Bob's Gutsy Leadership Blog

Is Your Big Idea Really Big? Really?

Early in 2015, there were numerous articles published about the problems being experienced by the fast-food chain McDonald’s. There were three problems in particular that most experts pointed to in explaining McDonald’s 3 years of weak sales and serious profit declines.

1.) Boring Food – Not surprisingly, when you compare the McDonald’s menu to the fresh and exciting alternatives offered by the likes of Chipotle, Mexican Grill, Shake Shack, etc. you realize that McDonald’s is basically offering the same old thing.

2.) Complexity – McDonald’s menu contains 121 different items, up 75% versus 2004 when the company was thriving. This slows down service, balloons cost, and gives the impression that McDonald’s is simply a “me too” follower of any idea that emerges in the marketplace.

3.) The Health Food Trend – Besides offering some salads, McDonald’s has really not gotten serious about addressing its weak image in this important area of healthy food.

All of this resulted in the CEO being fired in early 2015 and a new CEO taking charge on March 1. Everyone has been anxious to learn what that new leader would do in creating the big idea that would hopefully lead McDonald’s out of the multi-faceted morass that it is experiencing.

Much to everyone’s surprise, the big announcement occurred recently and it took the form of McDonald’s unveiling its plans to offer its breakfast items all day (versus the current 10:30am cutoff). The McDonald’s USA President proudly announced that “I think this could be the catalyst for our turnaround.” Clearly he thinks this is a big idea.

You have to scratch your head on this one. The plan offers no new items that would enable them to shake the “boring food” label. They are simply extending their existing breakfast menu from the 10:30am cutoff to 24 hours a day. Second, it certainly goes in the opposite direction of their complexity problem in that operators of McDonald’s restaurants will need separate grills to ensure raw eggs don’t come in contact with burgers. Today that need doesn’t exist in that eggs and burgers are made at different times of the day (before and after the 10:30am cutoff), so the same equipment is used. Third, there is certainly no new healthy food story here.

What’s the leadership lesson here? It is the following:

Beware, when searching for the big idea and finding that to be difficult, it is very easy to convince yourself that a very modest idea will certainly do the job.

This very trait is built into humans and it’s the job of leaders to recognize that and to be stubborn enough to demand the really big idea, not a weak substitute!

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