Interview – Marianne Page
Marianne has 27 years of senior management experience at McDonald’s and she works for six and seven figure business owners who are victims of their own often rapid success and been unable to extricate themselves from working in their business rather than on it.
Transcript (Click To Open)
Pieter: Hi there. This is Pieter de Villiers and you are listening to the Build a Better Business podcast. My guest today is Marianne Page. Marianne has 27 years of senior management experience at McDonald’s and she works for six and seven figures business owners who are victims of their own often rapid success and been unable to extricate themselves from working in their business rather than on it. We talk a lot about her time at McDonald’s and what she’s learned from there and what we can learn as business owners from that. It’s probably one of the few cases where a big, what might be perceived as a corporate career actually has a lot of benefit and a lot of application for small business owners.
Marianne’s got a new book out, “Simple Logical Repeatable, Systemised like Mcdonalds to scale, sell, or franchise your growing business”. We go into the detail of the book. I highly recommend the book and I hope you enjoy our chat. I give you Marianne Page. Marianne, hi there. Thank you for joining me on the podcast.
Marianne: Hi Pieter. Absolutely delighted to be here.
Pieter: I’ve only recently become aware of you primarily through Dent and Daniel Priestly’s KPI programme and everything and saw the activity with your book and everything and it’s quite aligned with a lot of the work that I do in my own book so I thought it would be good to get you on the podcast and have a chat about all things systems and process.
Marianne: Yes. Great. It’s a very exciting time with the new book coming out. Something that’s come from my heart shall we say over the last 12, 13 months. It’s good to have it out there. I feel like I’ve given birth without the pain.
Pieter: That’s quite interesting. When my book came out my mum sent me a message saying “this is the closest you’ll ever get to giving birth”.
Marianne: Me too Pieter.
Pieter: Maybe just give our listeners a bit of background on yourself and then we can discuss the book a bit more.
Marianne: Yeah, great. Well, I joined McDonald’s, or the, as my mother then called it, the glorified fish and chips shop, oh crikey, way back in the early 80s when they were still relatively new in the UK. And that makes me sound like Methuselah. Obviously I joined when I was a very small child. I spent 27 very happy year working with McDonald’s in various guises because that’s what McDonald’s teach you to do. They teach you to learn what you need to learn in a particular area, train the people, and to take over your job effectively to replace yourself and then move onwards and upward into a different area. I did start in the restaurants and then moved into support departments, training, customer services, and then finished up running for the department, within the head office in east Finchley in London.
Really just had a ball, the culture of the business is all about work hard, play hard. Since when I left actually, looking back, when I thought back I thought “I want to have my own business, but what do I know?”, and I was sort of, “I did really well as the head of customer services, I won awards for doing that, maybe customer services is my thing”.
But the more I thought about it actually I was on the KPI programme and I had joined it to write a book. When it came to writing my book the thing that I realised that I knew most about was process. The penny dropped that what I had just taken as the way we do things in McDonald’s was all about systems and processes and procedures and that was just completely common practise to me wasn’t common practise in the businesses I was going into. That fist book was really just a complete offload of everything I knew about process into one big volume.
All the time when I reflected more and more on what I learned I realised that yes it was all about systems but there were four really crucial systems within any business, four really crucial areas that McDonald’s got absolutely brilliantly right and that meant that they were able to be so consistent and reliable no matter where they opened, whichever country, whichever town, whichever city, whatever. They were able to take people off the streets and turn them into productive employees within, to be honest sometimes within days. It was all down to just having a really consistent way of doing everything within the business, and I mean everything. McDonald’s even has a health system for how to sneeze, how to stack frozen french fry boxes in the freezer. A lot of those systems do, but if they say “cut a McDonald’s person and they bleed ketchup”, it’s so ingrained in everything you do that you do still remember.
I know Daniel Priestly who left years and years ago, he was a fourteen, fifteen year old floor manager and he still can spiel off what temperature french fries cook at and how long you should … it just becomes that ingrained. My mission is to help businesses to achieve that level of consistency and not to see it as a real pain, a real hardship, really hard work. The word that does that actually I believe is “process”. When I started my first book, it’s called “Process to profit” but when I used to see that I worked with businesses to help them with their processes, networking, events and so on, you’d see the shutters come down and people would try to [inaudible 00:06:09] away from you, bit like seeing your own accountant, it’s that same old “right let me get away from you”.
