5 Organizational Innovation Insights from a McDonald’s Restaurant

Organizational innovation tells the world you care, you want to improve, and that you aren’t afraid to change.

How does your organization cultivate innovation? Does innovation even make it into your staff and vision meetings?

Innovation isn’t about doing what’s trendy or changing for change sake. Innovation forces you to question current practices. Organizational innovation looks at how to better serve others, without compromising the mission of the organization. For businesses, this process can be easier (but not always) than it is for non-profits where people often perceive innovation as overly consumeristic or “selling-out” for numbers sake.

But why is it that people shun numbers and metrics? I find that people avoid numbers when they become disassociated from people. When numbers represent people as individuals, we respond more favorably to the numbers.

Regardless of why your organization may have previously (or currently) resisted innovation, I believe the five insights
for organizational innovation that I recently observed at a local McDonald’s can at minimum challenge your thinking. It is my hope that it will drive you and your team to consider how you should innovate going forward.

(As a quick caveat: please don’t construe my visit to McDonald’s as an argument for making the all companies, non-profits, or churches like McDonald’s. That’s NOT what I’m saying at all nor the point of this post. I do believe, however, that we can learn from others as we express our creativity through innovation throughout our sphere of influence each day. You should not try to become the McDonald’s I visited, but I think you can learn from this McDonald’s and apply a few of these insights to your business, non-profit, or church.)


5 Organizational Innovation Insights from a McDonald’s Restaurant

1) Personalized Payments and Ordering (and giving, in the case of non-profits)

In our overly digitized world, it may seem like overkill to digitize yet another facet of our lives. But I believe people enjoy new experiences and new ways of doing things that save them time, make their experience faster, or make their experience easier.

As I walked into McDonald’s, I was refreshed to find personal payment kiosks. Some people may see this as a depersonalization of the customer experience, but I would see it differently. McDonald’s allows the customer to choose: 1) wait in line or 2) order and pay at the self-service kiosk. They are providing a higher level of customer service and options for the customer.

When an organization takes a step in this direction, people usually reward it with increased spending or giving. I think people detest waiting in line so much that they would even prefer a slower experience (i.e. at a kiosk) over a potentially faster one in order to avoid lines. How has your company or organization taken steps to personalize the payment, giving, or ordering process?

If you are a non-profit, an easy way you could do this would be to consider utilizing giving kiosks in your non-profit, church, or community center. These kiosks often come at very little cost and have been shown to increase giving. I know some of you are purists and see this as yet another gimmick to try to hoodwink people into giving. I don’t see it as a gimmick, but as an opportunity to serve those who fund your organization by considering their wants and needs before your own.


2) Experiential Seating

Chairs are boring. Tables are too. At least that is what I thought before I visited this particular McDonald’s. I couldn’t believe that a seating experience could be innovated to the level that McDonald’s had. Now I find myself wondering who is going to innovate the seating experience and be better than this McDonald’s.

As we walked into the McDonald’s, I looked and saw a table that had flashing lights on it. “No big deal. They will just flash at the same rate the entire time that we are there,” I thought. I was wrong. After we purchased our food, we sat down at the table and realized that the table was an entire interactive experience. Each of the little circles on the table could be touched to change the color either individually or en masse.


My kids nearly hyperventilated. My daughter found her favorite “magical” table in the whole world. (Keep in mind my kids are small.)

The entire meal was composed of my little kids playing with the dots as they lit up, changed colors, and every other imaginable combination on the planet. It was a big win for mom and dad. Our kids loved it. (And we did too!)

Guess where my children would prefer to eat now over any other restaurant? You got it. The restaurant with the colorful table. (Now we have the parenting predicament of not wanting to take our kids to McDonald’s all the time to eat burgers and fries. Now, how can we innovate our eating experience in our own home?)

The experience goes even further. McDonald’s provides multiple types of seating throughout this location. One of our kids sits in his carseat, one sits on the booth style seat or on a little cylindrical stool by the table, and another child sits in a high chair while we sit in the booth. In other words, I think every McDonald’s in the nation should adopt this innovation. If they don’t, they are losing out on tremendous amounts of potential revenue from young families with kids.

3) Digitized or Multi-Purposed Menus

As we walked into the McDonald’s, we realized that their menus were different than most.  They weren’t boring black menus with white letters designed to bore you to tears. They were flat screen TVs plastered on the wall behind the cash register.

The menus didn’t just grab the attention of my kids, but also of my wife and I due to the flashing images that rotated on and off with the menus. I felt like I was watching a TV show as I ordered and found the experience of watching a burger cook on the screen far better than looking at a static image.

