ATD Blog

Manage Executive Onboarding Like McDonald's Brings on New Franchisees

Monday, April 27, 2015

If everyone treated executive onboarding the way McDonald’s brings its franchisees into the fold, the failure rates for new leaders would plummet.  

Consider this statement: “I’d like you to quit your job, give up your benefits, go into a business you know nothing about, and, oh by the way, I can’t tell you how much money you’ll make.” This is how Mark Siebert from iFranchise Group describes the value proposition for potential franchisees. This is why franchisee onboarding has “a lot more of a sales process involved.” It is very much about qualification, as franchisees expect to be involved for 15 to 20 years. In addition, you can’t just fire franchisees “because you don’t get along with them.” 

Siebert took me through what the strongest franchise systems like McDonald’s, Auntie Annie’s Pretzels, and HoneyBaked Ham do to qualify and onboard new franchisees. Their three priorities line up exactly with the only three true job interview questions: strengths, fit, and motivation. 

Strengths to Succeed 

The first piece of qualification is all about setting up the basics of success. As Siebert puts it, Stupid, undercapitalized, and lazy doesn’t work in any business.” Franchisors screen for intelligence, work ethics, and capital. Then they focus in on what their particular organization needs. For example: 

  • HoneyBaked Ham franchisees need a combination of food service and retail.
  • For senior care franchisees, the managerial components are more important.
  • McDonald’s requires discipline from its franchisees.
  • For other businesses, sales strengths are more important. 

Fit with Organizational Philosophy 

For franchisors it’s important to find people that are going to believe in your organizational philosophy from day one,” says Seibert. He explains that franchisors can train skills, but they can’t force fit. This is why poor franchisors fail by trying to go too fast, and the best franchisors screen for fit throughout the sales process. 


In addition, 95 percent of franchisors host some sort of two-way discovery day for potential franchisees and the organization to get to know each other. These typically involve a dinner and then a day of meetings with senior leaders and functional groups. At the end of the day, the two parties get together and figure out if they all believe in the fit between franchisee and franchisor. 

Motivation—Not Too Entrepreneurial 

Franchisors need people who follow the rules of the road and systems to protect the franchisor’s brand,” adds Siebert. However, according to Seibert, true entrepreneurs never saw a rule they didn’t want to break.” So, the ideal franchisee: 

  • has a long history of working in a corporation
  • has been in one relationship for a long time, and is typically married
  • doesn’t break a lot of rules
  • was an A and B student.

Essentially, these are people who drive minivans in the right lane of life,” says Seibert. Unlike entrepreneurs who are “C-students who started their first business before age 25, bounced around from job to job, divorced, have traffic tickets and are rule breakers.” Seibert adds that people retired from the military often make great franchisees. 

But don’t confuse following the rules with lack of creativity and innovation, reminds Siebert. Half the items on McDonald’s menu were developed by franchisees, including the Big Mac, Filet-O-Fish, and Egg McMuffin. The best franchisees come up with ideas. They just work within the system. 


Franchisee Onboarding 

Siebert explains that best franchise onboarding programs are ongoing processes that include:

  • training via video, on-site (in a unit), at HQ (like working in Hamburger University), and in their own physical location at the grand opening.
  • check-ins every week at the beginning of the relationship, and then every two to four weeks as the franchisee becomes more proficient. 

This varies based on complexity because in the food service business if you get it wrong you can kill your customers,” adds Seibert. 

Implications for the Non-Franchise Business

What are the take-aways for businesses? How can you apply this information to how you onboard new hires? Here are three ideas:

  1. Get your screening criteria right. It’s not just about strengths; make sure you’re considering fit and motivation as well.
  2. Make the qualification process a two-way street. Think about mutual discovery days instead of pressure interviews.
  3. Invest in executive onboarding across time, locations, and media starting with a New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan. Treat everyone like they’re going to be with you for 15 to 20 years and they actually may be there that long.


About the Author

George Bradt has a unique perspective on transformational leadership based on his experience as a business leader, consultant, and journalist. He progressed through sales, marketing, and general management roles around the world at companies including Unilever, Procter & Gamble, Coca-Cola, and J.D. Power’s Power Information Network spin-off as chief executive. Now he is a principal of CEO Connection and managing director of the executive onboarding group PrimeGenesis.

George is a graduate of Harvard and Wharton (MBA), co-author of four books on onboarding, including The New Leader’s 100-Day Action Plan, and co-author of a weekly column on, The New Leader’s Playbook.

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