I started to think about what it really was and about the language of it all. As I’ve already said, the language of McDonald’s was “this is how we do things around here”, we didn’t actually talk about systems, we didn’t talk about “this is the process for … ” just “this is the way you cook french fries”, then it was the process but it was all very simple, very simple, logical and repeatable funnily enough, but it really was just everything very simple. That’s what I try to get businesses to see now, that we are all guilty of all the complicating our very simple businesses, and if we can bring it back to what really makes sense, the most straightforward way to serve our customers without making them jump through hoots, the most straightforward way to have our team serve our customers without making them jump through hoops. If we can get back to that, I think we’d all have a much easier life.
Pieter: That’s one of the things that I really enjoyed and one of the big things I took away from your book, because I spend a lot of my time designing and automating systems and processes for businesses. It’s very much engineer orientated, me and my two business colleagues are very guilty of being engineers and it’s all very technical the work that we do, because we make things happen automatically and process management and think where it’s required, but I really enjoyed in the book the focus on the output of the systems rather than the systems themselves. Where they are sort of the undercurrent of the business, but actually no one necessarily needs to be aware of them to a certain extent.
It’s not that you spend your days thinking “okay now I need to do this process, now I need to do that process” and it’s the same when we do work, one of the hardest things to get business owners and [inaudible 00:08:11] alike to grasp, is that here’s the system, and just follow this, you don’t need to do anything else. Just follow this, it doesn’t have to be complicated, it can be simple. You don’t need to try and design your system or process for every possible eventuality.
Pieter: Because then you end up with a tangled mess that nobody’s really clear on and then you may as well have nothing at all.
Marianne: No absolutely. There are some businesses that require complexities, that have complexities built in, those businesses, the likes of Lean Six Sigma, ISO 9001, those sorts of real process engineering models are great, but for the regular business it’s really about having routines in your business is the start of systemizing your business. Having really simple routines, what do you do every single day? Does everybody know how it’s done? Does everybody know how to achieve the standards that you expect? Does everybody do it in the same way? Then what do you do every week on a particular day and then every month. But starting with just the daily routine that everybody does and making sure that not just how to do them, so do this step one, do this step two, do this step three, and so on, but also why you do it that way, and that really is the bit that a lot of business owners miss.
They will say “this is the way I want it done, do it this way” but then they won’t tell somebody why it’s done that way, they won’t tell them it’s because …
Pieter: It’s the business owner equivalent of “well, I said so”.
Pieter: When my six year old asks for the umpteenth time “but why?” “because I said so”.
Marianne: That is so true. That is the fact that business owners rarely want to explain themselves, but to be honest you only need to do it once and that’s when you train somebody. There are a few missing pieces, when I tell people what I do. They all, in their minds, because they’ve said this back to me, in their minds they always think that I’m talking about systems that run the operations, it’s about getting stuff done. Really where it all starts, and the absolute baseline is in the planning. MCdonald’s spend an absolute fortune on their planning. They bring people together from different parts of the business, franchises, suppliers, corporate people, they bring them together every quarter and they plan the next three years, the next year, and then every 90 days.
Every 90 days, it creates such a rhythm in the business and such a cycle, everybody feels involved, everybody knows where they’re at, they know where they’re headed, there is a real sense of direction. Most of the business owners that I speak to don’t actually have any real clue about where they are actually going, they’ve never really sat down and thought “What does success look like to me? What is my destination? Where am I headed with all of this?” If the leader doesn’t know where they’re going, it’s very difficult for them to bring their people along with them. Having a really solid planning system is the start, but then it’s understanding how you want things to be done, what your customer journey looks like, how straightforward it is, how your people support it, and that’s where those “how to do” whatever task it might be, those guides, they kick into place.
Then of course you’ve got to train your people and that you’ve got to performance manage them. I spent a very long ten months in the health service, working with the national [inaudible 00:11:52] service actually. One of the things that frustrated me more than anything else was that there were no consequences around performance. You could feedback as much as you liked, there was no real reward for doing a great job, other than a pat on the back from me, but no negative consequences, so whether you did a good job, you did a bad job, you were treated in exactly the same way, there was no consequences.
Pieter: My wife is a doctor so.
Marianne: [inaudible 00:12:21]
Pieter: I have quite an insight on to how long those months might have felt. Some of the things that she comes home with as well I just think, there are corporations around the world who have solves this problem.
Pieter: Who are solving it every day. Why is it that
Marianne: I know.
