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March 2012
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TD Magazine

A Hunger for Continuous Learning

UpwardBound
Diana Thomas discusses her career at McDonald’s USA, where she has richly learned, grown, and succeeded—while helping many others to do the same.

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Diana Thomas
Vice President of Training, Learning, and Development, McDonald’s USA, LLC

In her role as vice president of training, learning, and development for McDonald’s USA, Diana Thomas develops and executes McDonald’s restaurant training curriculum at Hamburger University, the company’s global training center of excellence. Under Thomas’s leadership, McDonald’s USA was recognized as one of the top five on the Top 125 list of Fortune 500 companies for training and learning development by Training magazine, and one of the top 10 Learning Elite Organizations by CLO magazine.

Q| You began your career with McDonald’s more than 30 years ago. Please explain your career path within the company.

A| I started my career as a restaurant crew member in the Baltimore area. From there I moved into restaurant management roles while I completed my undergraduate degree, and eventually advanced into the HR department. After holding a variety of regional and divisional positions, I moved to McDonald’s headquarters as the dean of Hamburger University (HU), where I worked to align the six worldwide HUs. Then I proceeded into my current role in which I oversee a staff of 70 team members and provide direction to 22 regional training teams. During the past 10 years I earned both a master’s degree and an MBA, and am so grateful for the many learning opportunities I’ve had, both professionally and personally.

Q| What strengths have you relied on to grow in your career?

A| Continuing to learn. By nature, I am a curious person, and I get jazzed by learning something new. I enjoy learning from others, especially the younger generation. My biggest teachers include my two Millennial daughters, as well as my very creative staff.

Staying connected to the business. McDonald’s, like most successful companies, relies on employees and leaders to help ensure the company is on the right track and is meeting the needs of our customers—both external and internal.

Helping others to learn, grow, and succeed. This is one of my biggest passions. I am very excited that, in my current position, I have been able to bring more than 100 people onto my immediate team, more than half of whom returned to the field in higher level positions throughout the company.

Q| Who has influenced you most in your career?

A| From an early age, my dad gave me the confidence to believe I could do anything I wanted to do, as long as I was willing to work hard and stay committed. He has always been one of my biggest supporters.

I work in a company where people are very willing to share their knowledge with others. Some of the best advice I received was prior to moving out of a restaurant role when my operations manager told me: “Don’t ever forget what it takes to make a hamburger and what the restaurant employees do and need.”

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Q| HU is one of the most well-known and respected corporate training universities worldwide. How have you seen training and development evolve within HU?

A| Over the years HU has moved from large-scale lecture-style teaching to facilitated group learning. Today, new classroom layouts allow for greater social learning among students and closer interaction between the facilitator and class. We have eight new virtual classrooms that provide our professors, staff, and home office personnel immediate access to learners across the globe. HU also has service labs supplied with our latest equipment, such as our McCafé specialty beverage machines, to give managers hands-on training.

Q| What is one of the greatest lessons you have learned from your career journey?

A| Don’t be afraid to ask for help from others, especially around your blind spots. When you are fortunate enough to receive feedback, make sure to act on that information. Asking others for advice on how to be more effective is one of the best development opportunities available.

Additionally, the best teams of which I have been a part have diverse membership—people who think and act differently. My belief is that it’s not nearly enough to “accept” and “include”—true diversity leadership goes far beyond that. It needs to be about communication and change so that we can embrace diversity to constantly evolve and grow.

About the Author

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.

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