If there is anyone who can add enormous value to a stressed franchisee at this time, it is their field manager (or whatever you call this role in your network). I have particularly noticed high calibre field managers focusing on three important areas - emotional resilience; financial management; and operational effectiveness. Here are nine tips field managers might like to keep in mind when considering these areas.
# 1. Keep an eye out for mental health warning signs.
While you are not expected to be a counsellor, given that business stress is at an all-time high, and stress can trigger mental health symptoms, we all need to be aware of the signs someone (or yourself) could be in trouble. These include becoming withdrawn and non-communicative; showing unusual levels of anxiety or anger; looking unwell or particularly unkempt; being extremely down and unmotivated to take action. Field managers need to be observant of indications that all is not well at the personal level, and take the time to listen to a franchisee's concerns in a supportive, empathetic manner. I also think it is a good idea to be aware of the various free phone and online mental health services available to anyone who feels like they need emotional support (e.g. Beyond Blue and Lifeline).
# 2. Stay on top of your own mental resilience.
Because we can't lead from behind, field managers need to ensure they are maintaining a constructive mindset, and not taking on everyone else's stress and worry. It is possible to care and show empathy without feeling personally responsible for other people's feelings. This requires a certain level of professional detachment, so you can think clearly and perform at your best. It also helps to have a good network of supportive peers, and to keep your personal vitality high by eating nutritious food, getting enough rest, exercising regularly, and focusing on your sense of purpose.
# 3. Keep franchisees focused on the future and what they can control.
When people are feeling threatened, as many are at the present time, a natural tendency is to become defensive, closed minded and fixated on what can go wrong. This is not helpful when problem solving and pro-activity are required. A proven strategy to counteract this, is to ask solution focused questions. For instance, What is the best possible outcome we could achieve at the moment? What do you need? What is a small step we can take to make this happen? How can I support you?
# 4. Assist them to control their costs.
There are two types of costs – fixed and variable – and it is the former that can quickly sink a business when there is a decline in sales. For most small businesses, significant fixed costs include rent, loan repayments and wages. Every dollar you can help your franchisees to save, will increase their financial viability, especially assisting them to negotiate with suppliers, landlords and lenders. Some people will need direction to become more ruthless with their expenses if their business is to survive.
# 5. Stay fully informed of relevant opportunities and threats.
In an uncertain and rapidly changing environment, survival depends on staying up to date and aware of what's happening. While franchisees may be aware, to a greater or lesser degree, of various government grants, and changes in the regulatory environment, they may not know how to access these promptly. This is where sharing information in a group, can provide a competitive advantage. However, it is vital that field managers ensure franchisees are operating above the line, and only apply for what they are entitled to, otherwise they will be putting themselves and the brand at risk.
# 6. Focus on cash flow management.
In times of financial crisis, monitoring weekly cash flow is far more important than analysing monthly P&Ls. Once you have reviewed the business' costs together, a new break-even should be calculated. This is extremely powerful in helping franchisees to regain their sense of control and direction. Field managers can also assist with cash flow management by advising on the management of debtors, creditors, stock and sources of funding. It is vital that franchisees are totally open with you regarding their unique financial position, and you may need to be brutally frank if you think important information is being withheld.
# 7. Review their staff management and HR decisions.
Field managers should ensure franchisees are making sound commercial decisions about how to manage their labour costs. Decisions to stand-down or lay-off staff must comply with legal requirements so the franchisee's business, or your brand, is not put at risk. Franchisees need to also manage these decisions sensitively so they maintain the loyalty of staff. This will be important for when the economy starts to recover.
# 8. Assist them to ensure everyone feels psychologically safe.
It is essential that staff and customers are not just kept safe, but they feel safe. At the moment, people have a heightened sense of threat, and need additional reassurance that a business and its staff are safe to interact with. While field managers should ensure all COVID-19 safety practices are implemented to 100% compliance, it is also important that everyone having contact with a franchisee's business is clearly informed of these practices. This not only includes customers, but also the families of staff.
# 9. Be a conduit for new forms of best practice.
Because the world has changed, best practice today is different from what it was three months ago. Field managers should be collecting the strategies and ideas that franchisees are coming up with, and facilitating the sharing of these individually, and through virtual group meetings.