Pieter: That you guys can’t, is that elements that still are archaic and you just think so. I think one of the things you touch on in the book as well is that people have the fear that “well if I have all these systems and everything in place then it makes my business rigid, there’s no room for creativity or anything”.
Pieter: It’s the complete opposite, because if you have those systems in place and everything that can be is organised in that fashion, you’ve then got all the time in the world for the creativity.
Pieter: That you would like to have, rather than just being constrained by “I need to get the next thing done, I need to get the next thing done”.
Marianne: It’s something that is thrown at me very regularly, this myth about the stifling creativity, stifling individuality, it’s just not true. It’s actually Verne Harnish who talked about the example of a jazz band and that nobody can say that jazz musicians aren’t creative, they all do their own thing within a tune, but if they were all playing in a different key, or else they were all playing to a different beat it would just sound like a chaotic noise. That’s the thing, that’s why the planning system is so important, because it all becomes about the achievement of goals, the achievement of results rather than the rigidity that some of these businesses fear.
It’s a really solid foundation to be creative on I think business owners are starting to see that a little bit more now. The more enlightened ones are getting the fact that they need to systemise, that systems are important, but the trouble is that they view it as nightmare of hard work, that it’s something they’re going to have to do in addition to their day job, and the truth is that none of it is in addition to their day job, it is their day job, it is making what they do easier.
One of the most important points I always try to get across is that systems only exist to make life easier, and if a system doesn’t make somebody’s life easier, whether it’s yours, your team’s, or your customers’, then it’s the wrong system. We can over complicate. Also do what some people do, they look to you guys first. They look to the software and the technical systems, and think that’s going to solve their problems, and really they need to get systems in place first, and then all the technology to make things even easier.
I’ve really pushed trying to get that across because so many people just think “right , I know if I bring in this piece of software and that programme, that’s going to do it all for me”, and it just doesn’t. It just, quite often overcomplicated.
Pieter: It also limits what you end up with. I mentioned this in the review I did on Amazon for your book, I will continue to highly recommend your book.
Marianne: Very much thanks for the review.
Pieter: In order to do what you outline in your book I don’t have to go and get any piece of software, I don’t have to look for any, for the next shiny object or anything like that. I can start right away systemizing and getting processes in my business without signing up for any more software subscriptions or anything like that. In my own book I tyres to get that across as well, I tried to leave all the technical stuff out as much as I could, because it’s the thinking behind it that’s important, you can then go and choose a myriad of software platforms to actually automise what you want or to manage what you want or anything like that, but the most important bit is the planning and the creation and the outline of those processes. Long before you go anywhere near a piece of software.
Marianne: Absolutely. The really big part of this is harnessing the power of the team, harnessing the mind of your team. I was doing a [inaudible 00:16:36] the other day and just saying that too often people look to hire a body, they look to hire a number, they look to fill a gap, rather than looking at that they’re hiring a mind and a half. If they hired that way they could harness that power to bring their systems then. When we first start working with a business owner, when they put their plans together and their goals, nearly every goals has their name against it.
“I need to get that done, I need to get that done” and actually you as the business owner don’t need to get all of this done, if you hired well, and to be honest if you hired well, there are very few people I believe, there are very few people in the world who come to work intent on doing no work or doing a bad job. The vast majority want to have their brain challenged, they want to be given a little bit of responsibility, they want to feel that they’re actually doing something worthwhile.
Even those who just want to just take the paycheck at the end of the month and go spend it on food, drink or whatever, they still don’t want to be bored at work, they want to be challenged, they want to have things to do, they are the ones who are actually doing the job, so in terms of creating these “how to do” something, they can be the ones who start it off, the business owners can then sign it off. It doesn’t have to be that the business owner has to do all of this systemizing, it’s a team effort.
Pieter: Yeah, it’s something that, we follow an Australian guy quite closely, Mike Rhodes who runs a digital agency and he talks about that a lot as well where yeah things need to be done, but it doesn’t mean you have to do them. There are things in everyone’s business, and I think it’s something as small business owners especially that we suffer from because when we set out we’re alone and we’re doing everything. Then on the one hand we fail to see that we’re not necessarily very good at some things, and that we can get other people involved.
I remember when I first started out I needed some custom coding done, so my knee jerk reaction is to go on to Amazon and order a lot of books because I’m now going to learn to code, and then thankfully I came to my senses quite quickly and found a guy, I give him 50 quid in the morning and have a script in the afternoon, it’s a far better deal. He now does an awful lot of stuff, we had a conversation this morning where I said “I wanted to do this, this and this” and he came back and said “that’s great, but it’s quite specific, it would be better if we do this, this and this, it makes it more flexible” and I just went back and said “that’s why you do the coding and I don’t”.
