Monday, November 11, 2013

My First Job: McDonald's

It's not that I am embarrassed about my first job; it's that I was actually so bad at it that I came within days of actually getting fired.

It was a job that I think most people would believe to be fairly straightforward and simple: working at McDonald's.  Sitting adjacent to my high school, McDonald's was a popular place, especially following high school events like football games and concerts.

I'd just turned 18 and got the job of working the grill in my hometown restaurant.  I'm not sure how restaurants are run today, but in those days (the mid 80s), you either worked the registers or the grill.  Working on the grill meant that those working the registers would bark orders back to you about what to make, how much to make, and how many items required cheese.  There were beepers going off all the time and there was always something that needed to be pulled out of a grease vat someplace.  You were constantly stocking supplies, washing dishes, and mopping up the slippery floor so you didn't lose your footing and fall into grime.  It was usually you and just one other person for a 4-, 5-, 6-, or longer-hour shift.  Job training was trial-by-fire, and let's just say I was burning up.

I was neither sure what I was doing wrong, nor how to correct it.  There was a definite rhythm needed to flow through all the procedures, but I just didn't have it.  Nor, apparently, could I obtain it.  And it seemed that after 4 months of this, my days were numbered.

One of the assistant managers, Chris, suggested moving me to the registers as a last-ditch effort.  The general manager, Bob, originally said no - he was ready to fire me.  Chris asked for two weeks "just to see"; that it would take that long to train a new person anyway.  Bob reluctantly agreed and I was moved out front.  The change in my performance was immediate.

Within days, I was controlling product, directing other crew members, assigning tasks, and taking orders.  I had no idea of it at the time, but it was this transition that taught me that my career would be based on managing and developing people.  What was originally done as a last-ditch effort ended up defining my eventual occupation.  This job taught me to quickly recognize strengths, assess abilities, delegate responsibilities, and listen to needs.

You wouldn't necessarily think that serving burgers at McDonald's could teach these skills.  But it's all about getting out what you put in.  Training and development is always there; sometimes you have to look for it or even create it yourself.

One month after this change, I was given my first achievement award in my career: Crew Member of the Month for September 1984.  I still have the plaque to remind me to never give up.  My mantra has always been, "They'll just have to fire me if I am not doing well; I refuse to quit."   I was lucky that Chris recognized my potential.  And that's what I continue to try to do in my management career.