Something’s cooking at Ronald’s House. Pastors who face the daunting task of leading a church turnaround might take a few tips from their CEO’s recipe for change leadership.

The backstory

Despite billions and billions of burgers served, a cloud hovers over the golden arches. But in a recent sit down with the New York Times (over a burger and fries, no doubt!), McDonald’s chief cook and bottle washer, Steve Easterbrook, models the way to lead change. (The verdict isn’t in, yet, but the market likes what he’s serving up.).

The money quote

I think the most important role I have played has been to try and lead the business through defining the sense of urgency and purpose that it’s going to take to establish a turnaround. My priority is to first of all call it a turnaround and then start to deliver actions to get the business moving. We’re a large business, a global business in more than 100 countries, and we had gotten used to a certain way of doing things. What I’ve looked to do is try and become a change agent for good, to create the behavioral changes, the cultural changes to really embrace urgency, adopt a higher tolerance to risk and just encourage people to make decisions.

Five takeaways

There’s a lot of meat in this article. Enough that it’s worth discussing with your leadership team. There’s be plenty for them to chew on and some leadership lessons for you.

1. Past success may lead to present paralysis

We’ve been so successful for the best part of 60 years, so a lot of our people, their careers have developed through McDonald’s, and they’ve had that success working in a certain way.

Application: give resisters the benefit of the doubt; they may not know any other way to do church.

2. You’ve got to keep up with the times

But my observation is that the pace of change outside McDonald’s has been quicker than the pace of change within over the last few years, and consumers started to notice.

Application: church folks may not see how disconnected they’ve become. Show them.

3. Train like crazy

[W]e recognize we’re in the service business and therefore we want to hire and train and retain the best front-line staff we can.

Application: invest at least as much time in training leaders and influencer as you spend in sermon prep and worship planning.

4. Focus on core competencies

The . . . No. 1 priority in improving the service experience was to improve on accuracy. There are a number of things they’ve done. We have simplified merchandise in the restaurants so there is a sharper focus to the menu we offer. We’ve also reduced the range of the menu, and we’ve eliminated some of the slower-moving items that customers clearly weren’t appreciating as much. So that’s enabled us to streamline the menu.

Application: maximize your “board of fare” (church programs and activities) for greater ministry impact and eliminate those items that produce little, if any, return on investment.

5. Listen

One of the priorities I’ve made is to really work on being visible and approachable right across the U.S. I visit all of the highest-priority markets around the world, clearly, because that’s fundamental to our turnaround, but nowhere more so than the U.S. I wanted to expose myself to them so I can learn and listen and understand the frustrations they have . . . .

Application: You don’t have to “fix” people who are struggling with change; often all they want is to know they’ve been heard.


What have you learned about change leadership in the church from observing how others do it?