Pieter: It’s just finding more and more of those things where you can actually just “Actually, the chances of me being the best at this is quite slim, there are people who are far better at it”. Now with the digital technology we have, with things like Upwork and online jobs and everything like that, it’s very easy to get someone to do work for you on a project bases, or ten hours a week or something like that. It’s not that you’re taking someone on on a three year contract because you want a bit of work done.
Even a simple example, this podcast, when I’m finished recording it, I just save it into a file on Google Drive and someone I’ve got on Upwork will then edit it and [inaudible 00:19:51] and add the music and all of that. I have a sound engineering background, I can do all of those things, but it’s not the best use of my time. I just get the file back and then someone else puts it on the website, and off it goes. As business owners we try and hold on to things too much whereas when we have to have our boiler replaced, at home, my knee jerk reaction was not to go and learn how to do gas installations and get registered so that I could replace the boiler. But for some reasons, when it comes to our business we feel that “oh, I need to learn how to do this”.
Marianne: Yeah, we all have probably several shelves of self help, I have wasted in my early days, thousands of pounds on trying to learn technical stuff, I know an awful lot more than I did when I first started out, but I still struggle, and therefore just pass the work as you exactly said, pass the work to somebody who can do it in a tenth of the time and much better than I can, it just makes sense. But with the team, and really when you start to build a business you start to build a team, and when you’re a small team of two, three, four and everybody knows what they’re doing and everything’s fine, and then you add in the fifth person and three of the team are telling them they were doing x, y, z. Then another one comes in and they learn in a different way and it just starts to unravel. Everybody’s doing things in their own way, and that’s when the systems really start to pay their way.
Pieter: Also in that scenario, you do end up with a way of “this is the way we do here”, but the problem is every person you speak to will give you a different way of doing it. Also, to highlight the first stage in your book on the planning process, it always reminds me of, I think it might have been in the 50s, a science experiment with monkeys where they had three monkeys in the room, a ladder in the middle, and a hatch at the top, the hatch would open and food would appear at the top. As soon as one of the monkeys jumped on the ladder to get to the food, those standing on the floor would get an electric shock.
Very quickly there was the learned behaviour, any monkey that goes near the ladder when that hatch opens gets attacked, and then they sort of cycled through monkeys, they stopped giving them the shock but their behaviour changed, and then they swapped out the monkeys, until they were nine monkeys later, the ones that had never had an electric shock, or had never seen someone else have an electric shock but still, when the hatch opened, they would attack whoever went near the ladder because that’s just the way things are done there, but nobody had stopped to work out “why do we do this?” And that’s an extreme example but that is what goes on in businesses as well, things are just done because they’re just the way it’s done.
Marianne: Absolutely. That’s why the “why we do it this way” is so important. I was having a conversation about this just the other day with somebody and they were saying “Yeah, you don’t want to be challenged about the way you do it, people challenge us”, actually if you do a quarterly planning meeting, challenging the way things are done in a structured way is actually really good. The other time it’s really good is when you’ve got somebody brand new coming in who is looking at the way you’re doing things with fresh eyes and saying “Why do you do it that way? Would it not be better if you …?” and using the fresh eyes of somebody for even the first 30 days until they are the monkeys.
Marianne: Actually using their fresh eyes and telling them, “If there’s anything that you think is illogical or you’re questioning why we do it this way, please ask because you might know a better way, you’ve come in from somewhere else, you just might be able to help us to improve”.
Pieter: Because either they’re going to give you a really good explanation as to why or it will have been a valid question and we can review the way we do things.
Marianne: Yeah exactly. The whole building a team really is my, that’s what really rocks my boat. I love getting a team to the point of a well oiled machine, where you can literally just walk away from, and that is something that McDonald’s do brilliantly well. When I was, oh my life, I was in McDonald’s trial month when I was promoted to restaurant manager, and I’d love to say it’s because I was brilliant, but actually it was because I was good at following the systems. I had two eighteen year olds for managers, together we were running a million pound plus restaurant, a team of 30.
I would go off on holiday and i wouldn’t be checking my blackberry every day, in those days I’m not sure we had blackberries but I wasn’t worried about what was going on back in the restaurant because …
Pieter: You knew exactly what was going on.
