Engagement : A Key Driver of Franchise Success

By  Evan Hackel

Making beautiful music with your franchisees
Imagine a well-run franchise as an orchestra. All of the musicians are attentive, working together and following the conductor’s lead to make a beautiful piece of music. Then, imagine what it would be like to be part of such a franchise, or to be a franchisor conducting the orchestra – the passion, energy, focus, cooperation and profitability. Now think about your franchise. How similar is it to an orchestra?One of the key elements that will help a franchise operate as smoothly as an orchestra is the level of engagement of its franchisees. Creating a culture of engagement within a franchise is not easy and it does not happen overnight. But with engagement comes the ability to execute and achieve your organization’s vision.

The Engagement Misconception
The more appropriate definition of engagement is one of a franchisee or employee who feels a sense of responsibility to the success of the organization; they support the vision, are paying attention, and are fully participating in the organization’s programs and activities. And finally, engaged franchisees will feel like they are partners in the organization, not customers.

When we look at franchise engagement, Ingage Consulting divides the franchisees into three categories using a method that is commonly used to divide employees in an organization: engaged, unengaged and actively disengaged.

The natural tendency for the organization is to focus energy on trying to convert the actively disengaged. There is a cost to having this group actively disengaged (and franchises should work to convert this group), but the bigger opportunity that is normally missed is the group of unengaged franchisees.

Unengaged franchisees are normally a much larger group than the actively disengaged and represent a much greater opportunity for the organization if they can be converted to engaged franchisees.

Normally, the unengaged franchisees are ignored – because they are neither unhappy nor complaining – while management focuses on the actively disengaged. This isn’t to say the actively disengaged should be ignored, but it’s the unengaged franchisees where a franchise can make major strides in engagement.

The Cost of the Unengaged Franchisees
One of the biggest impacts on a franchise with unengaged or actively disengaged franchisees is its ability to execute the company’s vision. Without a high level of engagement in your organization you may need to re-evaluate your plan and put some initiatives on hold because there’s a risk they won’t be successful in the current environment.

Another cost is the impact on the engaged franchisees. An organization usually over-compensates for a lack of engagement by shifting its focus to the actively disengaged franchisees. The risk in doing this is the engaged franchisees will start to question the franchise’s leadership team and the decisions it’s making.

There’s another way to think about the cost associated with the lack of engagement: how effective would your football team be if half of the team didn’t attend practices, understand the plays or huddle up? Most franchises operate like this and compensate by spending too much money on communication and field representatives. Whereas, increasing the level of engagement in your organization will create a passion that is contagious – franchisees will feed off the passion. The word will spread and people will want to be on your football team and even want to participate in extra practices.Create a Culture of Engagement

You need a plan to create a culture of engagement that will become entrenched in the organization. It doesn’t happen by accident. It comes about through deliberate, well-thought-out planning and execution. Creating an engaged franchise is a journey that is going to take time and even when you achieve a culture of engagement the work has only just started. It isn’t something you can touch, but it will result in improved performance for the franchisees and the franchisor.

Improving Engagement in Your Franchise
Engagement isn’t something that happens overnight. It takes time. It means taking a hard look at the culture of your organization and making some long-term changes to how you do things. The following is a list of areas that are key to improving engagement in your franchise:
• Understanding your engagement issues: The process to engage your franchisees needs to start with a comprehensive evaluation of the franchise’s level of engagement. This can be done with a survey of the franchisees, and the employees of the franchisees and franchisor. But it must ask the right questions. A good survey will tell you not only how a respondent sees themselves, it will tell you whether they’re leaders, supporters or someone who is disgruntled. In addition, it will tell you if they believe they’re making a positive, valuable and important contribution to the overall franchise. We know if they don’t view what they’re doing as important, they’re more likely to believe that supporting the organization isn’t important. To be able to pull these types of results from the survey you should look at the groups or segments of franchisees and their attributes, not at averages of results.
• Respect: The franchisor must respect the franchisees and value each as a partner (and vice versa). This should start with the franchisor and be genuine. Unfortunately, many franchisors are under the false impression that the relationship is similar to one between a parent and child, and thus they treat franchisees like children. This can put the franchisor in a dangerous and awkward position, and can make the franchisees feel uncomfortable and resentful. By treating franchisees like partners, you will build mutual respect, and the franchisees will want to support the organization and follow the franchise agreement. In a company that has major challenges with its culture, team-building exercises that focus on the desired culture – in this situation, mutual respect—can help you achieve your goal.
• Shared vision: The organization’s vision can’t be pushed down from the management team. A culture around the vision must be developed through a process that involves all stakeholders – including franchisees, and employees of the franchisees and franchisor. By involving the entire organization they will understand the vision, believe in it and embrace it. Keep the vision, and the strategic plan to execute the vision, centered on a simple, passionate theme – it will go a long way when trying to improve engagement. A good measure of success for the shared vision is to get employees of the franchisees and franchisor to put it into their own words.
• Less, targeted communication: When there’s something important to say, many organizations believe the right approach is to repeat the message until it’s heard. In this situation, you’re actually training your audiences to stop listening. They know the message will be repeated so they don’t have to listen the first or even the second time. Creating targeted messages for each of your audiences means they’ll only receive messages that are important to them, and therefore, will pay attention, understand and take appropriate action.
• Check the tone: Communications and live meetings should be reviewed for tone. It’s not just what you’re saying but how you’re saying it that’s important. Are you talking and acting like the partner you want to be? The same message said two ways can have a major difference on how it’s received.
• Listen better, ask more: People have a natural tendency to listen to the extremes – in this situation it’s the engaged and actively disengaged. To listen most effectively, you have to invite franchisees to help you. Ask questions that allow them to apply their best thinking to the things that matter to them. For example, what are the most important changes you expect to happen in your business over the next five years? What are you doing to prepare for these changes? In what practical ways can the franchise help? If you create a meaningful dialogue with all of your franchisees while targeting their needs; they will feel better about the franchise. Beyond that, people like to be asked for input, whether it be to help solve a problem or lend a hand. When you ask franchisees for help and they respond, they become more involved. And, growing involvement is strongly linked to improving engagement.
• Clearly define responsibility: People must know what their role is and how they contribute to the company’s plan. Ensuring they know this and how everyone else fits into the big picture, will give them the chance to make a positive contribution to the franchise.
• Better on-boarding: The culture of engagement needs to start at the beginning of the franchisor-franchisee relationship. How much time is really spent with new franchisees defining expectations? Yes, the rules and the franchise agreement are reviewed. But what about clearly defining the expectations around communication, networking and sharing ideas? The best time to lay the groundwork for an engaged franchisee is when they first join your organization.
It might be hard to imagine your organization operating like an orchestra. Remember that wherever you are on your journey, every step you take to engage your franchisees takes you closer to making a beautiful piece of music.
Evan Hackel is principal at Ingage Consulting. He can be reached at 781-569-5900 or ehackel@ingageconsulting.com

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