IT Leaders can learn a lot from McDonald’s

While I’m sure a few IT professionals wound up working in Food Service after the dotcom bubble burst, that is not really what this post will be about. Instead, I want to share a perspective on job rotation and how it makes better leaders, and how the IT world could take a lesson from the Golden Arches.

One of the hallmarks of the McDonald’s training and staff development program is job rotation. Basically, one cannot manage a store until they know how to do all of the jobs at the facility. In discussing this with a colleague, I’ve learned that the Marine Corps does something very similar in developing command personnel.

I think this job rotation method of staff development does three very powerful things:

  1. Cross training of employees. Team members learn what everyone else does. This can be difficult with knowledge workers, who rely so heavily on conceptual skills, but some experience is invaluable in knowing what goes on in a role. This enables others to pitch in during times of stress or decreased capacity.
  2. Organizational perspective. If you don’t know what part of your organization does, you don’t know a) how they can help you succeed, or b) what you can do to help them succeed for the betterment the organization.
  3. Developing talent for succession planning. It takes a special kind of person to do each of the main IT roles: user support, system administration, and development. People usually enjoy one of these roles, but rarely all of them, depending on their personality tendencies and other internal factors.

    Most often, the entry level position in an IT organization is that of customer support or helpdesk. These positions tend of have really high turnover, as new people come in and get chewed up by the constantly-ringing phone or endless stream of support tickets. (you’re probably saying to yourself: “tell us how you really feel!”). By doing job rotation within an IT organization, you give people a break from the front lines, and can see if their talents or temperment is better suited for another part of the organization.

Finding what excites you is the difference between job satisfaction and misery, but that’s really another post in itself.

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