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Managing Multi-Units to Achieve Maximum Talent Development, Retention

As the world has changed, the job of a multi-unit manager has changed with it.

By Robert Branca, Jr.



The franchising space today is becoming increasingly dominated by multi-unit franchisees, and this created the obvious need to establish the position of multi-unit manager in the often sprawling networks built by these franchise owners. Multi-unit managers are an essential component of the infrastructure necessary to operate a large network of franchise locations, and the requirements of the position have expanded right along with the accelerating rise of the multi-unit franchisee.

Not Just Operations Anymore

Early in the development history of growing franchise networks, multi-unit managers were responsible for typical unit-level management duties for a region of units.  Essentially, multi-unit managers were responsible to “manage the managers” reporting to them for such things as compliance with brand standards to adherence to acceptable sales growth, payroll, waste and shrinkage parameters.  As the world has changed, the job of a multi-unit manager has changed with it.  These people are increasingly required to have a working understanding of anti-discrimination and other labor regulations sufficient to make day-to-day, on-the-spot judgment calls on matters that go far beyond meeting sales growth targets and service speeds.

For example, the National Labor Relations Board is seemingly bent on forcing this level of management into impossible situations with recent rulings of tightening response time frames and restrictions on managing the workplace in the face of disruptive labor activism, even when it stems from outside the workforce. Our regulatory environment grows increasingly more complex every year, whether related to labor, labeling, food sanitation or even waste disposal requirements.

Even more daunting can be the effects on the job of a major influx of new personal technology and connectivity. The managerial task of handling a disgruntled individual’s ability to broadcast a one-sided account of a perceived poor consumer or employment experience to the world is stressful under the best of circumstances, as are the legal ramifications stemming from it. Multi-unit managers can easily become overwhelmed, and one of the main sources of frustration with their jobs has been that they have inadequate support to deal with these new challenges, even when they are satisfied with their level of compensation and benefits. Meeting the need for support in these new areas can be a critical factor that retains a top performer.

Don’t Just Show Me the Money; Support is Critical

The networks that employ multi-unit managers themselves differ vastly from one another. They range from simple family operations that have expanded as the second, and in some cases, third generations have entered the business of large multi-state, multi-brand franchisees that are often bigger than most franchisors.  Indeed, there are even some large publicly traded franchisee enterprises.

While the publicly traded and other large franchisees have deep corporate structures that offer support in the way of human resources, legal and compliance departments, less formal employers often have only family members and outside professionals to support their in-field management team.  This means that they cannot be as nimble with responses to the issues that arise daily in their units. Certain of these smaller organizations have second generation family members in the business who have graduated from law or business schools and maintain these support capacities at varying levels, but they are much less able to quickly respond to a multi-unit manager’s plea for help in a crisis.

However, this does not mean that they are unable to retain good key people. Indeed, these types of groups often enjoy extreme loyalty because they make their multi-unit managers feel like they are part of the family and a big part of the success of the family business. Building that loyalty can come in the form of a series of small, but consistent actions such as sharing celebrations of successes both inside and outside of work. Another commonly cited measure is authorizing team members to be the public leaders of charitable endeavors in their own home neighborhoods, lending them the credit for positive community outreach among their own neighbors. When the team feels proud to be a part of your organization, the team tends to stick around.

Invest Now

When franchise owners network, an often overheard comment can sound like this: “It is much harder to run three units than it is to run 30.” These people are referring to the growing pains that they endured as they transitioned from working in their units, to managing their units, to leadership of an organized enterprise.

While it may seem counterintuitive to franchisees who are just beginning to grow their networks and trying to conserve on every expenditure, building a supported infrastructure is critical to success going forward. Successful growth requires a firm foundation. Many franchisees lament not taking the steps earlier to establish a formalized office with dedicated staff and technology for its multi-unit managers to draw upon. These can take the form of simple libraries of correspondence to address commonly occurring problems with guests or regulators, to centralized, remote loss prevention monitoring, to in-house counsel and a professional human resources manager.  In all cases, the goal is to make it easier for multi-unit managers to achieve the goals that the franchisee has set for them by giving them the right tools to do it.

Where are the Solutions?

Growing the skills of and retaining multi-unit managers is such a critical component of franchising today that some franchisees and franchisors have each established resources specific to the topic, especially for the non-publicly traded franchise network.  For example, Dunkin’ Brands has recently created and rolled out a new, continuing showcase that studies best practices for creating management cultures that foster and build people who will want to stay. While Dunkin’ Brands doesn’t mandate how franchisees structure the management teams of the businesses that they own, the common best practices frequently discussed by outside human resources experts are made available to assist franchisees in developing and retaining key people. This required a significant amount of time and resources to be invested by both the franchisor and franchisees of the system, as it is a comprehensive program involving numerous topics and sessions that franchisees and their teams needed to prepare for and attend. Other systems have made the same investment so that franchisees can learn which strategies work best.

Franchisees of different brands have also banded together to learn how to better develop their senior people.  Attendance at events hosted by the International Franchise Association, the Coalition of Franchisee Associations and the Multi-Unit Franchising Conference is not inexpensive, but franchisees routinely attend all of them year after year. That is because one of the key components featured at these events is personnel development and the sharing of best practices on incentivizing and retaining people.

Attendance at these events and review of the materials provided by their sponsors is an excellent resource for franchisees.  Often featured are numerous franchisee executives who have experimented with varying training, compensation, benefit and bonus programs and who are eager to share their results in seminars and panels.  Specialized vendors of programs and services that offer tools for evaluation of applicants and annual reviews can provide the outside help that franchisees need to better retain their top talent. Expert management gurus and well-known authors are often keynote speakers, and they provide inspiration and advice on how to motivate a franchisee organization’s team to achieve top performance. Networking conversations often coalesce around how and when a franchise network takes the big step of creating the right infrastructure to grow the empire, and what mistakes to avoid when doing it.

Each franchisee will have to decide for himself which particular programs and resources best support his multi-unit managers, as each brand and region of the country has its own set of specific obstacles to maximizing performance.  However, by networking with other franchisees and collaborating with their franchisor’s training departments, franchisees are often able to find solutions without undue, unsuccessful trial-and-error approaches to problems common to all of franchising.

Robert Branca, Jr. is president of Branded Realty Group and Branded Management Group and owns more than 80 units throughout Massachusetts, New York and Ohio, as well as property development, construction and restaurant equipment manufacturing companies.  Find him at


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