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Creating Empowerment: Enabling Franchisees to be Heard

People in business may hear the expression “taking it to another level” with some frequency. It’s the goal of everybody in business, franchise or otherwise. As a franchisor, however, you have a not-so-secret advantage over other businesses and it’s a resource that’s at your disposal practically 24/7. Better yet, this invaluable asset wants what you want: success for your organization. All you have to do is find a way for its voice to be heard.

In case you hadn’t figured it out, the resource to which I’m referring is your franchisees. These individuals live your system every single day and possess invaluable information and insight that can make your programs better. By enabling and empowering your franchisees to be heard, your business can improve its organizational programs for today and tomorrow.

Fortunately, there are many vehicles available to franchisors to effectively engage franchisees. By utilizing as many of these tools as possible, franchise companies can empower their organizations tenfold.

Here are several ideas, served with a twist.

Optimize your franchisee council. Most franchise systems have a single council or sometimes two (a marketing council). Within your franchisee systems, create multiple franchisee committees to maximize franchise involvement. Have each of your vice presidents create a council of franchisees to help them with their specific subject area (e.g. a training council, an operations council, convention council and so on). Each of these councils should be populated with franchisees who are not serving on the primary franchisee council. However, one member should be from the primary council to serve as a communication link.

This strategy accomplishes a couple of things. First and foremost, it involves more franchisees so more voices are heard. Second, it gives leadership responsibilities to franchisee council members. People who are leaders act differently in a good way. The more people you have stepping up to be leaders, the better off your organization will be. For more information on this concept, refer to a previous Franchising World article, Getting Better Results From Your Franchisee Advisory Councils, from October 2011.

The true indicator that a franchisor is listening to and embracing the voice of its franchisees is the role they play in several key areas.

Create regional networking groups with franchisees leading the meetings. The more your company can get franchisees networking, the more engaged they will be. Talking with their fellow regional franchisees will create an atmosphere of cooperation, teamwork and positive peer support. Having these groups led by the franchisees is very important as they will support them at a higher level and it is easier on management when they are franchisee-led.

Include an interactive element to your conventions. Many franchisee conventions include a full slate of speakers. Yet overwhelming attendees with speaker after speaker without some time to absorb what it is they just heard can detract from the convention’s key messages. Table huddles are an effective solution to that problem.

Every hour, allow attendees to discuss the ideas they gleaned from the previous hour. The purpose of the table huddle is twofold. First, it’s a review of what they heard and second, it acts as a quasi-brainstorming session where franchisees can write down the ideas they like and want to implement.

Host town hall meetings. There’s nothing that has a greater impact on franchisees than a live event. Exhibit A to that argument is an annual convention. A very close second are town hall meetings where senior management hosts regional sessions to both share information with franchisees and listen to their concerns. Being able to communicate comments and ideas in person creates a bond between franchisees and management and reinforces the objectives of both—the success of the organization.

Create an innovation council. Improving day-to-day operations at a franchise location is where franchisees can have invaluable insights. Organize an “innovation council” with the sole task of brainstorming and researching ways to improve franchise operations.

Bring franchisees into the franchisee development process. The true indicator that a franchisor is listening to and embracing the voice of its franchisees is the role they play in several key areas: company message, recruitment and mentoring. Developing councils seeking franchisee input in these areas provides franchisees with a real stake in the organization’s future.

Develop online forums. Use internal, non-public forums to create active conversations with your franchisees. These forums need to be led so the content is meaningful and positive. In fact, you should create a franchisee council just for online forumsso franchisees can help develop the topics and ensure conversations get started.

Develop and share best practices that are brand compliant, but were created by the franchisees. Again, part of creating empowerment means not only listening to franchisees, but utilizing their frontline experience to improve the franchise system. Enlisting the help of franchisees to develop and share best practices works on many levels. Most importantly, your best practices will have the insight from the people actually performing these duties. Second, the development of these best practices is more likely to elicit response, feedback and compliance from other franchisees because these best practices were created by franchisees.

Henry Ford is credited with providing this sage advice: “Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together issuccess.” Ford probably did not have the franchise concept in mind when he made this statement, but it most certainly applies.

Many franchisors make the effort to listen to franchisees and that is a great start. By implementing just one or two of these suggestions, your franchise can make that all important next step, which leads to an empowered franchisee force poised to take your system to a new and higher level. ⎯

Evan Hackel, CFE, is the principal and founder of Ingage Consulting and has 25 years of franchise experience, having developed, implemented and managed three successful new franchise systems. Hackel is a member of the IFA Franchise Relations Committee.
He can be reached at 781-569-5900 or ehackel@ingage.net.

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