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#1: Rob Lauber - Season 1, Episode 1 - Talent is Everywhere!

About The Episode

In this episode, meet Rob Lauber, who shares his story of launching education benefits when he was as the Chief Learning Officer at McDonald’s!

Talent is Everywhere is a podcast for people leaders and HR teams who are passionate about education in the workplace to develop all workers.

We explore ideas on how to keep talent and how to develop talent in order to create the virtuous circle that builds strong businesses.

We’ll interview leaders to hear their experiences of how they invested in people.



And so this program wasn’t really geared towards those people. It was geared more towards people who are trying to figure out how do they create a better future for themselves or potentially their families. And, you know, McDonald’s then provides a pathway for people to do that.


Hi, I’m Sylvie Milverton, CEO of Lynx Educate. This is “Talent is Everywhere”. We’re here to talk about how to keep talent and how to develop talent in order to build a strong business. We’ll interview leaders to hear their best experiences of how they invested in people.

Well, Hi, Rob Tyson. Thanks for joining us today on our inaugural episode of Talent is Everywhere. I wanted to talk to you today, especially about your experience at McDonald’s when you were launching our Choice for Opportunity, maybe even before sharing what that was.

You can take us back to that moment when you decided to explore it. What was happening at McDonald’s and how did the project even start?


Yeah, two things. I think. One was I started when I started at McDonald’s. The conversation was beginning already and was already underway, I think, at McDonald’s. I had done some work at Yum Brands where I was before McDonald’s around sort of education access for employees.

And we had done some work at Taco Bell, specifically on Learn MOS. So I started talking about that. That was part of my interview conversations, actually, because I thought McDonald’s was a great place to really expand that thinking and respond, I think, to the college access program that Starbucks had at the time. In terms of what we could do to attract people and what we could do to really create a force for good.

I think of as a brand and as an organization. So there were some early conversations that had happened before I walked in the door. But as I got in the door, the sort of the conversations accelerated then towards how do we actually get something moving on it. So very quickly, we were into thinking about, you know, what’s the infrastructure that we need to put in place?

What’s the you know, what’s the funding look like from an investment perspective? And then how do we test and learn our way into the process and really understand what’s going to work, what’s going to resonate and what might not resonate with people?


So what did you end up building like? What did you and what was the structure of the program when you first launched?


Well, when we first launched, it was career online, high school, and it was college access programs. And we had, I think at the time when we first launched, we had like nine different universities we were affiliating with. But we also told people that they could go to any school that they wanted to. And so we started there and we started at a smaller investment amount, $750 a year for a crew and $1,000 a year for restaurant managers.

And so we started at a smaller investment amount really to test and learn, I would say, in terms of gauging people’s interest, gauging people’s reaction, trying to figure out what the right dollar amount was, you know, to $750 a year actually move the needle. Or is that really just sort of a teaser in terms of an entry point for people?

And so I would say that’s that’s the place we really started was with an offering similar to that


Interesting And when now and so in terms of move the needle like was the success obviously we’re trying to balance like your monetary investment with people actually signing up but what was your what was like the vision of McDonald’s like obviously compete with what Starbucks is offering. But was the idea like, okay, we need to be able to hire more people, we need to retain them better. We actually want just people at McDonald’s to have gone to college so that they’re better employees.


Yeah, I think a broad spectrum of things. I think there was this you know, there was this overarching theme that McDonald’s can be a force for good in terms of, you know, people working there. So I think I think there was a combination of a few things.

One was we wanted to fundamentally change the thinking about it, about our job at McDonald’s from sort of the job idea of where it’s a dead end and people that can’t get jobs anywhere else. You know, you’re the employer of last resort. So I think we wanted to really make a change there in terms of saying actually we’re the you know, we’re the employer of first resort, really the first place you should come because we can build your capabilities to go on and do great things elsewhere.

And the archways program would be, you know, a demonstrable way to sit there and say, you know, that, you know, here’s a proof point, frankly, where we can show that that’s actually possible. So I think that was one. I think the second one was also then around, you know, how do we create a more compelling avenue for people to want to come to work at McDonald’s?

So like every organization out there, you know, talent sort of just comes and goes and, you know, market shortages come and go. But, you know, at the front line, hourly population job shortages and talent pipeline are persistent issues in the organization that have been in most of the frontline organizations I’ve ever worked in and are still are today.

I’ve talked to some manufacturers where it’s a real issue. So getting people to, you know, sort of answering the question about “Why should I want to come to work there?”. There was an important piece that we thought needed a response with something we could point to that we knew interested as a percentage of the population. But we also knew, again, changing narratives about why people would want to work there.

