Careful Communication is Critical for a Successful Franchisor-Franchisee Relationship
When busy people need to exchange ideas, the message doesn’t always come across. Franchisors have lots to share with franchisees, so careful communication is critical to ensure they get the information they need to thrive. Here are five ways to keep the info flowing smoothly:
Build a Culture of Communication
“Culture” is a group’s way of being together. It’s their shared beliefs, objectives, and values. It’s how they greet each other and exchange information. It’s their customs and rituals. It’s all of their social norms.
Every franchise network has a culture. Some by design, others by default. The best brands establish their ways of being together deliberately. They recruit franchisees who fit the culture and train them on how everyone should interact within the network. Part of this training should include agreement on how ideas are communicated, especially when there’s disagreement. The agreement should be that issues are discussed respectfully among the parties involved. Good partners should talk with each other and not about each other. You may have different roles, but everyone should be accountable to the culture. Establish a process for this along with best practices that allow people to express themselves, feel heard, and get a timely response. Franchisees don’t always need you to agree with them, but they do need you to listen to them. Your long-term relationship is at stake. Keep this in mind when working through issues. Because winning an argument is still a loss if it weakens the relationship. Both parties must understand this and do their part to keep the partnership healthy. Establishing agreements on how ideas are exchanged will help. Actively communicate how you want to communicate.
Keep Communications Franchisee-Centric
Every time a franchisor makes an announcement, franchisees have the same thought: “What’s this mean for me?” What might be obvious to you as a franchisor may not be to your network. For example, a common metric franchisors like to share is an increase in the number of units. Many franchisees don’t understand how a larger brand footprint is good for their individual business. What do they care that you’ve sold 25 more locations in other markets? That sounds like money in your pocket — not theirs. Why should they be excited that you’ve accepted a private equity investment? There are good reasons that are in their best interest, but these need to be clearly communicated. Franchisees aren’t inherently selfish, but they do see themselves as the paying customer. The expectation is that every move you make will benefit them. That’s probably the case, but it’s important that you continually explain exactly how.
A rah-rah presentation that doesn’t address problems will make you seem out of touch.
I speak at a lot of franchise conferences and hear a lot of state-of-the-franchise presentations. While celebrating wins and getting franchisees excited is important, it’s also critical that you acknowledge your brand’s challenges. A rah-rah presentation that doesn’t address problems will make you seem out of touch. Name the elephant in the room. Show franchisees that you see what they see and that you face what they face. And when you don’t have immediate solutions, say that too, but assure them that they’re not alone. (Remember your promise that they’d be in business for themselves but not by themselves?) If you’ve made mistakes, own them. Come right out and say you blew it. Then explain what you’ve learned and the changes you’re making as a result. They’ll appreciate your honesty, humility, and commitment to continuous improvement.
Many franchisees struggle with change, especially when it involves an additional investment. Before formally announcing new initiatives, get feedback so you can determine where you will get pushback. You can then preemptively address these issues in your initial communications. Be sure to explain the reason for the change. Discuss the benefits of the new initiative and the concerns around not making the change. Share success stories of those who’ve done it within your system (or elsewhere) and maybe a cautionary tale of what happened when this change was not made.
Then listen. Don’t resist their resistance. Franchisees may have useful information and valuable feedback. And even if they don’t, for the good of the relationship (culture), they need to feel heard.
Easy on the eCommunications
Franchisors complain that franchisees don’t read their messages and miss important information. Franchisees complain that they get too many messages and are too busy to monitor them. Electronic communication is convenient, but too much gets ignored. Weekly (or daily) blasts that have the same format and information are easy to dismiss. Consider switching up your communications. Keep it fresh and irregular. Less critical information can be posted somewhere interested franchisees can go for updates. Save their inboxes for the more important stuff. You’re probably continually updating the way you operate and market. Be as innovative with your messaging.
It takes two to tango and two to communicate. You have limited control over the communication habits of your franchisees. But if you can be a bit more mindful about how you convey information on your end, franchisees are much more likely to get the message. Careful communication is a key ingredient to a successful franchisor-franchisee relationship.