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leadership lab

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at

The Restaurants Show Canada takes place Feb. 28-March 1 at the Enercare Centre in Toronto and this is the first of three related Leadership Labs.

As we all know, employees can be our best ambassadors. They are the face of the brand every day, and should be actively engaged to build their pride, and to foster feelings of appreciation and empowerment.

While employee engagement is always top of mind, as head of the Ontario region for McDonald's Canada, I am often faced with the question: 'How do you appeal to a wide group of employees that live and work in different communities across the province?' The logistical complexities of executing a provincial or national employee program led many brands to only develop corporate or independent location initiatives. With hundreds of Ontario restaurants, and thousands of crew members and managers, we at McDonald's Canada are also faced with this daunting challenge.

This year, however, we decided to do something bold and created an engagement program: The Secret Secret Menu Challenge, designed to recognize our employees' knowledge of our food across the province.

Taking inspiration from current trends in food customization, The Challenge asked McDonald's crew and managers to build the ultimate burger, sandwich or wrap using our quality ingredients for the chance to win a $10,000 grand prize. More than 300 entries were received, and semi-finalists from eight different restaurants made their way to Toronto. Five finalists were then selected for final judging by a chef from Griffith Laboratories and members of our executive team.

As we engaged our crew and managers across the province, I learned many valuable lessons:

1) Understand the power of employee knowledge. Staff have a deep and direct understanding of your brand, its products and customer tastes. Executing a province-wide competition like The Challenge creates an opportunity to collectively engage, recognize and celebrate your employees, while showcasing their skills and talents.

2) Encourage friendly competition. The Challenge brought employees together and fostered strong team camaraderie. Employees became invested in each other's successes both through participation in the competition and through voting for The People's Choice Award, and were motivated by the chance for their restaurant to receive recognition. The Challenge winner, Andrew Daye, was particularly struck by the support he received, noting, "The competition helped my entire crew grow closer, and it certainly raised our energy behind the counter."

3) Let your internal initiative be social. Encouraging employees to talk about their jobs online can create opportunities to share positive brand messaging and have incredible ROI. As a national brand it's important to include your employees as part of your external voice. The Challenge also included The People's Choice Award, which gave quarter-finalists a chance to have their creations voted for online for a $1,000 prize. Employees took to their social platforms and encouraged their fellow crew, friends, family and neighbours to vote. Not only did online voting heat up the competition (over six million votes received!) and cause buzz across our restaurants, it created fresh opportunities for the public to positively interact with our brand and support our crew members.

While implementing a province-wide campaign is not an easy task – in fact The Secret Secret Menu Challenge took more than a year to plan – the results were undeniably worth it.

The continued enthusiasm from employees across all levels has made it a truly successful and appetizing investment.

Victor Rocca is vice president, Ontario region, McDonald's Restaurants of Canada Limited.

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