And then, you know, the third one was really around, You know, McDonald’s has this long history through Hamburger University and other pieces of being a developer of people, and we wanted to take it a step further, I think, in terms of opening doors for people and creating opportunities for people. And that was one way to do it.


That’s interesting. So you said a lot of things in there and I’ll come back to some of it. But what about just like, you know, the initial idea? You know, we both are talking a lot with frontline workers and companies. And I feel like there’s a bias, like people in those kinds of hourly frontline positions, like why would you invest in such people like that?

They’re not academic people. You know, the reality of McDonald’s is there’s a store that has, what, 30 or 40 people in it and maybe 1 to 3 managers. And so that, you know, internal mobility story, it’s there, but it isn’t that compelling. And yet McDonald’s still makes this huge investment and investing in college. And I’m just interested in, you know, how that resonates and what other people said about those ideas.


Yeah, I think that there was a lot of conversation in the early days about sort of how big do we want it to get and how big do we think it can get. Right. So a lot of conversations around, you know, do we move more in a scholarship direction where we can be sort of more limiting and in who we pick and how much we spend?

Or do we, you know, sort of leave the gate open and say, you know, whoever wants to come forward can come forward and take advantage of this, that was the notion that actually ended up prevailing with some, you know, sort of best guesswork around what we thought participation rates would really look like in the organization.

So we assumed somewhere between 3 and 5% would actually take advantage of the opportunity. And that’s largely panned out to be true, I would say, in terms of, you know, participation rates. But when you have an organization in the U.S. where there’s 750,000 people, that number gets, you know, in the tens of thousands when you’re talking about three or 5%.

So, you know, and then the multiplier on that in terms of the financial commitment became an important piece of the conversation as well, because obviously, like McDonald’s, although McDonald’s has, you know, lots of resources available to it from a financial and cash flow perspective, like any organization, you want to make sure you don’t actually do damage to that.

And you know, and remember that you’re there to sort of serve the constituents, meaning the customer and the shareholder as well. So lots of good conversation around that, I would say upfront in terms of thinking about how we go and that’s what drove a lot of sort of the test and learn thinking for us upfront was “Let’s really understand, you know, what supply and demand is going to look like.”, particularly when we were going kind of blind into this, we didn’t really have a precedent-setting measure out there or frankly at the time, other companies really to even benchmark against to sit there. I think Walmart and Starbucks were probably the two closest benchmark opportunities. And even then, you know, 2015, it was early days in terms of thinking about that.


And how did you get, you know, is it hard to get buy-in like both from, you know, senior management, CFO, CEO or was that say, part of the stated objective? And then also on the other side, like all your franchisees is where they’re literally invest saying, well, at first 750 and now I suppose up to about $5,000.


Yeah, I think a couple of things on the executive side, I think we tried to think about, you know, tangible things from an ROI perspective and intangible things from an ROI perspective. So we had a set of hypotheses, I would say, in terms of going forward. ROI are always great because it always looks backwards. So, you know, if you’re doing some predictive ROI, great.

Here’s what I would say. We looked at. We had a hypothesis that said we thought that people that participated in the program would stay longer, so so that we could tie to a tangible value from a store performance perspective. You know, people that stores that have more tenure period in their crew populations outperform those that don’t, you know, for lots of variable reasons behind that. But, you know, we believe that if we launched this program, people who participated would stay longer.

Second one was that we believed that we could change our brand perception of McDonald’s as an employer and that that had consumer value. So so our marketing leader at the time, you know, had sort of brand health measures on how McDonald’s was perceived as an employer by its consumers.

And we knew that if we were able to move that, you know, five points, it would equate into a certain amount of revenue or frequency improvements on the customer side. So we talked about those two, I would say, were the biggest sort of conversations around, you know, justification for it from a you know, from a hypothesis perspective.


And what about like the store owners? Do they see like a definite return like that they were okay to invest those kinds of numbers?


Yeah, Well, interestingly, up until 2021, franchisees didn’t really have to pay for any of it. So they were they were the 100% beneficiaries of McDonald’s investment at the time. So franchisees were more easy. And I would say in that context, in terms of they didn’t have to get their wallets out and write a check for every person that participated at the time.

They do now. It’s much more of a cost-sharing model today than it was then. And interestingly, participation is largely the same as has been. So franchisees are believers now, but we knew that we also needed to sort of prove it out with our franchisees before we asked them to actually mutually invest with us. And so the first five years, frankly, of the program were about really proving that out with them.

