changing a perception now could help McDonald’s find a new generation of leaders at a time when others simply aren’t hiring. It could help McDonald’s build a reputation as a desirable place to work. In turn, that could create a major competitive advantage in the not-so-distant future.

Let’s look at this from another perspective, this time from the supermarket industry. Jobs in supermarkets are similarly besmirched, especially among young people who see them only as an avenue to ask, “Paper or plastic?” I have the great opportunity to regularly speak on college campuses and I rarely, if ever, find a student who shows any interest in a supermarket industry career. Sure they’ll take a job to get through school, but any thought of a career beyond that is laughable to them.

That’s wrong and that’s why this is an opportunity to copy McDonald’s. Supermarket jobs can also lead to great careers and the reality is jobs fall in a wide range of disciplines, including human resources, logistics, technology, marketing and more. Store management jobs can lead to levels of personnel and profit responsibilities far beyond what most people encounter in their entire lives.

Most don’t know that and frankly, most supermarkets don’t do a great job of spreading that word.

Just keep in mind that there is one part of this equation where McDonald’s can fail and it too is instructive. If the company hires 50,000 people, but manages them the same way fast food restaurants usually do, turnover will remain high. Supermarkets have the same problem. We need to both recruit and retain better than ever. That means better training for today’s managers to help them become tomorrow’s leaders. And it means better training to help them bring all those recruits along with them.

Here’s hoping that a competitive challenge of April 19th will change all that and make a lot of us think very differently.

Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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