Marianne: I knew exactly what was going on. I knew that I could trust these two, they knew all of the systems, probably better than I did because they’d actually been around longer. That is still the way things happen in MCDonald’s, that’s why MCDonald’s franchisees do spend a lot of time on the beach or, [inaudible 00:25:01] saying that but.
Pieter: You could also see there aren’t many Donald’s locations that are shutting down.
Marianne: No, sometimes they move, if the town has moved away from them, from a high street to a retail part they might actually move a restaurant. But they rarely shut down. It’s easy, in more difficult times obviously it’s affordable. People go to Mcdonald’s because they know exactly what they’re going to get. You see the golden arches abroad when you’ve just arrived in a city and you’re tired, you know what you’re going to get, you know that if you go to McDonald’s you can get a decent coffee, you can have your Big Mac or whatever it is. Even a salad if you were that way inclined. But you know, feel a level of comfort because of that.
I think for small business, most of them don’t want to take over the world and have a global empire like McDonald’s, but actually just to have the consistency that you can easily go on holiday or that you can spend time working on your business instead of working in it. You don’t have to work an 80 hour week anymore, that you’ve got a team that will get things done for you in a really consistent way that your customers love, that’s the Nirvana for me. That would just be brilliant.
Pieter: That’s really good. Do you want to, do you want to give the book a proper plug? Then please go ahead.
Marianne: I will, I will thank you. The book is called ” Simple, Logical, Repeatable ” and it really is the blueprint for modelling McDonald’s, systemizing like them, it covers something that, a system that i created called the McFreedom system, where the look is obviously a little nod to McDonald’s who inspired it, and then the freedom, because that’s exactly what it gives business owners, freedom to scale, grow, sell, franchise the business or even run it from a beach somewhere. That’s what I define McFreedom as.
I like to think it’s written in a way that’s easy to read. I was always told to write for Sun readers, not literally for Sun readers, but to write as if I was writing for Sun readers, as in, just simple and straightforward and with pictures. This book even has a few little cartoons in there, cartoons and illustrations. It’s being very well received and I do genuinely believe that it will help people to achieve the consistency that they’re looking for in their business and the freedom day to day so go grab yourself a copy.
Pieter: Definitely do, I would highly recommend it. I mentioned it in my review as well this morning. It’s also one of those, it’s very easy to read but it’s so impactful providing you do something with it.
Pieter: It’s not a silver bullet, you can buy every book Amazon sells and your business will still go nowhere if you don’t actually do something with what you get.
Marianne: Yes, you absolutely have to act on it, but you don’t have to do it all tomorrow, it should be done in a structured way so if you want to start creating your system, start with those routines, start with that one task that you’re going ” oh my god, if I could just get that right ” and then work out how you want it done, step by step, tell people why you want it done this way and then set them away to do it. They will do it, we’re having so much success with people. A how to guide could not be more simple.
It doesn’t have to be written, you can do it by video, particularly if it’s an online task, just record yourself doing it, and then you’ve got your how to. It’s something that you put a stick in the ground today and say “I’m going to do this”, and then you start to do it little by little, set yourself a target every week, every month and so on, you’ll turn around in 12 months and you’ll have systemised business. I think you put that in your review, 12 months. That’s what I worked with, with my private clients, it’s around a 12 month implementation.
Pieter: Mention of the private client, how can people get hold of you if they’re interested.
Marianne: They can go mariannepage.co.uk/getstarted is a good place to start. Obviously if they read the book, first off because I give a complete overview, and then the first opportunity to come face to face is to come to a workshop, we run them in London and Manchester, pretty much every month, that information goes all on the website.
Pieter: I’ll make sure to put links to all of that in the show links as well.
Marianne: Brilliant. That’s great Pieter.
Pieter: That’s been fabulous thank you so much for your time and for agreeing to come and have a chat with us.
Marianne: It’s been my pleasure. I loved it, thanks for the opportunity.
Pieter: No problem at all, and I will hopefully catch up with you soon.
Marianne: Fantastic, thanks a lot Pieter.
Pieter: Bye bye.
Marianne: See you soon, bye.
Author: Pieter K de Villiers
Pieter K de Villiers is slightly obsessed with systems. The systems and process automation he builds for small businesses are transformative, to say the least. Pieter is a Co-Founder of Barefoot Digital and the Amazon best-selling author of “Barefoot Business: 3 key systems to attract more leads, win more sales and delight more customers without your business killing you”.