So it became really it became easy on the financial side for the franchisees to get involved. Where it came challenging was sort of helping them understand how to engage their employees in the process. And, you know, understanding that we didn’t mean everyone immediately. We meant, you know, one of the one of our mantras was around literally one per restaurant.

Right. What we what we believed was that if we could get one participant per restaurant, one that would be about, you know, between 13 and 14,000 people. And to that one person could sort of create the environment where other people would be curious about it. Other people would see success and other people would then want to sort of join in and participate.

So sort of, you know, sort of the fundamentals of trying to make something go viral, I guess would be the other way to look at it. So for so we kept this, you know, franchisees, we kept the ask really small and we minimized the financial investment they needed to make to do it, and they were largely receptive to it as a result.


You know, thinking about this kind of learning, like I spend all my time thinking about this kind of learning, you know, what to call it in the U.S. you can call it, you know, tuition reimbursement and benefits in Europe. We have to talk about, you know, deep skilling or, you know, the skills to, you know, get a new job. And what’s interesting is I feel like this is just like natural participation level of 3 to 5%. And the way, you know, you’re framing it for McDonald’s, like your vision of success was one person per store out of a store of, what, 30 or 40 people?

And it’s just interesting if you think of, you know, a usual a wide access learning tool, like if you say, listen, I’m going to invest in, you know, a content library and 3% of my employees are using it, you’d think, well, this is one big giant disaster. Whereas this type of learning, in fact, the success is to get to this sweet spot of 3 to 5%.

You know, I talk to leaders all the time and a lot of these programs are different. And like that frame of like low it’s not low participation. It’s in this context that’s high. How can we talk about that? Like, how can we think about that in a constructive way? Like, I launched this thing, 3% of my employees enrolled in it. So, you know, it’s a home, right?


Well, yeah, well, there’s a lot behind that. I think one is on anything, you know, having a realistic view on what you think the participation rates are going to look like is better, Right? So I actually think we should go in and talk more about, you know, things that might have a 10% participation rate and call that a success because that’s our expectation.

Right? Whereas like I know in the L&D profession, we often go off and buy big content libraries to play to all our employees, sort of, you know, applaud our democratization of access to learning content and then get less than 1% participation and then realize that we just license that for thousands of people when really, you know, fewer than 100 are actually taking advantage of it. And so part of that is around sort of being realistic in our expectations, I think is one.

Two, I think it’s actually easier to go win and talk about the business case when you’re being realistic about participation rates and conservative, frankly, you know, I’d say realistic about participation rates and potentially even, you know, more conservative about just participation rates in a way that’s believable more than, you know, more than saying how we think, you know, we’re going to get hundreds of thousands of people immediately to sign up for this thing.

So I tell you, you know, that that was an important element that we wanted to bring was a bit of realism to what we thought would happen when we did this. And we were, you know, again, back to sort of business case, we were very explicit about what we were what from a business benefit perspective, the need elsewhere that we were trying to move.

And then, you know, on the tangible side, like tenure and attraction. And then we were also very clear about the intangible benefits that it would provide McDonalds. One of them was, you know, how we’d be able to talk about our role in, you know, American society as an employer. So, you know, the best evidence of that is the commercials that talks about America’s best first job.

Right. And it’s sort of claiming, because no one had that we’re the best place for people to start a career, no matter who you are or where you are, where you come from, you know what and what means you have or whatever, you know, we’re the best place to start your job because. Right. Well, because of the program that we have, because of the opportunities that we create and, you know, those types of things.


Yeah. Now that that makes sense. And to also think that there’s like a natural, you know, these kind of programs, they take time, right? Because you’re going to be outside of work studying 10 to 15 hours, 20 hours a week. And so there’s some like natural selection. And so maybe it’s almost like for a company like McDonald’s, you also, you know, you don’t want to invest, say, $1,000,000,000 a year.

Like if you had 20% of all McDonald’s employees, that would probably, you know, maybe be a great scenario in your investment. But, you know in terms of the would be a lot of.


Yeah, yeah, yeah. I mean at today’s rate, you know 20% of that, you know, 750,000 would be basically what, 150,000 people and times $2500 each per year. You know, you’re talking about $250 million investment every year. Now, that would be fantastic and a great thing to talk about. And, you know, I think there are organizations out there that can scale that big, but McDonald’s is not one of them because of the way we operate. You know, it’s a highly franchised organization. But I do think that that, you know, $250 million might not be that bad as long as you’ve cut turnover down by, you know, 80% and people are really staying longer and you’ve seen a, you know, $1,000,000,000 increase in sales.

