The Bird of Paradox

By Greg Nathan posted November 3, 2021

I have a good friend, Glen Barnes, who is an outstanding facilitator and leadership coach. Glen loves to use props and metaphors. Her favourite is a tiny bird with hidden weights in its wings that give it perfect balance. When she puts it on her finger and tilts her hand, the bird self corrects and stays perfectly balanced. It never falls. She calls it The Bird of Paradox.

Glen's observation is that, when faced with significant decisions, we often think in terms of black or white solutions, like we have to tip one way or the other - do A or B. And in so doing, we throw ourselves off balance. Her point is that often we need to do A and B. A paradox is when seemingly contradictory features or qualities can co-exist. Like the concept of tough love. There are many paradoxes embedded in the franchising model. In this Tip, I'll share three.

1: The Paradox of Change

A basic human instinct is the need for certainty. So not surprisingly, franchisees want certainty over their network’s plans and strategies. Yet in a changing world, if a network is not constantly adapting, the franchisees' businesses will become irrelevant. So how does a franchisor create a sense of stability and certainty, while also changing its business model so everyone stays viable?

One helpful strategy is to remind franchisees that your core values, around what's fundamentally important, are staying the same. This may be your commitment to customer satisfaction or franchisee profitability, or to consult before major decisions are made. During change, protect your culture by reminding people what you stand for, and helping them to maintain their sense of identity and belonging. This brings us to our next paradox.

2: The Paradox of the Family Culture

Most franchise networks are started by entrepreneurs who build a strong family culture. But family cultures have a dark side. People can become petty, tolerant of inappropriate behaviour, and overly dependent on a charismatic figurehead, who often takes on the role of the benevolent dictator. While franchisors might want to have a family feeling in their culture, they also need to be professional and able to make tough decisions.

A useful way to manage this paradox is to use the language of community rather than family. Communities can have a strong sense of identity and shared values, goals and processes. But they also have regular changes to leadership, and they can be tough on non-compliance when they need to be. This need to balance the personal with the professional brings us to our third paradox.

3: The Paradox of Friendship

Sometimes franchisor executives believe it's good to become friends with their franchisees. I have found this almost always ends in tears. My definition of a friend is somebody you hang out with because you enjoy their company. The problem here is that franchisees expect fairness and consistency in the franchise relationship. If franchisor executives become friends with some franchisees, this can generate jealousy, resentment and accusations of favouritism. Also when tough decisions need to be made, friendships can turn sour and ugly.

My advice to manage this paradox is to remember your first duty to your franchisees is to help them to be successful, not to be liked by them. You can be friendly and even engage socially with them, as long as this opportunity is available to all franchisees, and it also has a business purpose behind it. You can read more on this paradox in this article.

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