Aligning the Needs of the Brand and its Franchisees
If a brand is committed to recruitment versus the franchise selling development process, the ability to establish the core foundations of partnerships is already there.
By David Buzza
For obvious reasons, alignment between the mutual needs of the franchisor and franchisee are critical to an enduring and healthy relationship. Hopefully franchise candidates who chose franchising as their preferred means to enter entrepreneurship already have a strong appreciation for the value and equity of partnerships. And as we all know, with partnership comes compromise and collaboration.
From the first meeting with candidates seeking discovery, there should be a deep and meaningful discussion of their goals, needs, fit, fears, decision criteria, timeline, and financial expectations and needs. From these initial discussions, candidates must understand the whole concept of entrepreneurship versus “intrepreneurship.”
There are very distinct differences. It’s critical that we understand their decision-making process by quickly administering a profile. With extensive use of this tool, one can typically gain insights to any individual’s decision-making process and ability to function effectively within a semi-controlled business environment. Aligning the needs of the brand and its franchisees truly starts from the first point of contact.
If a brand is committed to recruitment versus the franchise selling development process, the ability to establish the core foundations of partnerships that work is already there. As we often say to each other in our executive committee, “We don’t get a second chance to do over the first year.”
Massive effort must be put forth in the first year of on-boarding a new franchisee to stand a chance at molding a successful “willing and able” partner who may not always be in your top 20 percent, but will exemplify most of the best qualities of partnership we’re all seeking. It’s all about the spirit of the “win-win,” where both sides validate their return on investment of the relationship.
Like most franchisors, AlphaGraphics has system standards. These can truly be a double-edged sword if first not properly designed, and more importantly, not enforced. At the core of these and other “rules of franchising” is effective communication. When a conversation regarding communication arises in most executive meetings, the most common comment is: “We’re communicating like crazy, who could say we’re not?”
But what would your franchisees say? Odds are significant that their perception is quite different than that of the executive team or management. The small-business environments and communities in which franchisees operate are extremely over-stimulated with information, details, concerns, and issues and fraught with problems.
Getting messaging to truly connect can be a significant challenge. We found that our messaging was so diverse and inconsistent that we added budget funds to hire a professional manager of communications. In a 44-year brand history, this was a first. I can confidently tell you now that “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Since then, every departmental and staff messaging of any kind now flows through our manager of communications to pass the consistency, content and relevance litmus tests. And because of this, we are experiencing heightened collaboration, understanding, and yes, even acceptance of even some of the toughest decisions and/or changes within the brand.
Establishing an Advisory or Leadership Council
For many franchisors, the establishment of an advisory or leadership council is paramount for alignment within the brand. Most originate from the franchisor; some have independently formed groups. While most prefer the brand-sponsored version, either approach provides a significant opportunity to pursue alignment and acceptance of needs and wants on both sides. Structure and balance are obviously critical to the success of this channel of collaboration and communication. If pursued with vigor and true transparency between franchisor and franchisee, this can be by far the most effective way for alignment to occur.
Like many management teams, we have had some very open, honest, but yet extremely difficult strategic-change discussion with our Network Leadership Council. Framing issues properly, directly responding and inviting challenge will keep both the members and their constituents satisfied that both are being heard. But as they always say, “It’s only as good as the members make it.”
Finding committed participants who accept the responsibility and time commitment is difficult. They’re trying to run their businesses and serve the needs of franchisees they represent in such a council. Having both a clear code of engagement and ethics coupled with a statement of purpose and annual objectives go a long way toward creating the alignment and outcomes both sides desire and pursue.
The establishment of a problem-resolution process is a paramount step. In any partnership, and especially with small-business owners (even with the structure within a franchise model), there will be plenty of conflict and differences of opinion. It seems trite, but true listening and recognition of each other’s position in a misalignment is highly significant. Formally recording the misalignment or difference in ways that allow resolution is important for both sides and is a widely accepted best practice. Many systems use a customer relationship management tool for such tracking.
Beyond proper listening, another key action is flexibility and understanding. While “rules will be rules” and franchising is all about “following the proven system,” there will be those notable scenarios where flexibility and recognition of a variance is in the best business interest of both parties. In these cases, a mapped-out process for filing such variances should be used. Also, adoption of proper resolution timing is a critical part of the process to maintain its effectiveness and integrity.
Compliance and Corporate Mission
Franchisors should never shy away from compliance. Compliance is the truly foundational glue to the franchise model. While it can certainly be a source of many misalignments between franchisee and franchisor, it can also be an area of respect, reverence and appreciation for what builds the health, welfare and growth of the brand. Hiring or assigning an executive to champion compliance is also considered a best practice in franchising.
Good franchisors who choose their franchise partners wisely and operate under a true corporate mission to provide training, support and collaboration above expectations will experience the optimal levels of franchisee-franchisor alignment. Above all, we want to preserve the investment put forth in building income, lifestyle, wealth and equity for all parties.David Buzza is chief development officer of AlphaGraphics, Inc. Find him at fransocial.franchise.org.