Right. People would probably get behind that and say, okay, that’s not a bad investment for us, even though it’s a frighteningly large number.


Right. But I suppose. Right. If you have the kind of people working for you where they’re valuing. Well, of course, and we go around different people, you know, you’re different in your life. You know, some people are going to value flexibility of their time. Some people need more salary. Some people or, you know, one of those two where, you know, we all live at different points in your life. But I suppose if you have the type of workforce where there’s lots of people in a moment where they’re like, I want education for myself or for someone in my family and I want it to be sponsor, that’s like an amazing lever to reduce those operational difficulties.


Yeah, because, you know, we know that many people in our organization come to work there and, you know, can’t afford access. I think it would be the best way to say can’t afford access to higher education, even though they’re eminently capable of handling it. So and you know and you’re right. And I think, you know, one of the levers that we played around with was eligibility.

For example, when we started we were when we first started the program, we wanted nine months of tenure before you became eligible to participate in the program. When we dropped that to 90 days, you know, our you know, we dropped it to 90 days and we raised the dollar amount in 2017, I guess it was, or 2018, we saw numbers, you know, quadruple.

So we knew we found the sweet spot that way in terms of being able to do it. It also unlocked our ability to talk about, you know, sort of college access to your degree and four-year degree access being free. So to the participants. So even then, you know, we sort of learned our way towards what the sort of sweet spots were, that really drove the right amount of engagement against sort of the population that could consume it.

Because I think you’re right, there’s a huge portion of the population of McDonald’s that just wants schedule flexibility because they maybe work another job or they do other things or they have other you know, they have life going on around them. And so this program wasn’t really geared towards those people. It was geared more towards people who are trying to figure out how do they create a better future for themselves or potentially their families. And, you know, McDonald’s then provides a pathway for people to do that.


Yeah. Now, that’s so interesting because, you know, and they’ve done you do surveys, you know, BCG did some really interesting research last year on frontline workers globally. And they talked to, you know, thousands of workers across the U.S., Europe, Asia about different benefits. You know, how can you keep your frontline workers, what makes them leave, what makes them stay?

And in fact, education benefits specifically, you know, don’t come up people. They will talk a lot about wanting career development. We’ll talk a lot about wanting, you know, training. But, you know, those words can mean a lot of different things. And probably if you’re only going to get, you know, a 3 to 5% uptake, it probably wouldn’t come up in that kind of service.

But it’s so interesting to think about like this is this amazing lever where with a key investment, you can drive this outsized impact even if 97% of the people aren’t using it. But you’re still able to like change the employment value proposition of a huge company like McDonald’s, actually. Incredible.


Well, you know, it was interesting. Some interesting behaviors around it. So such as the program began to develop and get momentum, some franchisees actually then started including questions about educational aspirations in their interview process. Right. There was one franchisee that, you know, had three restaurants, had probably 150 people, I think had 88 people in the program. Right. So, you know, like 60% participation in the program. But when you turned around and talked to her about “Gosh, how did you get it so high?”.

So I was like, I’m only hiring people that want to participate in this program. So, you know, so come to work here. And in exchange, not only will I pay you, but I’ll help pay for your education. You know, it’s a pretty appealing piece to some people. So I think it’s, you know, how you what segment of the population are you trying to attract?

And, you know, I think it’s also around, you know, the education piece really is about creating career mobility for people. So, people that want career development and career advancement and those types of pieces, many McDonald’s crew employees realize that they need to unlock their educational attainment to be able to do that in a large portion of, you know, other jobs that they might go to.


Which gets me to my other question I wasn’t asking, like around like the practical things. So you said you started out where you picked the programs, but they could also do their other one, you know, something that they choose. Like, what did you end up finding out just about? Like, is it important that the manager approve it in the system? Like, is it important that people can take whatever they want? Is it important to store managers to know that the type of education they’re paying for covers X, Y and Z and not other irrelevant topics or something?


Yeah, I think I think we are pretty straightforward around sort of accredited programs, you know, talking about two-year and four-year schools, those types of pieces. So we hadn’t really got into the whole certification realm. I think today that would be a bigger conversation than it was then. And so it was fairly clear that way in terms of sort of eligibility and how it worked. A couple of things behind sort of manager and in McDonald’s case, franchise or, you know, franchisee approval for people to participate in the program.

Two things I think. One is, you know, we needed a checkpoint, right? Are you actually an employee or not? And since you’re not an employee of McDonald’s, you’re an employee of the franchisee. The only way, the logical way for us to check that is through the franchisee. So that was one. The second thing that it did, though, was it triggered the franchisee’s awareness about people participating in the program.

