Have You Gone Too Far With Automation: Milano’s v. McDonalds


I was talking with my friend Ken the other day and we ended up discussing Customer Service. He shared that he goes to the same McDonald’s in Vancouver almost every morning for coffee. And every morning it is the same order.

“Coffee, 3 creams, and 1 sugar.”

He tells me they have all the buttons programmed on their register and half the time they get the order wrong.

Contrast that experience with the experience my wife gets at Milano’s Coffee in Greenwood Village. Last week she went up to get a pound of coffee. As she walked in, the person behind the counter was pouring coffee and taking orders. She was busy. When my wife got to the counter, the server walked over to the grinder where our pound of coffee was already ground and ready to go.

She saw my wife drive up, she recognized her, and she started her normal order. What is different about these experiences?

Well, for sure, my wife feels way better about Milano’s than Ken feels about McDonald’s.

There is something else going on here. At McDonald’s, the division of labor has gotten so specific and the ability to exercise autonomy and or creative expression has been reduced to taking and serving an order by pressing buttons on a screen. What occurred to me as Ken was describing his experience at McDonald’s, was that through automation, they have stripped out any possibility of engagement… it is just a series of routines. As a result, the server checked out.

At Milano’s, there is no choice but to be engaged. They have the whole store to run. Taking orders, cleaning the store, grinding coffee, and ensuring the customer is happy. They too have a register with buttons for different kinds of orders as well. The difference is everybody is responsible for the whole. They have not divided the work so minutely that the server does not feel connected to the whole.

Business leaders around the world lament lack of employee engagement and cry out, “why can’t they act like it is their business?” Because business leaders have made it clear, it is NOT their business. The employees are responsible for this little tiny piece of labor. And in exchange for that labor, they will pay you a little bit of money.

If you are looking for more engagement ask yourself, “How can I demonstrate to every employee the role that they play in the success of the organization?”

When people can see how what they do impacts the larger whole, they become more engaged.

Then ask, “How can I allow more autonomy in the delivery of work from my team”? Daniel Pink reports in his book DRIVE how important autonomy is.

Finally, ask yourself, “what can my front-line offer in terms of creative input in serving our customers better”.? Think about it, they are facing the customer. They probably have some good ideas.

Show me a team that is not engaged and I will show you a leader that is not engaged. If you want teams that are engaged, powerful and accountable,  you can learn more in this white paper, The Three Conversations for Managerial and Leadership Success.

Get your copy here.

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