Strategies for Improving Communications
Masterful communication is the cornerstone for effective franchise relationships.
By Jack Pearce, CFE, and William Vincent
One of the hallmarks of a successful franchise organization is effective two-way communications between the franchisor and franchisees. The concept is well-known but how do you achieve effective communications? Each franchise needs to engage a strategy for what works best in communicating with its franchisees in order to maximize the use of resources and drive system-wide performance. When developing this strategy several factors must be carefully considered and then incorporated into the fabric of an effective communications plan.
A simple truth is communication is the main ingredient in any successful franchisor-franchisee relationship. Therefore, it is vitally important to determine the effectiveness of the franchisor’s communication with its franchisees. Some basic traits of effective communications are:
1. The franchisor defines and clarifies its ideas prior to communication with the franchisee.
2. The franchisor analyzes a franchisee’s situation prior to recommending actions.
3. The franchisor says what needs to be said clearly, concisely, and quickly.
4. The franchisor listens to the franchisees, including listening to franchisees’ questions and then preparing answers that will help facilitate understanding.
5. The franchisor seeks feedback from the franchisees in a variety of ways and provides a means for franchisees to respond.
6. The franchisor does not make negative statements, such as “We have tried that before and it didn’t work,” or “It costs too much,” or “We don’t have time to consider your idea,” Such statements will stifle the communications between parties. Instead, the franchisor should indicate tit will consider the ideas and investigate further.
7. The franchisor openly and continually expresses to franchisees the importance of active communications and the role they play in everyone’s success.
8. The franchisor recognizes and promotes franchisees who submit good ideas and are active in the process of two-way communications.
9. The franchisor pro-actively contacts struggling or unhappy franchisees and seeks out their input on a variety of issues.
These traits are common among most successful franchisors and tend to be recognized as requirements for achieving effective communications in franchise relationships.
Strategy Begins with Methods
The successful franchisor will use a variety of methods to communicate. Different types of communications include phone calls, personal visits by field support representatives, web-based intranet systems, electronic bulletins, newsletters, email and other forms of electronic media. Franchise advisory councils are also considered a communication method which allows the franchisor to facilitate face-to-face meetings with key franchisees in order to collaborate on key initiatives, policies and/or important marketing directives.
Since a franchisor is either developing or actively using several, if not all of the communications methods above, the next challenge is to create the environment in which all these methods will be effective. The attitude or culture with which the franchisor views the franchise relationship now becomes the key driver for effective communications.
A franchisor that holds the attitude of a business “partnership” with the franchisee is going to achieve the best results. With this type of attitude, both the franchisor and the franchisee will continuously work together to develop new ways to benefit from the relationship. Both parties will look for ways to help each other improve the operation of the franchise system. This results in a winning situation since both sides will look out for each other and their best interests.
Positive Culture Creates the Right Climate
When trying to build a positive culture within a franchising organization, at least four common characteristics emerge as essential building blocks for a successful franchise relationship. Those characteristics are strong listening skills or “active listening”, a two-way process for all communications, trust in the relationship and a mutual alignment of goals. Again, all these attributes depend heavily on an ever-present communications platform by which all parties can exchange ideas, discuss issues, devise resolutions and plan for success.
Use Active Listening Skills
The most common way to discover someone is not listening to you is when that person cuts you off in mid-sentence or before you can complete your thought. How can he be listening to what you are saying when he doesn’t hear the end of your sentence? Can he read your mind? That’s not likely. A good listener will carefully focus on the other person’s complete thought before responding or forming an opinion of his own.
It is sometimes referred to as “active” listening skills, and it truly takes energy and patience to do it well. Here are a few tips for improving your listening skills:
• Focus eyes and mind on the person speaking.
• Indicate listening through eye contact, note-taking and body language.
• Respond appropriately with comments, questions or paraphrasing.
• Use questioning to clarify specific points of discussion.
• Repeat words or phrases in your own words to verify understanding.
• Summarize a discussion to confirm main points and a complete, accurate understanding.
The previous reference to advisory councils is a clear example of how the two-way process of communication is being deployed in the franchising industry. Here, franchisees are being invited to the proverbial table by the franchisor for the expressed purpose of speaking their mind and exchanging opinions. Although most advisory councils do not have a final vote on policy decisions, a wise franchisor will consider advisory input in the setting of priorities and in the allocation of resources. Both parties must feel free to communicate openly and honestly, and in so doing, they are clearly on a two-way path toward stronger relations.
Field support is another franchising function which relies heavily on the two-way process, and the communication is not always simply verbal. Franchise Relations Institute CEO Greg Nathan, CFE, writes in his book, The Franchisor’s Guide to Improving Field Visits, “…research into franchisee satisfaction by the Franchise Relations Institute has shown that franchisees who believe their franchisor genuinely cares about them are significantly more likely to trust the franchisor.” He also notes: “Face-to-face contact demonstrates that you do care and helps to build positive communications and trust.”
That said, a field support representative is charged with guiding and supporting the franchisee through the various stages of their business development from grand opening to final sale. As part of this relationship, the representative will play a variety of roles including consultant, mentor, facilitator and trainer, all of which require a two-way exchange of thoughts and ideas. Each of these roles may require a different type of relationship, such as one commanding leadership, another communicating as a peer or possibly educating as an instructor. But, all of these roles rely heavily on the effective use of communication skills, and more importantly are dependent on a strong level of trust.
Prof. William Vincent is a member of the board of directors of Foot Solutions. Jack Pearce, CFE, is executive director of franchise relations for Annex Brands Inc. Find them at fransocial.franchise.org.