A common challenge for franchisor executives is when an overly friendly relationship with a franchisee goes pear-shaped. Often, the friendliness itself can exacerbate the problem and leave both parties in uncomfortable situations. The situation, however, isn't as easily avoidable as we might think.
The franchise relationship can be fickle and confusing because it has a personal, commercial and legal component. In our workshops, we refer to this as the 3-legged Franchise Relationships Stool. Field Managers in particular sometimes believe they should become friends with their franchisees.
So, how can Field Managers draw the line between friends and friendly, whilst still being equipped to undertake their role effectively? Let's explore that below.
"Our field team tend to become best friends with franchisees." It's a sentence we hear often in our workshops. Whilst the role of the field team is to help franchisees improve the performance of their businesses, becoming friends with franchisees blurs the relationship and can leave field managers open to being taken advantage of.
A better mindset would be that of a trusted advisor, which has some professional distance. It allows the field team to be friendly without being friends.
Getting a franchisee to see your field team as trusted advisors takes time. It won't happen overnight. That being said, if a franchisee is closed and not sharing, your field team can begin by stating what's happening, and what they're observing in a calm and empathetic way.
Then, they can be straightforward about what they require from the franchisee. They could say, "I am here because I want to help you, but you seem reluctant to share any information with me." They should then pause and wait for a response.
This will usually open things up a little, and your field team will be able to work with whatever the franchisee says. If the field team is sincere and coming from the right place, the conversation will naturally go where it needs to go. Just keep in mind that the team is there to either:
1. Help them improve their profitability;
2. Protect the brand for them and everyone else in the network;
3. Encourage them to participate constructively in network strategies.
If what the field team is doing doesn’t relate to any of these, they are probably focusing on the wrong things.
These two concepts are not mutually exclusive. You can be a partner and an inspector, as long as the purpose of the inspection is clear. Sometimes the most useful gift Field Managers can give a franchisee is constructive feedback in specific areas on how they can improve their business. It is even more powerful if the franchisee identifies these themselves.
The most important thing is the franchisee understands that the purpose of the conversation is to help them improve, and not to make them feel bad. It can be useful to remind them you are there to support and help them, and that your intention is not to criticize. Also, try to identify things the franchisee is doing well.
Every field team aspires to increase franchisee engagement in implementing the Continuous Improvement Action Plans resulting from their field visits. They may worry that setting boundaries will diminish franchisee engagement and result in a lack of improvement.
Without commitment to action, any continuous improvement plan is going to stay as words in a document. However, drawing the line between friendly and friends does not have to impact franchisee engagement.
We believe that commitment to action will largely come from involvement. When people are involved in a process they tend to take ownership of it, rather than feeling they're doing it for somebody else, which is not very motivating.
Therefore, rather than focusing on the friendship between the field team and the franchisee, focus instead on what can be achieved. If possible, link any improvement plan back to what is important to the franchisee, which will usually be having less stress, more profitable sales, happier staff, and more loyal customers.
The more positive emotion there is associated with a task, the more likely someone is to do it. So always ask the franchisee how they feel about doing a task. If you get an emotionally flat response, you can be pretty sure there is no commitment to take action.
We've answered several key questions often asked by field teams and franchisor executives regarding professional relationships with their franchisees. Let's take it a step further and identify exactly what it is that franchisees want from a field manager.
As part of our ACE Franchisee Satisfaction Survey, franchisees have the opportunity to rate the effectiveness of their Field Manager. We then ask those who are particularly satisfied, "What does your Field Manager do that adds the most value?" Here are the six most frequently mentioned responses:
1: Helps me to understand my business metrics and improve our profitability.
2: Shares what similar franchisees are doing that we might apply in our business.
3: Is positive, motivating and constructive with feedback to help us improve.
4: Is well organised, follows through on commitments and is available when needed.
5: Is knowledgeable about the business and helps to get outstanding issues solved.
6: Genuinely cares about us and our business, and checks in on how we're going.
Building a healthy relationship with your franchisees takes time and knowledge. Whilst we can't give you time, we can provide you with all the necessary skills, tools and knowledge you'll need to build a profitable, healthy franchising culture. For more information about our range of courses and publications, or if you have any questions about this article, contact us today. Our friendly and knowledgeable team would be happy to assist you.
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