Marc McConathy, Principal Program Lead in Digital Learning Innovation with Chick-fil-A is a Missourian transplanted to Georgia. He earned a Bachelor of Journalism from the University of Missouri-Columbia, and after a stint working in media in St. Louis and Kansas City discovered his love of corporate learning mashed up with technology during 8 years at Sprint. He then served in several roles in learning development, delivery, and technology at Centurylink and Hyla Mobile (a start-up serving the wireless industry). He joined Chick-fil-A in 2015 to serve restaurant Operators in training their employees through web and digital systems. In his current role, Marc leads the Understand, Imagine, and Prototype phases of the Chick-fil-A innovation process to transform learning in the restaurants for operational and cultural change.
Marc resides in Peachtree City, GA with his wife and four sons.
Tell us about your role in digital learning.
My role focuses on innovation in digital learning. Digital for us is migrating from the web—the old desktop worldwide web—to mobile devices and taking advantage of the capabilities that digital presents for interactive learning. We have a public facing Chick-fil-A One app where our guests can place orders, earn points, and interact with restaurants, and we will continue to add more and more features.
Internally, we started with moving our printed learning materials to the internet, now we are transitioning our learning from the internet to digital platforms. Our LMS is being converted to an app, and we are introducing game-based learning and prototyping future capabilities to interact with digital content such as voice response.
What inspires you?
Our Operators and team members and how they serve their guests inspires me. Being in the field and seeing what an amazing job they do in serving others, given the volume in their restaurants and constraints of their environment. I want to be great at serving the learners.
My own kids also inspire me by how they are learning today and seeing how they interact with the world. My kids have homework online and it is often gamified. There are less paper worksheets and more activities on different learning platforms, earning rewards—it is amazing to watch. I enjoy seeing how they interact with their school work differently.
What does the term learning technologies mean to you?
It means the methods and ability to deliver learning digitally. It may be LMS, existing platforms, or emerging platforms—generally, the ecosystem for learners from a technology perspective. We’re looking at ways to build a learning ecosystem around our restaurants that simplifies learning and represents time well spent.
What are some digital learning trends you see?
General microlearning (harnessing the power of micro to speak to the new young team members), AR and VR (augmented reality and virtual reality).
We are getting our arms around social and harnessing games and leader boards to motivate learners. We look at trends in the marketplace, and look at what we can adopt for restaurant environments. The advantage of mobile is capacity and time. Restaurants are busy places, and the learners’ capacity to attend training is less and less, and there’s less space in the restaurants to train.
The restaurants are busier for longer periods of the day, and the back room doesn’t work well for long periods of time anymore. Team members are needed on the floor, so we need to be able to transport training anywhere in the restaurant, and to break it into bite-sized pieces that team members and Operators can consume as they have time. You hear conversation of desk-less learners—restaurant employees are the ultimate desk-less learner, they have to have options for individual training time, and likely on their own device.
Can you tell us about an organization initiative that you consider a success?
We launched a new learning app, Pathway. We migrated from a legacy LMS that served us well, but it outlasted its life cycle. Pathway is a digital app with content, tracking, and reporting. We are working toward greater adoption in restaurants, making sure the 175,000 end users on the platform have the best experience possible. From a hard numbers perspective, the number of enrollments—end users signed on—it was wildly successful. From a learning satisfaction perspective and overall adoption rate, we have some work to do. In 2019, we are working to make the experience better, we want to make it a platform that Operators and team members WANT to use, not just HAVE to use.
What challenges have you faced in digital learning?
Scale and the ability to be nimble and make changes quickly is a challenge. The pace of change. The business is complex and getting more so. Keeping up with the growth of the business.
And we are launching internationally, starting in Canada. There are changes and challenges to overcome when opening globally. We are also increasing restaurants in the States, plus sales are increasing year over year. Drive by a Chick-fil-A, and you will typically see a line in the drive through. Our restaurants drive a large volume, and keeping the bar high on hospitality we think delivers the best service in the quick service industry. There is still room to expand, but we are trying to expand in a smart way.
Are there lessons you can share in meeting these challenges?
I learn lessons every day. I have learned we can’t be close enough to Operators and what they need to onboard and train new and existing team members.
Do you have any favorite resources to share?
We have curated leadership resources at Chick-fil-A and they have added a lot of value. Brene Brown’s leadership programs, for example, have been very powerful.
The exchange of learning and information is so valuable. The local L&D network in Atlanta, and in the past Kansas City, have been so helpful, the ATD local chapters in particular. I am intentional about having coffee and talking with current and former colleagues, it can bring immense value.
Any final thoughts you want to leave us with?
I spend a great deal of time with podcasts to stay up to date, taking some time during the commute to turn it into learning time is so valuable. A couple of favorite sources are Learning & Development Stories and The Deliberate Creative.