I’m going to admit it. My guilty pleasure is McDonald’s. I’m embarrassed to tell you about it, but there are a couple of possible culprits, or reasons why McDonald’s might be such a guilty pleasure for me. Growing up, my family and I traveled on the weekends. My dad was a traveling pastor, a missionary. When we got out of a late–night service, we would stop by McDonald’s on the way home. We were a family of 6 and we didn’t have much, so we split everything. My parents would get us maybe three french fries and three hamburgers and we’d have to split that between all of us. It wasn’t fancy, but I really enjoyed that.
Growing up in Generation X in the 80s, McDonald’s was a staple. However, when I lived in Canada or Brazil, there wasn’t a McDonald’s nearby, so I would go years without McDonald’s. I was so excited to get it when I came back to the States!
Unfortunately, as an adult and by my own choice, I deepened that addiction. It’s still with me today, so I know everything there is about McDonald’s. I’ve even watched the documentary about the McDonald’s Monopoly fraud, McMillions. It’s one of the best case studies for internal fraud out there. If you watch that video and you’re not convinced you should have more audits on your business finances, then you didn’t watch the same documentary that I did.
I love McDonald’s. Over the years, I’ve skipped around the menu. I’ve been a Big Mac guy and a Quarter Pounder guy. When I have been trying to diet at McDonald’s – I know you can’t diet at McDonald’s — but when I’ve been trying to reduce my calorie intake, I’ve tried to eat chicken nuggets, salads, or wraps.
I remember as a kid it was always impressive when we went to McDonald’s and the sign told me how many hamburgers they had served. During the ‘80s and ‘90s, they were counting up the hamburgers sold. Then the sign changed, and it said that billions of customers were served. McDonald’s figured this out before Jim Collins popularized the idea of a hedgehog or a flywheel. McDonald’s had already realized that all that mattered was how many burgers or customers were served. They counted and measured that and were very open with those numbers. McDonald’s knew its hedgehog.
What is your hedgehog? In Great by Choice, Jim Collins asks three questions to help you find out:
- What are you passionate about?
- What can you be the best in the world at?
- What drives your economic engine?
McDonald’s still knows its hedgehog. They serve hamburgers consistently and quickly to a lot of people. McDonald’s took that hedgehog, built it into a flywheel, and spun it over and over again. They have focused on principles that Jim Collins suggests, and they practiced them even before he wrote about them. McDonald’s knows what its company is best at. The executives don’t find other areas to go into, and McDonald’s has great success. When you look at McDonald’s, you’ll see an amazing application of hedgehog and flywheel that Jim Collins talks about in books Good to Great and Great by Choice.
What is the payoff for this article? If you look at what they did during COVID-19, they returned their focus to their hedgehog. McDonald’s has lived through many recessions in the past decades, but none of them was quite like COVID-19. They had to really focus on their hedgehog to make it through the pandemic.
Jim Collins writes about the hedgehog in his book Good to Great. When you find your hedgehog, it’s the one thing you’ll go back to over and over again. It’s what businesses turn to when they’re under stress, when they get into challenges, and when they get into trouble. Successful businesses will always go back to their hedgehogs.
We can all learn from this recent shutdown and this pandemic. If you have the same guilty pleasure that I do — McDonald’s — you’ll notice the same thing that I did. Of course, they had to shut down their dining. However, they had to change one main thing to save them during COVID-19. If you’re a connoisseur like me, it’s like in your face the one thing that changed. It was the menu. These huge beautiful electronic displays went from wraps, salads, cinnamon rolls, and chicken tenders to a few hamburgers and chicken nuggets.
Go read Good to Great. If you really understand Jim Collins’s principles, you’ll understand that this is what McDonald’s has done. They went back to their hedgehog when they got into trouble — when everything shut down during the pandemic. The bottom line is that you’ve got to focus on your hedgehog.
We said that 2020 was the year of pivot, but 2021 is the year of focus. Companies like McDonald’s have shown us the way. They have shown us we need to focus on our hedgehogs.
You’ve got to be doing what you’re passionate about, what you are the best in the world at—or could be the best in the world at—and what drives your economic engine.
Written by: Wade Wyant
Red Wagon Advisors, West Michigan’s Scaling Up Coach