Coffee and Apple Pie !!

Let me pause here at the beginning so you can imagine the smell of freshly brewed coffee and the mouth-watering smell of fresh, hot apple pie. Got your attention? Good. Now, let me share the story behind these delectable items.

This past week I was at a McDonald’s. It was midafternoon and not during a meal rush. I went up to the counter and there Tracey met me with a smile and a warm greeting !!

“Welcome to McDonald’s! How’s your day going?”

After my shock and surprise at Tracey’s demeanor, I replied, “I’m great and how are you?”

“I’m having a great day. What can I get for you?”

McDonald's Coffee“I’d like a large, black coffee.” (Author’s aside – I’m a coffee fiend and McDonald’s is always good for a great cup of java !!)

I paid and Tracey said she’d like to take care of the guests behind me and then she told me she’d get my coffee. I was fine with that and went back to my seat to talk to some folks about an HR issue I was tackling. A few minutes passed by and I didn’t have my coffee. I wasn’t upset in the least, but I did want some caffeine so I went back up to the counter.

“Tracey, I didn’t get my coffee yet. Could you help me?”

“Oh my, I’m so sorry. I missed that. Let me take care of that for you right now.” She asked another team member to get me the coffee and he responded, “Sir, sorry that happened, but here you go. I’m sure this will be a great way to get through the rest of your day!”

Here were two people just Geeked about their job and it was so refreshing. The story would be great, in my opinion, if it stopped right there. I went back to my conversation and after a few minutes, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Tracey stood behind me and said, “Sir, I’m sorry that I was late with your coffee. That shouldn’t happen. Would you please accept this?” She handed me a small bag.

McDonald's Apple PieAgain, astonishment. Here I am in a fast food restaurant where I’ve had more challenging experiences than great experiences and I am dumbfounded twice. In the bag there were two piping hot apple pies that would go great with my coffee.

I left the restaurant after having a very memorable time. As I was driving back to my office, I reflected on what happened. You see, Tracey took a situation and did what she could to make it better. She didn’t ask her manager about this. She had the ability to do what she thought was right.

Can your employees do this? Do they have the ability to do their job without obstacles standing in their way? Are the systems and “norms” in your organization ones that allow performance, or do they hinder them?

Wouldn’t it be great if employees knew that they had the freedom that Tracey has? This is where HR comes in. I would like to propose that our job is to see where obstacles exist that hinder employees from doing their job well and remove them. Those obstacles are real, but we don’t address them. More often than not we wonder why people aren’t complying with the processes that we continue to produce.

We need to switch our focus if it’s an obstacle to others. When you do this, you will enjoy HR more than you have in the past. Take the steps Tracey did. It makes an incredible, tangible difference !!

Her simple action made my day. She was an amazing example of how anyone can make culture great !! And . . . the pies went great with my coffee !!

7 thoughts on “Coffee and Apple Pie !!”

  1. Hi Steve,
    Thanks for writing this. It is really a great and simple example of what it looks like for employees to be “empowered.” I put quotes around empowered because it is one of those things that employers talk about a lot, but actually do very little. It is just as you say. We are so busy pushing our processes that we miss the chance to really make things easier for employees. At the company where I work we talk about agility a lot and this example is the perfect example of agility in the workplace. Tracey saw a problem and she was empowered to fix it quickly. This is agility put simply.

    Thanks again.

  2. This is an excellent post! Thank you for sharing this story, and your analysis of the impact true empowerment and ownership has on your customers’ experience. This is fabulous!

  3. Steve, Great story and very inspiring….however, now you have my interest in an apple pie 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

  4. That is fantastic! When employee’s enjoy their job and have the power to make situations right, that will always lead to a great customer experience! Thanks for the post Steve!

  5. Wow Steve!

    I love this experience and it makes a tremendous point that employees need to be able, not just do their job, but feel that they own their job through being empowered to act. especially went helping the customer (the reason why I have a job) experience be the best it can be. Further, the manager behind that employee has his or her staff really engaged and has licensed them to make the customer’s day.

    On the surface this may appear to be just a simple experience that happened at McDonald’s but the truth it is something phenomenal happened “in” the employee who happen to work for McDonald’s. Somebody turned that employee on to their greater self, and isn’t that what we want to do engage people at such a high level that they can’t help but do their best? Additionally, when we hire employees we release them to think, and a thinking employee is always better than non-thinking one.

    When we allow people to think we’ll release them to make every experience memorable for their customers, and in your case I’m sure it made your cup of afternoon java taste even better!

    Great article!


  6. Many companies forget just how important their associates are and how they can make or break any company’s reputation.

  7. Steve – I always so enjoy your posts. This one especially resonated with me! I have a team of employees who report to me who are responsible for project managing the adoption of new tools and processes within a large Talent Acquisition organization. I sent them the link to this post with a challenge!

    Here is what I said, “I’d like to challenge each of you to find one opportunity this week where you first think, “why isn’t someone following the process or adopting the tool that I helped implement?” and instead flip the question to be, “where are the obstacles that are getting in the way of this person following the process or adopting the tool?” Once you know and understand the obstacle, then ask yourself if it is in your power to remove that obstacle? If yes, go for it. If no, let’s talk about your ideas.”

    Thanks for inspiring me to think about this!


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