Other businesses in the restaurant industry could easily take this practice and duplicate it. My guess is that they would see a large revenue jump and incur a very minimal increase in the cost of operations. But what about non-profits, how could they adopt this same technology?

Non-profits should consider moving to more digital offerings of their products and services. I have worked with a large public service organization that provides iPads to all their field representatives as they interact with the public. Rather than cart around a tremendous amount of products, papers, or other technology, they can demonstrate all their products and services on the spot and also give people a chance to sign-up on the spot as well as take payment securely straight from the iPad.

Other non-profits, such as churches, could shift their announcements to digital rather than paper. When you go digital, it forces you to clarify your message and reduce the time it takes for someone to hear/watch your message. Unfortunately, it can take you much longer to create the announcement. But in the case of the church, it also gives you a way to control the length of announcements, quality, and eliminate the potential for long-winded Wayne to speak for 20 minutes about a 30 second announcement.

4) Non-Traditional Revenue Sources

Many people have grown accustomed (hopefully not too accustomed) to how most McDonald’s now have a McCafe in them. When I first saw one of these several years ago, I thought they were brilliant to begin adding an entire product line. It came with very little cost, complimented their current products, and took back part of the market share they had previously lost to Starbucks.

But when I went to this McDonald’s, I saw something I had never seen before. I saw a bus outside that was preparing to leave for the Chicago airport. I have seen buses at a McDonald’s before, but that wasn’t the innovative part. So what was?

The innovative component is that this McDonald’s realized a large section of their parking lot wasn’t being used by anyone. Since the local rail line doesn’t take you straight to the local airport, the McDonald’s has partnered with a local bus line to provide a direct route to the airport and McDonald’s serves as one of the stops. Brilliant.

Where do you have excess bandwidth, expertise, space, or funds that could be better allocated to serve your customers or potential customers? If you are a business with huge amounts of space, ask yourself what needs are in the community that your business could meet on the land that you aren’t currently using. What have you got to lose other than revenue?

If you are a non-profit, consider how you could better steward the resources you have. I’m convinced many non-profits could easily publish a few books with the knowledge and experiences that their people and organization have, but for some reason they are holding onto that information and knowledge without sharing it with the world. Consider what days your building is being used and ask yourself if there are other organizations in your city that would pay rent to utilize your building. If you are a church, there may well be other churches that would happily pay you to rent your facility weekly or multiple times during the week. If you are a non-profit whose office hours are primarily during the week, I bet there are many, many churches that would happily pay hundreds or thousands of dollars a month to use your facility for a few hours a week.


5) Organizational Innovation as Over-the-Top Service

The first time my wife and I visited this McDonald’s with our kids, I said to my wife, “Wow, I’ve never had service like that at a McDonald’s. What in the world is going on here?!” Honestly, I was so in shock by it that I didn’t say anything to the employees at the store. I was thrown off and couldn’t really understand fully without time to process.

What I began to realize as we took our kids to eat ice cream cones at the colorful table was that this was a new type of McDonald’s. I would say a distinctive of this location is “over-the-top” service or what I call the Premiumization of Service. They have taken our ideas of service and shattered all our pre-conceived ideas of service. Let me give you some examples:

1) When you pull up to the drive through, the sound quality is exceptional, the people who take your order are extremely friendly and make serving you their priority. I never thought someone would treat me that well just for ordering an ice cream cone.

2) When you go to the self-service kiosk, someone usually comes out and asks if they can help you. This threw me off. I assumed that the kiosks were to help deal with personnel shortages or to make it so that they didn’t need as much personnel. But at this location, they considered it a privilege to serve their customer.

How are you and your business hitting the ball out of the park with your customer service? Do customer needs annoy you and frustrate you or do they motivate you to take the opportunity to serve your customer well?

If you are a non-profit, sometimes you can get let off the hook for lacking in customer service, because you don’t have the funds available that most business (we assume) have. But that sounds lazy to me. A major component of customer service is treating other people with the dignity that they deserve. I obviously can’t claim to do that 24/7 and fall short many times. But what if we considered part of the produce, service, or experience that we offer to be too important to provide without over-the-top service?

Our level of service reflects how we feel about others and how we feel about ourselves. If we value ourselves and others to the level that we should, we will lead with service and not demand to be served.

A key marker of any leader is a willingness to start by serving, not by leading. To lead by serving. To show servant leadership through their personal and organization innovation.

(In full disclosure: I received zero compensation stated or implied from McDonald’s in exchange for writing this post. The insights contained here reflect my personal opinions and don’t include information supplied by others for free or for payment.)