And many of our franchisees, many of the franchisees at McDonald’s run their businesses like family businesses and oftentimes have family members involved in their businesses or are second or third-generation owners. So being aware that somebody in your organization is trying to advance their education gave their franchisee an opportunity to sort of put their arm around that person and support them, champion them.

A lot of them did recognition when people hit milestones like finished high school or finished their two-year degree or, you know, we’re on their way to their four-year degree, would find moments to recognize them in store, you know, with things like cakes and graduation gowns and, you know, restaurant celebration signs and those kinds of things that really made people feel good about the accomplishment.

And recognize And I think that also helped promote the program. And I think further, you know, inspired other people to say, “Hey, I want to be a part of that, too.”. If, you know, if someone in my restaurant done it, I have someone I can talk to about it, what challenges they faced. And now I have sort of a peer support system to help me navigate through. And so I think some of those things we saw as sort of viral pieces that we thought could make a difference. And that’s why, you know, one per restaurant really seems like a small impact, but really is sort of the way to start building yourself towards momentum more than trying to sort of boil the ocean all at once.


Now that that makes sense. So that’s what I’ve you know what, I’ve been so passionate about learning and implementing these kind of programs is it’s just like such an incredible such an incredible tool to get outsized impact. We tend to think like, let’s invest in, you know, executive MBA programs for our senior leaders, which, you know, great, but that person’s already fairly advanced. The return you’re going to get on the investment in someone that’s done fewer things and has further to go is, you know, that’s where you get these amazing, amazing.


Yeah and you know, I think executive education is important don’t get me wrong on that. But I think you’re right in terms of, you know, for a lot of front-line driven organizations, getting people to stay longer is worth a lot to the organization from a money perspective, from a compensation perspective, from an ease and performance perspective. Lots of different things get impacted by sort of novice skill sets in the environment.

And so, you know, it’s interesting because I don’t believe that there’s enough conversation about sort of getting people to stay longer. The conversation is more about sort of persistent turnover. Right. And you know, and frontline jobs are naturally going to have persistent turnover because people typically go to those frontline jobs during a stage of their life, right?

Where they might be pursuing education somewhere else or might need extra cash for a part-time job. Right. So all those people get factored into turnover, probably unfairly. Instead. And instead of thinking about, you know, how do I create a place where people want to come to work there, feel like they belong there? How do I give them the flexibility that they need to work when they want or potentially where they want, depending on the organization?

And then, you know, how do I help, you know, what role do I play as an employer and helping people realize the future that they want or maybe even helping discover a future that they didn’t even know they could get? You know, I think those three things are super important for employers to think about. And there’s giant returns on the operational side of the business to do that.


Yeah, that’s amazing. And maybe that’s a, you know, a good message to end on. I guess I’ll ask you just a couple a couple more questions. Just thinking about your CLO role, you know, given the space of that program, how did you know, how did that fit into your overall job in terms of managing, you know, Hamburger University and High Potentials and executive learning? Like how did this fit into the landscape of your work?


Yeah, I’d say I’d say it was important. An important piece of what we did is certainly, you know, one of my favorite pieces of what we did. I think that you know, had a team and a woman named Lisa Schumacher, who’s still running the program today, you know, was like instrumental in making it happen and, you know, cared a lot about it and still cares a lot about it.

And I think that you know, that helped tremendously where I could then focus on sort of, you know, bigger burning platform issues in the organization, like, you know, how do we advance the strategy around digital delivery and those kind of pieces as well. So it fits as part of the overall advancing the agenda of the organization. It was just one dimension of all the things that we were trying to do.


Yeah, no, that makes sense. And it actually I’m glad that you say that too, because, you know, what’s tough in L.A. is that there’s so very many tools out there and so very many, you know, you got a lot a lot of work and, you know, not one tool solves every problem. And so seeing it in a landscape.


Well, and there’s no shortage of priorities. Right. And most people, you know, will find you know, will tell you that they probably have more work than they can actually handle. And sometimes these things become sort of aspirational. But I do think that there’s an organizational imperative that people can make these initiatives into very easily that fits into sort of reputation and longevity and even, you know, really strongly into future talent pipeline to organizations.


That’s great. Well, thanks, Rob, so much for sharing us the story. I’m sure you know that as I was founding Lynx and thinking of, you know, the different things we can do in Europe and how to advance this really this story of archways and McDonald’s and what a lot of companies like, you know, Starbucks, Wal-Mart and others have done is like, you know, such and such an inspiration. So, yeah, it’s been great to hear the story and have a chance to talk about it.


Thank you very much. Glad to be here.